By Emanuele Rossi
The involvement of the United Arab Emirates in the crisis in Libya acts as a litmus test for Abu Dhabi’s strategic interests on the major dossiers regarding its future international location.
Play in perfect balance between the great powers of the world, first of all the USA and China. The overall picture described by Cinzia Bianco (Ecfr)
According to several readings, the Libyan warlord of the East, Khalifa Haftar , has two kinds of sponsorships. The more discreet one provided by Russia and France.
That of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where if the former – say sources of the press – are slightly lightening their commitment, Abu Dhabi is the center of the technical and political push of the Haftarian campaign to conquer Tripoli.
Operation that proceeds despite the extra-Libyan truce marked by the Berlin Conference, and despite the need to suspend external aid to the fronts in the war at the same international meeting (respecting a UN embargo).
On these columns, Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council said that the Emirates seem to be the real winners of the Berlin Conference.
They got their man in Libya, Haftar, to become drinkable on the diplomatic level and at the same time they are continuing to support him on the military level.
“Of course, because the idea that we hear repeated that the Libyan conflict cannot be won on a military level is absolutely not shared in Abu Dhabi.
And this explains why they are available rhetorically and diplomatically, but they do not believe that the political path is the only way “, Cinzia Bianco , research fellow on Europe and the Middle East at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin , explains to Formiche.net .
But what is the kind of interest of the Emirates on Libya? “Lot of.
Let’s start with the main one: the ‘String of Ports’, the strategy with which the Emirates want to build a chain of ports, with which they want to become a crutch of China in the Belt and Road Initiative.
That is, they want to be an offshot of the Bri that they can control and manage, thus becoming a crucial and indispensable partner of a player that they consider growing , unlike how they see the United States.
This they think will ensure international influence in the future. And not surprisingly in Cyrenaica (the eastern region of Libya militarily controlled by Haftar) the Emirates have already got their hands on port infrastructure for both civil and military purposes.
And on this the point of view must be extended to the entire North African quadrant, because penetration is more difficult for Morocco and Mauritania, as well as in Tunisia, for the political context which is not friendly to Abu Dhabi.
Then Libya becomes important. In fact there is also a higher level confrontation, in fact: let’s say on the intra-Islamic political level. “It is the other great Emirate target.
Counter the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently has the country of reference in Turkey.
And since Libya is important for Ankara right now, and Turkey has become the number one enemy in the Abu Dhabi hazard list, the equation is done, ”adds Bianco.
And what about natural resources?
Turkey has moved heavily to Tripoli to get across the EastMed framework, where the geopolitical system that is being created around immense energy reservoirs is perceived by Ankara as hostile.
And geologists say that there are deposits in the Libyan offshore that could be important.
Does Abu Dhabi have interests in this regard?
“Certainly there is also an interest in the energy framework for the great merchant families of the Emirates, and then let’s not forget that Libya is a link between the Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa, where the Emirati have great geopolitical interests “.
Something that is also concrete in Yemen, where the Emirates look above all to the South, coasts along which they are already building port terminals for oil resources from which to then arrive by land and bypass Hormuz, without suffering the Iranian threat.
For example, Bianco recalls the importance of the island of Sokotra, south of Yemen, in front of the Horn of Africa, “is already under Emirate sovereignty, albeit informally, because it is placed in a quadrant where it becomes fundamental for the port string and maritime security “.
Very often when we talk about Emirates we talk about Saudi Arabia automatically: is there an overlap on these dynamics? “Yes, but let’s not think of a double thread.
The Emirates share with Riyadh the port vision that binds to China, just as they shared that if the Middle East sees the United States in strategic retreat then it could become a far-west where therefore if they do not extend their influence, then the Turks will to do it.
But we can say that there is no exclusive dependency “.
The relations between the Emirates and China have been talked about for some time , but we know that Abu Dhabi is very connected, friendly, ally of Washington.
Introducing the Libyan speech has allowed us to frame a strategy, of which Libya perhaps acts as a litmus test, which sees the Emirati oriented towards Beijing.
How do they manage this dichotomy? “They know they are indispensable to sustain the great strategic interests of these powers.
Washington and Beijing are looking to the Middle East, but they do not want huge involvement, and so the Emirati find ways to wedge themselves into those Chinese or American interests and at the same time protect their strategies. “
They are very pragmatic, therefore, and for this reason they also become useful for rivals.
For example, when we say we make ourselves indispensable for our larger partners, I also mean what’s going on in Libya.
Maybe things have changed a bit lately, partly because there has been bad press , but until recently in Washington, the Libyan positioning of the Emirati didn’t mind at all.
It was a way to stay detached and take advantage of their involvement.