Is the UK planning a U-turn on Libya?

By on April 4, 2017

Russia might not be alone anymore in throwing its weight behind General Haftar and the authorities of Eastern Libya in their struggle to secure control of the entire country. A paper published in March by the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) – a loose think tank tasked with informing the UK Conservative Party’s opinion and policies on the Middle East – calls for an open British government support to Haftar, the Libyan National Army and the Tobruk/Baida authorities.

The paper, based on the findings of a field trip made by a CMEC delegation in Eastern Libya, depicts Haftar as a “soldiers’ soldier” not concerned with grand political strategy and whose only aims are fighting jihadist terrorism in Libya and getting rid of Islamist and criminal militias in the country. Eastern Libya is referred to as an oasis of order, governance and political stability, and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) as a “nucleus for the development of a Libyan Parliamentary system”. Haftar’s reliability as a leader apparently stems also from his managing of Libya’s oil crescent, as he kept sending oil revenues to the National Oil Company and the Libyan Central Bank, both loyal to the government in Tripoli. They, however, are failing to share them with the authorities in the East.

Such a rosy picture looks even more promising when the CMEC compares it to what is happening in Western Libya, where, as the paper states, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) is unable to exert any real control on the ground – neither political nor military – and militias are free to prevail enjoying the benefits of the prolonged chaos. Proof of the anarchy ranging the West, according to the paper, is the GNA’s inability to deal with the lucrative trafficking of migrants from the ports in Western Libya – an activity on which the militias are building their economic fortunes.

In view of the stark differences between Khalifa’s East and GNA’s West, the CMEC calls for the UK to urgently engage with the General, the LNA and the HoR and “to support their efforts to defeat the Islamist militias in Western Libya”. London should proceed in this direction – and “reconsider its view of the GNA” – also to bring an end to the trafficking of migrants both on humanitarian and security grounds.

While the CMEC is not the official voice of PM May’s government, it is naïve not to consider the paper as a way to legitimise an imminent U-turn by London on its support to the UN-sponsored government of Fayez al-Serraj. As the concern on human trafficking looks preposterous, given the very limited burden the British share on the issue at European level, the UK’s readiness to politically and militarily support Haftar might be linked to his (unsure) control of Libya’s main oil fields. Long story short, it look like the CMEC – a direct emanation of the party in power in London – is pulling the UK government to support authorities in Libya who did not receive any endorsement from the United Nations and to stand by General Haftar, who has been recently accused by Human Rights Watch of war crimes (Al Jazeera, March 21st). It remains to be seen, however, how farsighted could be to undermine the unifying efforts of the Tripoli authorities while siding with the Russians in Libya – for the very first in history – on the basis of purely economic interests.


Author: Staff Analyst
Europe Next Staff Analysts conduct research and analytical studies providing analysis using openly available sources of information. Staff Analyst are responsible for systematically collecting publicly available information in a given region or a subject area to meet readers needs. The information includes traditional mass media, the internet, specialized journals, studies, conference proceedings and more.
 

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