Beji Caid Essebsi on Libyan Unity: “We Have Many Problems With One Libya, How Many Would We Have With Two.”

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Tunisian President , told the Italian newspaper ‘La Stampa’ that Tunisia supported an international military intervention in Libya targeting the Islamic State so long as it was under the auspices of the United Nations, adding Tunisia had an interest in the return of stability to Libya because of the terrorist attacks originating in Libya and carried out in Tunisia.


When asked, during an interview published on April 23, what he thought of a possible U.S. and European military intervention against the Islamic State in Libya, President Essebsi said “I support [it] to the extent that the attacks are concentrated against Isis targets limiting collateral damage. When the United States attacked ISIS (using an acronym for the Islamic State) bases in Sabratha [where] unfortunately there were of Tunisians, they informed us. More generally it needs cooperation, within the framework of the United Nations. ”
On February 19, a U.S. airstrike targeted Tunisian militants outside the Libyan city of Sabratha. The primary target of the airstrike was Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian Militant wanted Tunisian authorities for his role in the Bardo National Museum attack in March 2015, according to local Libyan sources the U.S. airstrike killed over 50 suspected militants, the vast majority of whom were Tunisian nationals.


Regarding the influence of foreign powers Essebsi said that for stability to return to Libya ‘collaboration between all of Libya’s neighboring countries, including Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan along with Italy, France, Britain, Germany and the United States” was vital, adding these are “nations that matter more than others like Qatar, Turkey and the Emirates – who are far away.”

Qatar and Turkey supported the General National Congress (GNC) government in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates along with Egypt, whom Essebsi conveniently failed to mention, supported the (HOR) which the GNC ousted from Tripoli in 2014 exiling the HOR to the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk.


Asked if Libya would ever again be united Essebsi explained “In Libya, the governments, large and small, there are many. Opposed with each other. The problem is not , but the absence of the state. We were the first to support the Libyan revolution taking many of the refugees who fled. We have an interest in the return of stability of Libya because of the terrorists who attack us are from there.”


Essebsi then reaffirmed his support of the Faiez Serraj led Presidency Council and did not parse words when it came to the need for Libya to remain united stating: “we have many problems with [one] Libya, how many would we have with two.”


It is not the first time President Essebsi has shown his sense of humor regarding Tunisia’s neighbor.  In early February, while hosting the heads of the foreign diplomatic missions in Tunis, Essebsi had addressed the implications any foreign would have on Tunisia stating:  “The countries which plan a military intervention in Libya must first take into consideration the interests of the neighboring countries, first and foremost Tunisia, and consult with us.” Before adding “one man’s loss is another man’s gain”


The gunman responsible for the Sousse beach attack in which killed thirty eight mostly British tourists and the two gunmen responsible for carrying out the Bardo attack are all believed to have received training at camps outside Sabratha.  The Islamic State affiliated, Jund al-Khilafah, claimed responsibility for the Bardo and Sousse attacks, and in November Jund al-Khilafah also claimed to be behind the suicide bombing in Tunis which killed twelve members of Tunisia’s Presidential Guard. Tunisian officials have stated that the explosives used in the Tunis bomb attack were of a ‘similar type’ to explosives seized earlier in 2015 which had been fabricated in Libya.


After the Sousse attack the Tunisian authorities began construction on a 250 km ‘security barrier’ along its border with Libya.  The security barrier, completed in early February, runs the section of Tunisia’s border between the Ras Jedir and Dhehiba border crossings.  U.S. and German military advisors are assisting Tunisia with the installation and training Tunisian armed forces in the use of a electronic surveillance system along the security barrier.  The U.S. embassy said in a statement Friday, March 25 that the U.S. was disbursing 24.9 million USD, the first of three installments  to fund the system.


On March 7,  militants simultaneously attacked security personnel, a national guard office, a customs office and a military barracks in the city of Ben Guerdane near the Libyan border in a day long attack that began at dawn and resulted in over sixty deaths, including twelve security personnel and seven civilians.  The Tunisian authorities have stated that the unprecedented attack was an attempt by Tunisian militants, active in Libya, to establish an Islamic State emirate in Tunisia.

Estimates of Tunisians who have left the country to join militant organizations range from 3,000 to 6,000, approximately half of whom are believed to be in Libya.