Summary: Libyan political activist Ashur Shamis writes that the renegade general Khalifa Haftar has no interest in peace and no strategy other than war as he bids to seize the country.
A UN sponsored meeting in Geneva on 3 February is attempting to bring the warring parties in Libya together but there is little chance of success.
As the warlord general Khalifa Haftar continues his assault on the capital Tripoli, home of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and its prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, outside forces continue to deploy weapons and fighters in a continuing violation of the 2011 UN arms embargo.
Haftar, who launched an attack on Tripoli in April, 2019, is backed by, amongst others, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and France while the GNA is receiving increased support from Turkey.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has relied heavily on UAE air support, including the suspected deployment of Chinese-made Wing Loong II drones during its months-long offensive against the GNA.
As the tempo of attacks has increased, Turkey has moved to assist the Al-Sarraj government with reports that Syria militiamen backed by the Turks have been sent to the Tripoli front.
This comes on the back of a failed meeting in Berlin orchestrated by the German chancellor Angela Merkel that was supposed to bring an end to the fighting.
The conference was long on talk but short on a serious commitment to stop Haftar’s ongoing attack on Tripoli with its potential to incur massive civilian casualties.
We are grateful to Ashur Shamis for the article below. Ashur is a Libyan writer and long-time political and human rights activist.
Beginning in 1971, he lived in exile in the UK for forty years. From 1980, he was a target of Qadhafi’s “physical liquidation squads”, and, with others, was instrumental in founding one of the most effective opposition groups, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.
He went on to oppose the Qadhafi regime until its fall in 2011. From 2002, he was founder and editor of the influential website ‘Akhbar Libya’.
He returned to Libya in 2011 and is now editor in chief of the Libya Tribune website.
Ashur has known the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar since 1987 when he joined Shamis’ opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya. They met again in 2013 as Libya spiralled into civil war. The following are excerpts from the original article that was published in the Libya Tribune on Saturday.
What is Khalifa Haftar all about?
- Haftar does not recognize the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, nor does he recognize its legitimacy, bestowed upon it by the United Nations and the world community. In his view, those who rule Tripoli are militias and terrorists, allied to ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
- He only sees a military solution and is not (prepared) to give up the fighting.
- He does not recognize a peace process, nor does he recognize a political solution or a political process.
- His first objective is to seize Tripoli militarily, ‘liberate’ it from terrorists and militias, overthrow the government and all political and civil institutions therein, and establish a military rule that fully controls the country.
War or peace
- If Haftar accepts peace, then this means stopping the war, but war is the first and only goal in the strategy of Haftar, because it will enable him to occupy Tripoli; and if he continues in the war, he is heading toward defeat. A suicide mission, a huge blunder. This is the core of the impasse into which Haftar has fallen.
- He does not accept peace because that does not achieve his first and primary goal, which is the occupation of Tripoli, and he cannot take over Tripoli because he does not have the power or the mandate to do so.
- If he accepts the cease-fire, this means stopping the war, and if the war stops, that means a peaceful solution which to him is defeat. A classic catch-22.
Haftar does not have any political entity or organization. What was known as political or cultural elites in Benghazi have been silenced by targeted assassination and persecution or coerced out the country, mostly into neighbouring Egypt.
What he called ‘Dignity’ is a hodgepodge of the remnants of (the) Gaddafi army, comatose since the early nineteen-eighties. It includes opportunistic tribal groups, some militias, and self-interested elements motivated by private interests and greed for money and influence. This is what he calls ‘the Libyan National Army’.
Haftar became a ‘Trojan horse’ for the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries. Time and time again, he (has) demonstrated his incompetence. It is a failed instrument (that was intended) to achieve the aspirations of its supporters and the (goals) of regional and international powers, including military and geopolitical arrangements in the region.
These ambitions and arrangements are summarized in the desire to eliminate any traces of what has been known since 2011 as the ‘Arab Spring’.
Instead, efforts must be made and resources put together to re-establish and support ‘dictatorships’ – military or non-military – in most of the Arab world, in order to preserve the status quo post 2011.
That is the ‘natural’ and ‘suitable’ habitat for the Arab people whatever the cost in human lives, Muslim and Arab, or in funds and resources. Among the countries that have cherished that goal are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia (known as the axis of Arab evil), and from outside the region, France and Russia. At the forefront of the targeted countries are Libya, Tunisia, the Sudan, Algeria and Lebanon.
Haftar has undoubtedly proved incompetent and not ready to engage in a political process in Libya. In fact, Fayez al-Sarraj, the leader of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, after repeated attempts at more than seven meetings since 2015, was forced in early 2019 to come to the conclusion that Haftar was prepared to sabotage any peace initiatives and is willing to betray agreements of any kind.
Many analysts and observers wonder about the so-called ‘international community’, fuelling the war in Libya, and displaying contradictory stances towards the situation.
In a leader recently, the Financial Times called on “foreign states” to “end their hypocrisy in Libya,” this hypocrisy of “meddling in the country, which cynically promise one thing while doing the opposite.”
There are those who (see) a long-term cynical plan to exhaust the military forces in the western region and enable Haftar to enter Tripoli and seize power.
Despite his blatant and reckless audacity in rejecting, again and again, peaceful solutions and denying the political process, he is getting stronger day by day, and receiving more political, military and logistical support. This (reality) can only be explained by the adage “creating a new Muammar Gaddafi” in Libya.
There is no doubt that Turkey’s intervention in late 2019 has taken other interested parties by surprise and tipped the scales of power in the region.
The Europeans – who fear the rise of Turkish power in the world, and whose strategies cannot bear the movement of Turkey outside its borders – rushed to Berlin (January 19, 2020) to take the wind out of the sails of the Turkey-Russia initiative (January 13, 2020) to bring peace to Libya.
Haftar and his allies were furious and deepened the chasm, raising the level of aggression against Tripoli, and sinking further into the trap of its invasion, by refusing to accept the cease-fire.
The Haftar camp confirmed that the solution is in the gun, and that their attendance at the various international gatherings is for listening only, and not a search for political solutions. Thus, the Haftar project to invade Tripoli continues.