Igor Yanvaryov

In Libya, conflict is escalating between the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar, and the Government of National Unity (PNU) in Tripoli, which was created this year as a result of a compromise between the western and eastern regions of the country.

A controversy has flared up over who should obey the army formations. The Field Marshal defends his right to control the LNA, while Tripoli is trying to establish its own rules.

Experts interviewed by NEWS.ru call the clash of interests expected, but see Haftar’s desire to create a parallel government despite all peaceful efforts.

The potential for conflict between West and East Libya made itself felt this week after the Presidential Council, one of the compromise power structures in Tripoli, issued an order to all military units in the country “to adhere to his instructions regarding promotions, formation of units, appointment of commanders of military districts and other reshuffles.

The Council emphasized that it has all the powers of the Supreme Commander in accordance with the set of agreements of the Forum of Libyan Political Dialogue, which formed the unified authorities.

The LNA did not like the initiative of the Presidential Council. Haftar demonstratively – without warning Tripoli – immediately carried out a number of personnel changes at the top of his army, including replacing the commander of the ground forces and the head of the air force staff.Not without rhetorical attacks on his part.

During the parade in Benghazi on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the creation of the Libyan Armed Forces (AF), Haftar announced that the LNA would not curry favor with “terrorists and invaders.” 

The field marshal, whose external patrons are often called the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Egypt, was accused of yet another coup attempt and undermining the settlement.

Election bomb

Haftar, who controls the eastern regions of the former Jamahiriya, believes that the issue of uniting the armed forces should be resolved after the presidential and parliamentary elections in December.

It is their organization that is now engaged in the PNU, which is headed by Abdel Hamid Dbeiba. And the compromise authorities in the west of Libya, apparently, do not want to hesitate.

The risks of conflict were pointed out earlier by the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubish.

According to him, “despite the fact that all the parties [confrontation] agreed with the organization of the presidential elections, not all took the necessary measures.” In this, according to the diplomat, external forces are also to blame. Kubish did not name the specific culprits.

Despite the fact that Dbeiba was elected by the decision of the Forum of Libyan Political Dialogue, which took place under the auspices of the UN and brought together representatives from both the East and the West, the Haftar forces showed him their defiance many times, questioning the breadth of his powers.

In particular, a month ago, the LNA simply sabotaged the initiative of the country’s Presidential Council regarding a ban on the deployment or any movement of military units in Libya without official notification.

At the same time, supporters of the field marshal some time ago flatly refused to open traffic on a section of the route they controlled between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.

Family business at stake

As Grigory Lukyanov, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Higher School of Economics, an expert at the Russian Council on International Affairs, explained to NEWS.ru, the conflict between Haftar and the new authorities has been brewing for a long time.

There is a certain opinion according to which Haftar today has only one key asset – this is his position in the LNA management hierarchy against the background of an almost completely destroyed political reputation.

He needs funds, tools not so much to fight for some illusory power, but to preserve that property, those economic resources that were put under the control of his family in the last years of the second civil war.

According to the analyst, the sons of Haftar control various assets in the east of Libya: we are talking about specific enterprises, specific infrastructure, land ownership.

All this was acquired under the laws of wartime, in connection with which not only the political future, but also the physical survival of the Haftar family is at stake, Lukyanov notes.

According to him, the conditions put forward by the Americans, the UN and other international mediators, including Germany, do not fully satisfy the longtime patrons of Haftar in the person of the UAE and Egypt.

These Arab states are pursuing a fairly restrained policy, promoting the negotiation process, but on the other hand, they are in no hurry to disarm the LNA and remove such a valuable figure as Haftar from the blackboard, the expert draws attention.

War is not inevitable

Haftar is taking advantage of the current state of affairs, Lukyanov said. And this leads to an inevitable clash between the field marshal and the cabinet of ministers of Dbeiba, who, on the whole, has no serious claims to Haftar personally.

Let us recall the very vote for the Dbeiba government. Then Haftar’s henchmen supported him. This says a lot, including the presence of trust, but Dbeiba’s success directly depends on the ability to solve a number of key problems of the transition to a new stage of political settlement, the expert explained.

One of these problems is the creation of a single hierarchy of command and control of the Armed Forces, the reunification of the LNA with the Ministry of Defense of the government in the west of the country, the source of NEWS.ru notes.

And in these circumstances, the analyst argues, a conflict of interest is inevitable. However, the resumption of hostilities Lukyanov does not consider an inevitable scenario: the parties are able to negotiate. Haftar is not the domineering ruler he was before, he understands that he needs to go into dialogue, the expert said.

Haftar does not dream of the past in this respect. On the other hand, Dbeiba understands that the LNA and Haftar are a serious force that must be reckoned with. Therefore, it seems to me that this conflict is primarily political and it will remain mainly in the political plane,” admitted Lukyanov.

According to him, none of the interested parties outside the country is now interested in the continuation of hostilities, since they are quite expensive and, as the events of 2019-2020 have shown, ineffective.

Haftar’s doublethink

Rhetorically, Haftar is in favor of holding elections, Jalel Kharshaoui, a senior fellow at the Swiss think tank Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, told NEWS.ru.

He claims to want them with all his heart, and this narrative is central to his strategy. This allows the United States to reestablish contacts with the LNA commander without concealment.

The same narrative helps undermine the credibility of Dbeiba and other pro-Turkish figures in Tripolitania, the expert is convinced.

According to him, Haftar understood perfectly well that the head of the PNU wants to remain in power as long as possible, in connection with which the field marshal is trying to “portray himself as a liberal democrat, committed to the idea of free and fair elections.” However, these intentions should not be taken at face value, says the analyst.

Haftar uses the idea of elections, but does not necessarily believe in it. At present, the military leader seeks, first of all, to strengthen and strengthen his power in the territories that are already more or less under his control: this is Cyrenaica, as well as some parts of Fezzan, which can be seen from June on the deployment of additional brigades, Harshaui explained.

In addition, the NEWS.ru interlocutor drew attention to the fact that under pressure from the UN and the United States from Tripoli, including from the local Central Bank, some concessions were provided to Haftar. So, the financial situation of the LNA commander has improved significantly since Dbeiba was approved as prime minister in March, the expert notes.

Parallel government

In this regard, Harshaoui calls it logical that the conflict of interest made itself felt in the summer: this could not have happened before, because the LNA commander needed to be patient and get all concessions from Tripoli.

He also witnessed the weakening of Dbeiba on several fronts. Amid the lack of an official budget, the pale political cohesion within Tripolitania is gradually eroding , the analyst said. – The risk of conflict in northwest Libya is increasing every week. This gradual decay suits Haftar .

In practical terms, the military leader is likely to take advantage of the softness and benevolent nature of both the Joe Biden administration and the new UN special envoy “to form a new parallel government in Cyrenaica,” Harshaoui said.

The expert recalls: this is exactly what the LNA commander tried to do in April 2020, but then Russia, Egypt and America prevented him. Today the situation looks much more favorable. Haftar issued a statement that he was forced to take such precautions due to Dbeiba’s bad faith, Harshaui predicts. All this will inevitably complicate the holding of elections in the territories controlled by the LNA.


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