23.06.2016 Author: Alexander Orlov

Libya: between the USA, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

345345345345In June of this year, the US President Barack Obama repeated what he said in an interview to the American media in March. He still believes that his greatest foreign policy mistake was the military intervention by the US in the Libyan conflict as a part of the “international coalition”.

At the moment, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and France were the primary targets of his criticism.

This time, speaking in the State of Indiana, he recognized that “chaos is now the order of the day” in this Arab country, reminding the audience that NATO states had supported the rebels who were fighting against M. Gaddafi’s regime, but had failed to provide stability and assistance in forming a new government for the country. This clearly is a disguised recognition of the fact that right now the USA sees no way out of the current situation in Libya, the progress of which is increasingly reminiscent of the “Somalian scenario”. The attempt to rely on the government of the “National Consent” chaired by the technocrat, Fayez al-Sarraj has virtually failed, while a part of that government has managed to move from Tunis to a navy base in Tripoli with the financial assistance of Saudi Arabia and military support of the local field commanders. But it cannot rule the whole country. However, it joined another two available governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, and it was “internationally acknowledged.” The fact that this government is legally incapable was discussed behind closed doors in Brussels at the last stage of consultations on the intra-Libya dialogue in Skhirat, Morocco. Apparently, Moscow is inclined to recognize F. al-Sarraj’s government de facto. In particular, according to media, the Russian Ambassador to Libya, I. Molotkov, recently had a meeting with the latter.

What is obvious is that even the April 2016 concealed intervention of the NATO states under the aegis of the fight with the growing expansion of the “Islamic State” by directing special task forces to Libya (comprised of soldiers from the USA, France, Italy and Great Britain) also failed. It is evident that it did not concern ISIS. From a military perspective, it would not take extra efforts to free a part of Sirte and its suburbs from the ISIS supporters by special task forces backed by airpower. Even by exaggerated estimates the number of ISIS militants in Libya hardly exceeds three thousand people.

However, NATO states were engaged in other activities there. The French actively participated in the assistance and combat operations in favour of Tobruk’s ‘commander-in-chief of the armed forces’, General Khalifa Haftar, who stormed Benghazi. No ISIS supporters have ever been located in this city, but the city has oil terminals. Plus, the House of Representatives in Tobruk is reluctant to recognize the government of F. al-Sarraj. The Americans and the British supported militia groups from Misrata and tried to agree on the dispatch of the Libyan fighters to help the new armed opposition in Syria. These facts are likely to indicate a lack of trust in NATO of the government of F. al-Sarraj, which was established with the participation of the UNO.

The activities now carried out by the USA and its allies in Libya give evidence of the transition to the final separation into its historical parts – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.

As regards the words of B. Obama about the US mistaken participation in the Libyan “adventure”, his attack was, in fact, not against Britain and France, but H. Clinton, who was the then Secretary of State and made a lot of mistakes, especially in Libya. This fact is rather interesting, considering the forthcoming presidential elections this November. Moreover, in 2011 Obama gave in to the pressure of the ‘old democrats’, represented by H. Clinton, and supported the initiative by Paris and Doha despite cautionary advice of the Pentagon chief and a Republican R. Gates not to interfere in Libya. Washington could have stopped France and Qatar by officially refusing to enter the Euro-Arabian coalition.

The question is why B. Obama chose this time to give away H. Clinton, recalling her 2011 failure in Libya, which works in favor of Donald Trump right now. The Republican candidate immediately jumped on the new “confession” of B. Obama. And there is no answer to this question so far. However, the link between H. Clinton and Doha has emerged again, although some have forgotten about it.

In fact, after the words of the US President, the question of the subversive role of Qatar once again emerges. Qatar gets everyone for money, both in the Arab world and in the West. That time, the Qataris just bought the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. Now, Doha has placed its stake on Hillary Clinton’s victory, which, according to Qatar’s estimates, should dramatically strengthen the US aggression in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq to strike on the interests of Russia and Iran – the main gas competitors of the emirate.

It is no mere coincidence that Qatari visitors are now actively flirting with Moscow, hoping to buy time for its multi-billion promises to wait for Hillary Clinton in the White House, and then go on the attack on Moscow gas positions in the EU and Turkey through the overthrow of the legitimate government in Damascus. After all, without removing B. al-Assad, the Qataris cannot seriously oust Gazprom in Europe. Qatar needs a gas pipeline through Syria and Turkey to the EU for this purpose. Otherwise, the gas bubble will burst with the expansion of LNG. At the same time, spot deliveries of Qatari LNG using dumping to Poland, and to the disadvantage of Qatar, will not solve the problem.

While Doha is waiting, a question about the fate of the ISIS, which came to Libya with the help of the Qataris, has arisen. Now, ISIS forces are operating from two centers: Derna in the east and Sirte in the west. They perform their tasks independently according to the situation on the ground. As for Derna, this is an alliance with Benghazi tribes to combat armed forces of the government (House of Representatives) in Tobruk headed by the General Khalifa Haftar. The group from Derna primarily consists of representatives of the local tribes, and it tends to support the Al-Qaeda’s ideology. Many of its militants participated in war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and American forces, and almost all of them are natives of this city. Recently, this group’s influence has been reduced by military efforts of the local militia, who consider it to be their competitor.

The group in Sirte has only one major goal – to establish control over the major oil port terminals in the west of Libya. It appeared about two years ago, and its supporters are representatives of different tribes, which are driven mainly by financial interest. It incorporates previous supporters of M. Gaddafi and natives of Misrata. Qatar participated in its creation, when the initial support points of Doha in Libya represented by Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi tribes started to dissolve. Due to Libya’s complex tribal structure and its single religious denomination, Doha failed to keep any common basis to support its interests. Militants of different groups started to migrate from one camp to another. The major force – Misrata militants, whom Qatar tried to rely on, started to come apart. Qatar’s major ally from Tripoli, A. Belhadj, was bribed, and he is now among the allies of the Prime Minister of the National Consent government, F. al-Sarraj.

In this situation Doha could not propose anything else to its allies other than financing. Qatar is unable to “feed” all of them. Doha tried to employ the ISIS experience in Iraq and Syria by creating a supra-tribal unit that would be transferred to self-financing in some time, as Iraq planned, using an approved way – establishment of the control over several oil terminals on the coast.

However, Libya is neither Syria nor Iraq, where there are Shias and the Alawites, whose fight against the Sunnis is the “cementing agent.” Libya has the abundance of tribal groups and kindreds, which excludes the Sunnis factor as a cementing link. There are only certain mercantile interests of each kindred. Moreover, the control over the port infrastructure does not provide prosperity under the current conditions in Libya, as all the major oil fields are located hinterland and are under the control of local tribes. The Libyan ISIS is unable to make a war with them. This extremist group will fall apart without financing. Thus, it is almost ousted by the local tribes from Sirte. The number of the ISIS supporters is decreasing, and it is unable to organize large-scale offensive operations. It means that the Qatar’s presence in Libya is diminishing.

General Khalifa Haftar’s positions are weakening, although just two months ago, it seemed that he was on the brink of invading Benghazi, and was planning to further move onto Tripoli and Sirte. He is losing the support of the once loyal warlords and foreign sponsors at a catastrophic rate. The main external support that he was receiving from the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, can no longer be availed to him “at any costs”, especially after the recent recognition of the F. al-Sarraj government by the Arab League on May 31. After all, Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s main donor, has finally decided on its priorities. Riyadh is in this regard putting pressure on its allies in the Arab Republic of Egypt and the UAE. It is not without reason that a month ago, the UAE authorities released four Libyans – Kamal Ahmed Darra, his son, Muhammad, Sami al-Arabi and Issa al-Manna, who had been detained without any formal charges. They are high-ranking Libyan emissaries of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, their support from Saudi Arabia means only one thing: Riyadh is trying to deprive Doha of the main support forces in Libya and thereby be able to crush it. In this way, it will be easier to outbid it. Thus, Qatar is waiting impatiently for the moment when Clinton moves into the White House and “restores order” in the Middle East.

Alexander Orlov, Political Scientist and Expert Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook