Huda al-Husseini

Peace in Europe Means Peace in Libya!

Many thought that the Berlin Conference would lead to a ceasefire in Libya. Europe understands the danger of the escalating crisis, but is it also capable of looking after its own interests?

During the days that followed the assassination of the leader of the Quds Forces Qassem Soleimani it seemed that Iraq would become the battlefield that would attract the West’s attention. With the internal protests demanding the expulsion of Iran returning, the disturbances caused by Tehran’s attempts to attack US forces in Iraq and parliament’s decision that called for the US to withdraw its troops from Iraq, it seemed that all eyes would be on Iraq.

In truth, however, the unsettling headlines came from Libya. The country, only a few hundred kilometers away from Europe, that has many refugees and massive oil reserves, has become the topic of discussion for the different leaders in Berlin in mid-January.

These leaders came to discuss the future of Libya at a time when there was an escalation in the battles and an increase in foreign intervention, especially by Turkey and Russia.

Among the leaders that attended the conference were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The two competing camps represented by the commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar and the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, Fayez al-Sarraj, were unofficially present. Both refused to meet and held separate discussions at the conference. The conference ended with an agreement to form a military committee that includes five officers from each camp under the supervision of the United Nations (UN), in preparation for a permanent ceasefire.

Strict implementation of the 2011 arms ban in Libya and the cessation of all military aids to competing forces in order to force them to conduct serious discussions were agreed to.

Despite that, in practice, no specific decisions were made concerning the means of monitoring the ceasefire or implementing the ban.

Despite that, the summit showed Europe’s increasing readiness to intervene in the escalating conflicts in Libya; in reality, it was unable to formulate the necessary mechanism to stop the chaos in the security and government sectors. At the same time, violent militias took over the capital and took Libyan lives hostage in a large prison in West Tripoli and Misrata.

Since the Gaddafi regime was overthrown, Libya became a battlefield for opposing interests, a country ripped apart, controlled by competing militias, and run by two governments, two parliaments, two central banks, and tens of militias.

Its strategic location has tempted many international players in order to exploit its resources.

Those players’ loyalties have been divided in the last few months, and Russian aid to Haftar’s forces have increased despite Moscow continually claiming that it has no connection to either camp.

On the other hand, Turkey and Qatar have supported Sarraj’s government, which also has the support of the UN and has taken West Tripoli as its stronghold.

Every European country has an interest in the stability of Libya, the third-largest exporter of oil in Africa. For example, Italy signed an agreement that prevents refugees from all over Africa to sail to the European Union (EU) from the Libyan coast. Turkey signed a military and security cooperation agreement with Sarraj’s government and an agreement to delineate marine borders between the two countries. This allows Turkey to increase its oil extraction in the Mediterranean substantially and to take over oil and gas extraction areas from Greece and Cyprus.

Egypt, however, strongly objects to any Turkish intervention in its backyard, which could strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood group publicly supported by Erdogan and that controls Egypt’s interests in the Mediterranean.

In the last few years, Russia has expanded its interests in the Middle East and has strengthened its control over the Syrian coast, and sees Libya as a strategic base that would allow it to reach the other side of the Mediterranean coast and its oil reserves.

From here, the increasing participation of foreign players in the Libyan conflict started after Haftar’s military campaign to take West Tripoli back in April 2019. Lately, some reports have indicated that 2000 former Syrian rebels were funded and sent by Turkey to Libya for six months, earning around US$2000 every month.

It is clear that with the increase in the participation of foreign players in the conflict, a solution is becoming more far fetched. When the situation becomes more complex, violence will increase and spread to neighboring countries, posing a threat to Europe in terms of refugees, terrorism, and energy supplies.

Despite all of this, the US has taken a stance similar to the one on Syria and has not exercised all of its weight, which has forced Europe to confront the challenge, after many years of looking the other way of the Mediterranean.

The point of the Berlin Conference was to stop the dangerous operation being carried out by Turkey to establish a fait accompli on the ground, increasing its influence in Libya and creating an adequate area to put pressure on its competitors in Egypt, Europe, and wherever it sees fit.

Alongside the conference, the EU is examining ways to support a ceasefire and implement sanctions, including the possibility of renewing naval patrols along the Libyan coast or sending the UN peacekeeping forces to the area.

The conflict in Libya is at a crossroads. One of the possibilities is for Europe to succeed in implementing a permanent ceasefire, dispelling foreign forces in Libya, delicately imposing a siege, stopping the inflow of arms into the country, and forcing enemies to let go of their military ambitions and to resort to compromise instead.

The second possibility is for the fighting to continue, with Turkey continuing its military support al-Sarraj and making available weapons, training, military consultants and fighters of different nationalities that have gained extensive experience during the long years of battle in Syria.

In the competing camp, Haftar will be supported by those who support them. In such a case, the internal fighting in Libya will escalate into a wider confrontation. Europe and the West will hold a tremendous responsibility in such a situation.

The Berlin Conference has proven that Europe acknowledges with certainty the rising threats. The question is: Will it succeed in recruiting enough forces to stop the Turkish offense and prevent the situation in Libya from deteriorating like it did in the Syrian civil war?

Another more important question is: In the end, what will push Arab countries to move, independently or collectively, through the Arab League to end the chaos in Libya?

The answer is clear: a quick glance at the daily headlines shows that the Arab homeland has turned into a neighborhood where every side does what suits them.