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The civil war in Libya is still going on

To be precise, Libya Civil War, part II
Yes, because in Libya since 2011 until today, (from the famous “Arab Springs”) there have been two civil wars. The first saw the insurgents supported by the West and the United States of America fight against President Mu’ammar Gaddafi and ended with the defeat and assassination of the “Colonel”.

Then, in the general disorder, in which the ISIS terrorists were also added, a second civil war followed, which saw two Libyan governments opposing each other.

Since then, two figures have been fighting: Fayez al-Sarraj (President of the National Agreement Government of Libya), against Khalifa Belqasim Haftar (former Gaddafi veteran and Lieutenant General by the authorities of the Libyan National Transitional Council) and their respective sides.

In fact, each of the two contenders is supported by several powers that intend to exploit the numerous Libyan oil resources to their own advantage.

Two great coalitions have thus formed over time, often with uncoordinated and at the same time unthinkable partners (both from a historical and objective point of view).

To support the government of Cyrenaica and then Haftar we find: Russia, Egypt, Syria, France, Saudi Arabia and Chad. Alongside Al Sarraj we find instead a reluctant and undecided Italy, the United Kingdom, the USA, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, the European Union and the United Nations.

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and then the outbreak of the Second Civil War, the influence of Italy and Europe in the North African country has never been questioned.

At the moment it is clear that the situation has changed dramatically.

The scenario has completely changed, with a rapid acceleration in recent months.

Italy and Europe have ended up on the margins of the crisis for various reasons: partly because of the effective political and military initiative of other powers, partly because they were “distracted” by the problems of domestic politics and finally by the serious situation caused by the spread of Covid-19.

In addition to the clash between the Libyan factions, in the last year at least three crises involving protagonists outside the European sphere have knotted and intertwined around the conflict.

The first crisis to consider is all intra-Arab.

The latter sees on one side: Qatar and Turkey, while on the other side Egypt, Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with a very worrying escalation in recent days.

In particular between Turkey and Egypt.

Turkey, in fact, thanks to its military support to the legitimate government of Tripoli has allowed the expulsion of the Haftar militia from Tripolitania after a year of siege, while instead Egypt, which after years of support and investment in favor of General Khalifa Haftar, is now in great difficulty because the man on whom it had bet everything is in fact out of the picture and no longer “expendable” in Libya or on the international level as a “strong man of Cyrenaica”.

Turkey and the forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in recent days have threatened to continue their advance on Sirte and al-Jufra; Egypt, for its part, has decided to respond with a preventive move. In fact, it has amassed troops and vehicles in the base of Sidi-Barrani, on the border with Libya and with “bellicose” statements by President al-Sisi who draws his “red line” to Sirte and Al Jufra.

The Egyptian President al-Sisi has in fact warned that: “there is a red line that the Turks cannot cross, this line goes from Sirte (the symbolic hometown of Gaddafi) to Al Jufra air base, 250 km south, where the Russians have placed the Mig-29, the Su-24 and the thousands of mercenaries of the private army Wagner, all of them in support of Cyrenaica.

If Sirte falls, as it seems, the march of the Turks towards East could reach Benghazi and the great oil wells of Ras Lanuf. This is unacceptable”. al-Sisi then told his soldiers to stand ready, as he did not rule out an armed intervention in the name of national security.

For these statements he has received the applause of the Saudis, the Emirates and the entire Arab League, because according to these actors “Egypt has the right to defend its borders”.

In addition to these motivations, there are also old russets with Erdoğan, who financed the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo in 2013, before they were suppressed through arbitrary arrests, torture and mass executions in order to crush any form of dissent, by al-Sisi himself.

At the moment, it seems that neither Erdoğan nor al-Sisi want to embark on a long war in Libya and the Turks are aware that they cannot enter Cyrenaica because they would force the Egyptians to react militarily.

The Egyptians, for their part, are well aware that a military intervention in Libya would mean an enormous financial cost that they cannot afford now, given the economic crisis aggravated by the spread of the coronavirus. Sameh Shoukry, the Foreign Minister of Cairo, has in fact specified that a possible military intervention by Egypt in Libya would be “the last option to preserve its security”.

It remains always reckless to make geopolitical predictions in such complex and strategic situations, but it is possible that, thanks also to the Russian mediation, the GNA will succeed in regaining the symbolic city, Sirte.

This is in fact very dear to the militias of Misurata, who in 2016 paid with the lives of at least 700 fighters for the liberation of the city from the ISIS armies, thanks also to the fundamental air support of the United States.

The second crisis, which passes through Libya, is certainly the one between Russia and the United States, which sees the Russians strongly committed both diplomatically and militarily to supporting the LNA, but not losing contact with the government in Tripoli.

The Russian government will hardly expect that Haftar will keep its role, but it will defend the strategic goal of being in the game to pursue its interests, strengthening its presence in the Mediterranean also through military bases in Cyrenaica (a few hundred kilometers from the U.S. air base in Sigonella) and Al-Jufra (where, according to the U.S. command for Africa, there are 14 Mig-29 and Sukhoi Su-24 or Сухой Су-24).

What has favoured the permeation of the Russian project and therefore also in fact the division of the region between Russia and Turkey, is certainly given by the “US absconding”.

In fact, even now, the US reaction legitimising the Turkish role in Tripolitania does not appear very incisive nor very coordinated between the various departments.

Initially, the Trump administration, pushed by the Emirates and the Egyptians, had in fact endorsed the Haftar offensive aimed to take Tripoli, but the defeat of the LNA following the Turkish intervention placed Washington between two fires.

In fact, on the one hand, Turkey is a NATO ally to which the USA intends to move closer after a long crisis in bilateral relations; on the other hand, Emirates and Egyptians who are still iron allies of the Americans.

Finding a balance is therefore particularly difficult for the US government at the moment, which is also under strong pressure from the Pentagon, which is expressing concern about the presence of Russian contractors and fighter-bombers in Cyrenaica.

The third reason for tension within the Libyan crisis is represented by the difficult understandings between Russia and Turkey.

These difficult understandings have already emerged in the Syrian scenario and are characterized by the mutual willingness to safeguard a relationship of friendship and growing relations, including military ones, which at the same time, however, conflict with the different interests of the two nations.

Putin and Erdoğan for now seem to be the real winners of the Libyan war, the only ones really capable of ending the conflict and finding an agreement to stabilize the north African country.

Well determined, therefore, not to wage war either in Syria or Libya, Russia and Turkey are likely to aim for an agreement that will “freeze” the conflict and establish their respective areas of political and military, and therefore also economic, influence.

So what is foretold is an understanding based on the probable division of Sirte and al-Jufra.

This partition would open a negotiation/political phase to stabilise Libya, which could include the departure of an increasingly bulky Haftar, perhaps replacing him at the negotiating table with Tripoli with the Speaker of Parliament in Tobruk, Aghila Saleh.

The aim is probably to identify a political road map with a medium-long term horizon for the approval of the Constitution and then the parliamentary and presidential elections.

To these three crises involving players outside the European sphere, one has recently been added which also concerns a European state.

The crisis in question concerns France and Turkey, for strategic reasons, spheres of influence and energy issues.

In the last few days, in fact, during a conversation with the Tunisian President Kais Saied, in a press conference, the French President Emmanuel Macron spoke personally regarding the “playing field” of the war in Libya stating: “I think that Turkey in Libya is playing a dangerous game, in contravention of all the commitments made during the Berlin conference. Egypt’s concerns are legitimate.

With this statement Macron therefore harshly accuses Turkey ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of playing dirty in Libya.

In particular, he accuses him of stockpiling weapons and soldiers against UN resolutions, and against the final declaration of the Berlin meeting in January 2020, in which all the countries in the region committed themselves to stop all interference in the Libyan civil war.

Macron also made a reference to the mini-boat accident that occurred on 10 June in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. On that occasion the French frigate “Courbet”, which wanted to inspect a Turkish commercial ship (most likely loaded with armaments) was illuminated three times by the laser pointer of the missile launch system of one of the Turkish navy warships that was rescuing the cargo ship.

In order to avoid the clash, the French sailors (as a Greek navy ship had done in the last few days) moved away, making the anti-embargo device “Irini” set up by the EU useless.

What matters, even in this diplomatic incident between NATO members, is that the French frigate was part of “Sea Guardian”, (NATO alliance mission in the Mediterranean) and for this reason the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has already announced that an investigation will be opened.

For Macron this behavior of Turkey (a member country of NATO) is the confirmation of the “cerebral death of the Alliance”. This last definition, given by Macron a few months ago in an interview with the Economist, referred precisely to the fact that Turkey within NATO moves without any harmony with its allies and that the great regulator of the Alliance, the United States of America, is increasingly absent and distant.

Well, it’s no coincidence that Macron phoned Donald Trump about the US position. He (Trump) has been forced to deal with the Libyan question in recent days more than he has done in recent months. In fact, last week, Trump received a phone call about Libya – the same and opposite – from Turkish President Erdoğan.

The Turkish leader, leveraging the fact that it is now proven that General Haftar in Libya has the air support of at least 14 Russian fighters, had urged the United States to take action to stop the military build-up in favour of Haftar.

With the French President’s phone call to Trump, France has called for a cease-fire, which will not allow Turkey to advance further into Libya.

Macron then denounced the “unacceptable” behaviour of Turkey, responsible for “an increasingly aggressive and assertive policy, with seven Turkish ships positioned offshore Libya and violating the arms embargo”.

In addition, the French President expressed concern about Ankara’s exploitation of the NATO context, arguing that:”The Turks are behaving in an unacceptable way, instrumentalizing NATO”, adding “in the coming weeks there will be discussions with NATO partners engaged on the ground on this issue”.

The tones between Paris and Ankara continue to rise for other reasons.

In fact, France has (clear) evidence that Turkey is supplying massive quantities of weapons to the GNA of Sarraj, in violation of the embargo imposed by the United Nations, as well as using those that some define as “dogs of war”, i.e. the Syrian mercenaries on Ankara’s payroll. On the other hand, Turkey accuses Paris of supporting General Haftar and subcontracting the most visual part of its support to Cyrenaica, both to the Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The Libyan question is a gigantic test of international politics and a huge strategic-geopolitical-energetic centre. These dynamics straddling the Mare Nostrum are intertwined with the crisis in the North African country, the cracks in the Atlantic Alliance and the problems that Europe has with Ankara, with which it has also started a process of accession.

Resuming the initial discourse, despite the historical relations between Libya and Italy, the latter has now lost all prestige and weight in international politics and its role is no longer strong in the Libyan context. This is also due to the fact that no one considers the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs so important for reasons of “curriculum”, skills and knowledge of international issues.

Unfortunately, the problem is wider because the whole of Europe has been cornered by both Turkey and Russia. These two countries have decision-making systems and a willingness to use the military instrument in the service of diplomacy that are far more brilliant than those of Europe, which, from this point of view, rejects the use of force as a matter of principle.

By Michele Brunori

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