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article imageOp-Ed: France takes lead in suggesting new foreign intervention in Libya

By Ken Hanly     Sep 10, 2014 in Politics
Tripoli - Once again there is international pressure for a new intervention in Libya as competing militias continue to clash and competing governments exist in Tobruk and Tripoli.
The "legitimate" government resulting from the elections last June has been forced to locate in the far eastern city of Tobruk where it is out of reach of Islamist militias and backers of the GNC-appointed government in Tripoli the capital. The Tobruk government is said to be firmly anti-Islamist and to be loosely allied with the CIA-linked general Khalifa Haftar. Haftar and his allies have been driven out of most of his stronghold Benghazi, where he we largely responsible for the present conflict when he attacked two Islamist bases in Benghazi to launch his Operation Dignity. Part of this operation involved his allies the Zintan brigades attacking and burning the elected parliament and kidnapping Islamist legislators and officials. Nevertheless the group continued to be hired to protect the International Airport in Tripoli until eventually rival Islamist militia from Misrata, associated with Libyan Dawn, won control and drove them out of Tripoli entirely. There are still clashes near the city.
The long battle also involved mystery planes making bombing raids several nights on positions of the Islamist militias. The US at first accused the UAE and Egypt of being involved in the attacks but later decided to retract their accusations.
Haftar still controls an air base on the outskirts of Benghazi and has launched bombing attacks on Islamist bases in Benghazi from there.The government in Tobruk has little power and has lost control of many "ministries, institutions, and state bodies in the capital Tripoli". The Tobruk government has re-appointed former prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni as the prime minister.
With Islamist-linked groups on the ascendancy in Libya the west is suddenly becoming concerned although there was no similar panic when the elected parliament was burned and legislators kidnapped by Haftar allies. Now all of a sudden we have the possibility of a failed state and as in Egypt no doubt even Islamists who had been elected will suddenly become terrorists. Militia groups such as that from Misrata who played a key role in defeating Gadaffi will now be part of the terrorist problem that the international community must help the friendly local CIA-linked Haftar to solve. The mysterious bombings in Tripoli were the first obvious sign of foreign intervention by countries such as Egypt and the UAE who are enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood and any Islamists who do not support their rule. Conservative Salafists who support the government are quite acceptable. Now it seems that the west is becoming involved too. France, itself a country with long colonial experience in Africa has taken the lead.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sounded the alarm about the seriousness of the situation in Libya and urged the international community to take action in Libya since it was becoming the "hub for terrorist groups". Speaking to the French daily Le Figaro Le Drian said: "We need to act in Libya and mobilise the international community. Today, I am sounding the alarm about the seriousness of the situation in Libya. The south is a sort of hub for terrorist groups where they come to resupply - including with weapons - and reorganise, In the north, the political and economic centres of the country are now at risk from falling under jihadist control. And Libya is the gateway both to Europe and the Sahara." Le Drian said that French forces in Mali could move up to the Libyan border. Note that Le Drian has nothing to say about General Haftar or the activities of his militia and allies. The pro-Haftar militia are now called "nationalists" in articles. Le Drian is to discuss the Libyan situation with other European defense ministers in Italy on September 10. Earlier French President Francois Hollande called on the UN to provide special support for authorities in Libya. By "authorities" he means the pro-Haftar representatives holed up in Tobruk. Hollande did not say what sort of support he had in mind. There are already signs that France is up to neo-colonial actions in northern Mali.
Egypt is very much concerned that Islamists opposed to his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood should gain control in Libya and perhaps use oil funds to support opposition to the government of el-Sisi. However, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute sees the threat as mostly ideological: "It is not a very tangible threat to Egyptian security directly, although Libya could find ways to boost the Brotherhood in Egypt by destabilizing the border in some way or by providing refuge for Egyptian Islamists. The paranoia is not very tied to the realities of the threat. I think that the regime doesn't see the Egyptian Brotherhood as just the Egyptian Brotherhood, but as one component in a regional conspiracy against Egypt and the regional order that Egypt supports. We can't understand what Egypt did in Libya without understanding the broader divide in the Middle East between Islamists and anti-Islamists. Libya has become the site of a charged proxy battle because of this." The conflict is not really between Islamists and anti-Islamists but between Islamists who oppose Egypt and many of the Gulf monarchies and those who do not. These countries are all themselves Islamist and in the case of Saudi Arabia quite conservative in its Islamism. Qatar and Turkey are not opposed to the Brotherhood.
Hamid claims that Egypt will continue to support General Haftar: "It is very clear that Egypt will continue to support Hiftar in one degree or another. I have trouble seeing the Sisi regime just saying, 'We gave it a shot, there's not a lot more we can do.' The proxy battle will continue, it's just a question of how willing Egypt is to get involved."
Egyptian leaders have said that if the Council of Deputies in Tobruk asks for foreign military intervention, Egypt would participate as part of a broad coalition if it included other countries in the region. Perhaps other countries could include France and other old European colonial powers such as Britain, and Italy. Even the US could become involved. After all Haftar is a US citizen who lived in the US for decades. The Republicans are already howling at Obama for his neglect of LIbya and not immediately intervening.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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