Libya – divided by foreign military powers and without a clear local leader

This post was published in Analisi Difesa. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


TRIPOLI, (BM) – In Libya, the political leaderships at the head of the two factions that have fought each other in recent years are jumping. For some weeks there have been riots and popular demonstrations in Tripolitania governed by Fayea al Sarraj as in the Cyrenaica of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and General Khalifa Haftar with common reasons: the protests were in fact generated by discontent due to economic crisis, lack of services and corruption.

However, it is reasonable to believe that behind these demonstrations lies the will of the external sponsors of the two Libyan factions to pilot the political situation in the two areas in which the country is divided in order to place men who are liked by the reference powers at the top of power: in Tripoli at the axis Turkey-Qatar and Tobruk to the United Arab Emirates-Egypt-Russia alliance.

External interference that is now “institutionalized” after the military developments of the summer that saw Tripoli free itself from the siege of the troops of General Khalifa i Haftar thanks to the weapons and fighters sent from Ankara and supported by Doha funds while the Cyrenaica general it has consolidated on the front line that runs from Sirte in the desert to the oasis and air base of al-Jufra thanks to the arms of Cairo and Abu Dhabi, to the Mig and to the contractors of Moscow.

As we had hypothesized on these pages, those military developments would have decreed the end of Libyan sovereignty and of the two rival factions.

The first to surrender was the premier of Cyrenaica, al-Thinni (pictured below), in office since 2014 but resigned after just a couple of days of demonstrations against him, perhaps in favor of Ibrahim Buchnaf, Minister of the Interior of the government indicated by many sources as the next premier.

The real protagonist of this controlled crisis, however, is the president of the Parliament of Tobruk, Aguila Saleh, who emerged after the military defeat of Haftar in Tripoli as the strong man of Cyrenaica and above all as the most important political point of reference to whom to entrust the management of the negotiations. for an agreement that could sanction the conclusion of the conflict by giving life to Libyan institutions “shared” enough to divide the proceeds of oil exports between the two factions, however sanctioning the existence of “two Libya” with different governments and under the influence of the respective sponsors.

If Arabs and Russians look to Saleh (pictured below) as a pillar of Cyrenaica, General Khalifa Haftar certainly does not want to be marginalized and has returned to the fore with new military initiatives despite the demonstrators attacking his headquarters in Benghazi and for the first time there were clashes in his stronghold of Al-Maj.

First of all, Haftar announced that he had reworked a certain number of Scud tactical ballistic missiles that Gaddafi’s army had acquired in Moscow (a couple launched them in 1986 against the US Navy station in Lampedusa), weapons that could be hit the Turkish bases in Misrata. The restoration of these weapons may have been carried out only thanks to the Russian technicians who support Haftar’s forces and who have already put into service many weapons of Russian and Soviet origin no longer operational inherited from Gaddafi’s barracks.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) also vanquished an Islamic State militia in the Sebha desert area where the “caliph” of the Islamic State in Libya appears to have been killed.

LNA spokesman Colonel Ahmed al Mismari said that “after receiving information on the movement of a terrorist cell in Sebha, the army came up with a plan to storm the neighborhood where the group was hiding.

The battle lasted seven hours with the killing of nine militiamen and the arrest of two women. Al Mismari said: “Abu Abdullah, the new caliph of the Islamic State in Libya, was killed during the operation”. The victims of the IS would be four Libyans, two Saudis, two Yemenis and one Australian.

An operation that could bring Haftar closer to the United States, once supporters of the general considered the true enemy of Islamic terrorism in Libya, which have recently focused instead on the stabilization of Tripolitania guaranteed by Turkey.

The successful initiatives of the LNA confirm the role of Haftar who among his loyalists (also for affinity and tribal relations) can also count on the probable new prime minister of Cyrenaica, Ibrahim Buchnaf, also close to Egyptians and Emiratis, confirming how much they were The widespread assessments in Italy and Europe regarding the now inevitable and imminent “liquidation” of Haftar are unfounded.

In Tripolitania, on the other hand, the disagreements within the Government of National Accord (GNA) are certainly not new but have remained almost dormant during a whole year of siege of Tripoli under the attack of Haftar’s forces.

That the heavy Turkish influence was making itself felt in a certainly not soft way clearly emerged with the disagreements between Prime Minister al-Sarraj and Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga, a man of the Muslim Brotherhood with many supports in Turkey and Qatar. Popular unrest in Tripolitania has also lit the fuse for a government reshuffle piloted by Ankara and Doha. After removing Bashaga from office, al-Sarraj was forced by Ankara and the Misrata militias loyal to the minister to reinstate him.

For a couple of days there have been rumors of the president’s desire to resign from the leadership of the government recognized by the United Nations and many Libyan sources, including those close to the GNA, as well as Russian sources, gave for certain the resignation of al-Sarraj already on the morning of the 16th. September.

Speaking that same evening to the nation on the occasion of “Martyr’s Day”, the 89th anniversary of the killing of Omar al Mukhtar (the leader of the resistance against the Italian colonization of Libya, hanged in front of his followers on September 16, 1931) al-Sarraj has announced his will to step down from the GNA top post he has held since the end of 2015 by the end of October.

“I announce to everyone my sincere desire to transfer my powers to a new executive structure at the latest by the end of October,” he said, explaining that he wanted to remain in his post for the handling of current affairs until the handover of power to the new premier.

Resignations therefore welcome to various Libyan factions, including those of Misrata whose aspire to lead Tripolitania, to Turkey and Qatar but apparently also welcomed with satisfaction by the United Nations that had “crowned” al-Sarraj creating the GNA five years ago .

The “ad interim” special representative of the UN Secretary General, Stephanie Williams (pictured below), yesterday praised what she called “the courageous decision of Fayez al Sarraj“. Williams said in a statement that Sarraj’s announcement “comes at a decisive turning point in Libya’s long-standing crisis, when it is clear that the situation is no longer sustainable. It is now up to the Libyan parties concerned to fully assume their responsibilities before the Libyan people ”.

Williams stressed that the ceasefire declaration and the meetings of Switzerland, Morocco and Egypt are all “an opportunity to restart the fully inclusive intra-Libyan political dialogue, which the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) intends. carry on as soon as possible”.

As for his successor, it is clear that he will be a welcome man in Doha and Ankara. Perhaps Bashaga himself, who, however, is too biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood to obtain broad consensus, or more likely another measurist, the vice president of the GNA Ahmed Maitig, a moderate politician much appreciated also in the United States, Russia, Turkey, Europe and in Italy.

It is no coincidence that in recent days Maitig was in Turkey where he met with Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (pictured below), who confirmed that Turkey will continue to provide advice and training assistance in the military and security fields at the GNA.

Maitig also went to Russia and would have met the son of General Haftar in Sochi to discuss the imminent reopening of oil exports, confirming once again not only a reliable interlocutor for all the international protagonists of the Libyan crisis but also the only one , or at least the most authoritative political exponent of Tripolitania able to dialogue with the enemy.

Examining these radical changes in the political scenario of the “two Libya” it is worth highlighting that in these days meetings and consultations have been held between officials of the Turkish and Russian Foreign and Defense ministries to examine the developments of the crises in Libya and Syria .

The departure of al-Thinni and al-Sarraj, evidently piloted from the outside, could therefore favor a new composition of the Presidential Council capable of bringing together all the parties and calling elections: an initiative that would allow Turks and Russians to offer to the international community the stabilization of the former Italian colony while consolidating the respective areas of influence with economic penetration and military bases.

Italy appears totally foreign to these political and strategic developments, now reduced to the role of passive follower of Turkey in Libya and in the Eastern Mediterranean. The only Libyan story that sees Rome as the protagonist (but this is not good news) is that relating to the 18 Italian and Tunisian fishermen of two Mazara del Vallo fishing boats captured on 4 September in international waters by the patrol boats of the Haftar LNA and detained in prison in Benghazi.

The accusation, as revealed to the Nova News Agency by General Khaled al Mahjoub, a high officer of Haftar’s army, is of having entered without authorization the Libyan exclusive fishing zone (declared unilaterally and arbitrarily by Muammar Gaddafi in 2005 for an excursion up to 74 miles from the coast)

Apparently the Libyans do not intend to release the fishermen until Rome releases four “footballers” in prison in Italy for trafficking in illegal immigrants.

The Farnesina has denounced the blackmail to which it does not seem to want to bend and tries to unblock the situation by putting pressure on the president of the parliament of Tobruk Saleh and on Haftar’s allies, that is, Russians, Egyptians and Emiratis, so that they work to unblock the situation.

The impression, however, is that Tobruk’s blackmail is only Haftar’s ploy primarily to “punish” Italy for its subjugation to Turkey but perhaps also for having marginalized it from political dialogue by preferring Saleh, to which Minister Luigi Di Maio has visited, without meeting Haftar, in conjunction with the seizure of the two fishing boats.

After all, Haftar has never lost an opportunity to attack Italy and in this case seems to have taken the opportunity to ridicule the government of Rome, which has now become a real appearance in Libyan events.


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