25.06.2023 Author: Bakhtiar Urusov

The possibility of a shift in Libya’s eastern zone toward the US

The possibility of a shift in Libya’s eastern zone toward the US

The chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) promotes his sons’ political ambitions in Libya who are ready to strengthen ties with the United States.

The General Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa is prepared to transfer full control to his sons and has no intention of participating in the 2023–2024 election campaign. Analysts estimate that such a transit of power could lead to a pro-Western direction in eastern Libya.

The 79-year-old warlord’s refusal to participate in the electoral process aimed to reconcile the country’s east and west is owing to his declining health as well as foreign pressure, particularly from Egypt, one of the key supporters of the eastern zone. In negotiations in Cairo with Speaker of the House of Representatives (Tobruk), Aguila Salah Issa, and President of the Libyan Presidential Council (Tripoli), Mohamed al-Manfi, the Field Marshal stipulated that he would not obstruct his sons Saddam and Belqasim’s nomination for the presidency.

William Burns, Director of the CIA, recently visited Libya, illuminating the complexities of shifting the political balance. The US intelligence chief held talks not only with the leadership of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, but also with its opponents in the east, represented by Haftar.

The Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity, Abdel Hamid Dbeiba, assured the guest that Tripoli shared the US concerns about the encroachment of foreign forces in the former Jamahiriya, and also showed a readiness to cooperate with Washington in the fields of politics, security, and economy.

The discussion between Burns and Haftar took place in a limited format since CIA agents prevented one of the commander’s sons from being there. During the meeting, Haftar insisted that the US should not limit its contacts in Libya solely to Tripolitania. The director of the CIA has attempted to convince his counterpart to stop using economic pressure because Haftar’s followers have been accused with routinely obstructing oil exports. In light of the global trend toward the substitution of Russian energy, Burns emphasized the significance of safeguarding Libyan fuel supply and urged military cooperation with Tripoli.

Although the conflict of interests between Haftar’s sons, Saddam and Belqasim, is expected to complicate the succession process within the Haftar family, experts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) predict that Saddam might eventually take command of the LNA. Saddam has long been working on strengthening his own image in the news field and running errands of a diplomatic nature. He was given access to contacts with a polling firm in Israel in 2021, helping Haftar Senior to get ready for the general elections that year, but it never happened.

Tribal elders and local community leaders are expected to swear allegiance to Saddam Haftar as leader of the army, which is usually achieved through the organization of a major clan meeting. According to these estimates, putting the LNA in Saddam’s hands would be a test for Russian interests in Libya. WINEP points out in this context that Saddam Haftar is committed to diversifying external contacts, as evidenced by his willingness to establish ties with Israel, a controversial player in the Arab world. Analysts do not rule out that it is in the Saddam era that Cyrenaica may show interest in joining the Abrahamic Accords. This naturally raises the question of the reliability and usefulness of the LNA for Russia in post-Haftar Libya, given that the Israelis are allies of the United States. Against this backdrop, experts note that the Biden Administration has long needed to specify its approach to Libya so as not to lose ground in this arena. Burns’ unexpected visit indicated that Washington possibly had started working on this.


Bakhtiar Urusov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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