Emanuele Rossi

Libyan ports are back in fashion. There are the deep sea ports of Tobruk and Susan which are popular with Russia and the USA, while China appears. Profazio (Ndcf/Iiss): “There is a return of strategic competition in Libya”

According to a Benghazi website, Saddam Haftar , son of the militia leader who controls the city of Cyrenaica, Khalifa Haftar , was in Rome in recent days to discuss investment opportunities in eastern Libya with American businessmen. The site may not be reliable, and for now none of the sources contracted by Formiche.net – neither in Italy nor in the United States – can confirm the news.

However, what is interesting, in a world in which information is constantly altered and directed according to the narrative, is precisely the dynamic behind the publication of the news – which is worth as much as its truthfulness, indeed at times it makes it seem relative. Why should a media based in Benghazi (where the Haftar family exercises mafia-like control, ranging from military control to business in the area’s economic trafficking, starting with migration) talk about Saddam Haftar’s contacts with the USA?

In recent weeks that side of Libya has been particularly under the international spotlight due to information – in that case much more truthful, but always circulated with the aim of narration – which described the increase in Russian involvement in Cyrenaica. Moscow, thanks to the agreements made with the Haftars (with the father in the past, and now inherited by the children, a very active part of the family business), is using eastern Libya as a logistical-tactical hub to push the strategy of Afrika Corp – as it is now called the Wagner Group surrogate, which effectively returned under the management of the Ministry of Defense after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin .

For example, yesterday Yunis-Bek Yevkurov , Russian Deputy Defense Minister, landed at Benina airport, Benghazi, welcomed by Khaled Haftar , who is considered Russia’s link point in Libya. A role that is often portrayed in competition with that of Saddam, who was more inclined to dialogue with the Americans. As in every family of power there is an internal struggle for succession – and everyone seeks external support for their legitimation.

In the midst of this context, the question is: perhaps Saddam Haftar’s elusive Roman contact was used by his pro-US son to boost himself in intra-family competition, or does it serve to describe a rebalancing of this excessive exposure of the warlord of ‘Libyan East towards Russia? According to Umberto Profazio , an analyst at the IISS and the NATO Foundation, it is not surprising if it was all an information maneuver to demonstrate interest in the Americans’ relations, after AfriCom has been targeting Haftarian activities with Russia for years.

“In any case it reveals the desire to try to play on multiple fronts. Interestingly, there is a return of strategic competition in Libya. which in this multipolar phase intensifies where there is a void, a deficiency, internal as in North Africa or the Sahel: and Libya is one of the main interests of a challenge that particularly concerns Europe and above all Italy”, he comments Profazio. However, he underlines that the issue is also one of internal Libyan politics, “where the issue is also linked to Khalifa’s succession: they are looking for different paths, one of his sons, Belqasim Haftar , is for example setting up a fund for the reconstruction of the region ( tragically hit by cyclone “Daniel” , ed. ), other more active in the activities of their militia and in certain relations with the outside world”.

If the general situation were not enough, this of the Haftar family is another problem for Libya, also because it brings various issues to the table. For example, at this moment in which maritime geopolitics is becoming central again for the balance between Mediterranean and extra-regional countries, Libya also has its value. In particular, we are talking about the port of Susah, once among the cities of Pentopoli Cyrenaica and a commercial port (as the port of Cyrene) since the times of ancient Greece. Texas-based Guidry Group had already landed a contract to build a couple of billion-dollar deep-sea port in Susah, which is expected to become a multi-purpose container port, making it the region’s largest deep-sea logistics hub. as it is expected to handle 1 million TEU in the first phase.

But it was a period before the current one: the agreement dates back to 2012, the feasibility study to 2013 and subsequently – with the explosion of the first phase of the internal conflict that has divided the country for ten years and of which the Haftars have always been protagonists – the path had become complicated.

A master plan had resurfaced in 2018, named among the best projects at the Global Infrastructure Forum in Montreal in August. Seven months later, Haftar launched the most important assault on Tripoli: also aided by the Russians, he intended to overthrow the UN government led at the time by Fayez Serraj .

Subsequently, a year after the failure of the Haftarian military plan, in the spring of 2021 there was a revival of the idea of ​​the port of Susah, with a long-term joint venture agreement between Guidry Group and the Greek Archirodon.

Investing in infrastructure works in Libya was a complicated project at the time like now, even if the Roman meeting would have served to relaunch the business and projects like Susah, according to information from Agenzia Nova obtained from an anonymous source in Cyrenaica. In fact, among the businessmen met by Saddam there was also the head of the Guidry Group. 

These days the investment search activity is also widespread on the other side of Libya. Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba left Tripoli to attend the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing, and had a reserved slot with the Chinese Party/State’s foreign policy chief, Foreign Minister Wang Yi .

There was talk of the reopening of the Tripoli embassy and the activation of economic agreements that had remained dormant due to the destabilization. China is also interested in having a place (and a port) in Libyan reconstruction. When will that be, because the process is still far away, given that the country is effectively divided in two, with Dabaiba governing according to a UN mandate that expired a couple of years ago, but there is no ability to remove him.

The other half of the country is under an informal (and unrecognized) executive led by Osama Hammad and militarily pressured by Haftar. The diplomatic-military support that Moscow provides them is linked to a composite interest, which also involves the port dimension: the Russians in fact aspire to Tobruk, another deep-water port of call, which would become a further point of support in the middle of the Mediterranean, after Tartus in Syria. Tobruk is located approximately 200 kilometers from Susah. The interests of the great powers intersect.



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