The U.N. Security Council has recognized the new Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), the E.U. has approved sanctions against those who would prevent the GNA from taking office and the GNA is being ordered into Tripoli to take over from a rather unwelcoming current occupant, what is far from clear is how exactly the GNA will get to Tripoli and what it will do once there.
On Wednesday, March 17, the European Union agreed to sanctions, first proposed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (who will be in Tunis on Friday), on Nouri Abusahmain, the speaker of the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, and Khalifa al-Ghwell, the prime minister of the Tripoli government. The president of the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HOR) in Tobruk, Aguila Saleh, also saw sanctions imposed for his failure to allow the HOR to vote on a proposed Government of National Accord GNA.
This builds on rapidly increasing momentum this week alone, towards an intervention in Libya. Despite the failure of the HOR to hold an official vote, a minority bloc has prevented a vote from being held by blocking access to the building, threatening deputies and cutting off the power supply to the parliament, the Libyan equivalent of a filibuster, a majority of the HOR’s members signed a petition in approval of the GNA.
On Tuesday, March 15, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2273 which in addition to extending the mandate of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to June 15th recognized the Government of National Accord “as the sole legitimate Government of Libya, that should be based in the capital Tripoli.” the resolution also “welcom[ed]the endorsement in principle of the Libyan Political Agreement by the House of Representatives (HOR) on January, 25, 2016.”
“Unanimously adopting resolution 2273 (2016), the 15-member Council recognized the need for UNSMIL to re-establish its presence in Libya and make the necessary security arrangements to that effect.”
The U.N. Resolution on Tuesday added that the Security Council “Recall[ed] its determination in resolution 2213 (2015) that the situation in Libya continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,”
Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Khemaies Jhinaoui met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow earlier this week, they issued a joint statement which declared any intervention in Libya must go through the U.N. Security Council. On Tuesday, for all intents and purposes, it did.
The French, since Jean-Marc Ayrault has taken the helm at the Quai d’Orsay have suddenly seemed more vocal on Libya. The French aircraft carrier the Charles De Gaulle, had already conducted surveillance over Libya as it was being deployed to join airstrikes on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, when President Francois Hollande had sought a more aggressive approach after the November 13, attacks in Paris. The Charles De Gaulle is now in position for Libya.
The French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is due in Tunis on Friday, to mark the one year commemoration ceremony of the March 18, 2015 attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, which Tunisian authorities believe had its origins in militant training camps outside Sabratha, Libya. On February 19, the U.S. launched an airstrike on those training camps and Noureddine Chouchane, whom Tunisian authorities believe was responsible for facilitating the travel of militants and weapons between Libya and Tunisia.
But the Charles De Gaulle and Sabratha, are examples of the potential for airstrikes. There are reports, all but confirmed, of British, American and French special forces in eastern Libya and Tripoli. But even if airstrikes, or the threat of airstrikes could encourage the Tripoli government to accept the GNA’s presence. Even if the security of the Presidency Council of Faiez Serraj, the Prime Minister designate of the GNA could be assured by special forces, what then?
On Wednesday the GNC government in Tripoli said ”Libyans will never accept it (the GNA) we will not barter away the blood of our martyrs and we will not sell off the freedom that we have gained” adding the GNC ”is dealing with political, economic and social problems despite difficult conditions, as well as internal and external pressures that constitute a conspiracy against the February 17 revolution that aim to restore the former regime to power”
This week alone in Tripoli a Sufi mosque was demolished in broad daylight by masked men, and half the city’s power was cut off after several members of the city of Khoms military council and its customs director were kidnapped in Tripoli. One of the power plants that provides Tripoli with a significant portion of its electricity is in Khoms. The Libya Herald reported the blackout, a reverse ransom of sorts, and another kidnapping on Monday March 14. In its report the Libya Herald noted that the Tripoli authorities managed to secure the release of the Khoms hostages, after the blackout began.
Despite its failings the Tripoli government, like the HOR in Tobruk is actually in Libya, unlike the GNA. Which despite EU and UN recognition is less of a sovereign than the GNC which controls the capital, the HOR which controls the remnants of the Libyan National Army, and even less so than the Islamic State, which unlike the now recognized Libyan Government actually controls territory in Libya and has at least some tangible support.
As Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski noted, when after the EU meeting which announced the sanctions said “We have four centers of power in practice and it turns out that the most effective one is the one created by Islamic State, which is developing its structures there.” The GNA would arrive as the smallest, least experienced, albeit most internationally recognized actor in a very crowded and unpredictable security environment. To believe it will be able to establish itself in Tripoli without a foreign security force propping it up through what will be a multi year process of incorporating, disarming or defeating the militias beyond count is utter fantasy
The alphabet soup of Libyan Politics, or what U.S. President Barrack Obama refers to as “the shitshow” is about to hit the fan. In his interview with ‘The Atlantic’ in which he so colorfully described Libya’s fragmentation Obama also noted: “When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up,”
Obama added criticized the U.K.’s David Cameron for losing interest but reserved his most scathing remarks for France’s former president. As ‘The Atlantic’ wrote it:
“Sarkozy wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure” for the intervention. This sort of bragging was fine, Obama said, because it allowed the U.S. to “purchase France’s involvement in a way that made it less expensive for us and less risky for us.”
Yet it seems Obama has not learned from his experience with the Europeans. Italy has repeatedly and loudly stated it is prepared to lead operations in Libya, but when it has come to proposing actions or condemnations it has been more diplomatic and cautious than the UN itself. After French special forces were reported in Benghazi, even the Italian newspaper ‘Corriere della Sera‘, which noted the presence of British and American special forces in Tripoli questioned where the Italians were.
Earlier in March the U.S. ambassador to Italy, John Phillips resorted to publicly reminding the Italians that they had previously committed to contribute 5,000 troops in the event of an international intervention. Note to Obama: if you thought the French and British were braggarts and non-committal, just take a quick glance at the last hundred years of the Italian military.
A half hearted intervention, particularly one in which the so called leader has to be nudged before anything has actually begun, or one which is intimately linked to domestic public opinion, as an Italian one would be, would simply further the fragmentation of the various Libyas. Another 2011 style intervention with no, or at best a hesitant and fickle follow through would be precisely the worst case scenario for Libya and for Tunisia. Only this time the Jihadists are already operational.
The Italians may actually succeed in uniting some Libyans, but not in the way the west had in mind, only the colonizers forget the past. By having Italy lead, and what already already appears to be ‘reluctantly’ lead the west could actually make things much worse. The jihadis are already enthusiastically awaiting Italy specifically.
Omar Mokhtar, a Libyan National Hero, who led a resistance movement against Italy’s occupation of Libya, from 1911 until his death by hanging after Italian forces captured him in 1931, has been appearing frequently in external jihadi propaganda.
Background: Mokthar, through his mastery of desert terrain and tactics and with support from Egypt, fought the Italians in Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya). In 1930, in an attempt to quell Mokthar’s insurgency, Libya’s Fascist Era General Rodolfo Graziani, forced Libya’s eastern Libyan Bedouins into concentration camps where tens of thousands died.
For Libyans to hold up their hero together is one thing, for external actors to be capitalizing on Mokthar’s legacy is entirely different matter and cause for concern not only in the immediate Maghreb but in the greater Sahara and Sahel. (i.e. Mokthar bel Mokhtar)
Early in January, AQIM, released a video warning Italy not to intervene in Libya. The video, entitled ‘Roman Italy Has Occupied Libya’, referred to the ‘grandchildren of Graziani’ and denounced the UNSMIL mediated Skhirat agreement.
Not to be outdone, Islamic State then issued its own video this January with allusions to Omar Mokhtar and Graziani; even including footage of Anthony Quinn as Omar Mokhtar in the 1981 film “Lion of the Desert”. Along with threats to Italy.
Everyone from the U.S. to the Jihadis are ready for Italy to intervene, everyone except for Italy that is.