Times of Oman
Trump inauguration may change Libya conflict equation
January 11, 2017 | 3:18 PM
by Richard J. C. Galustian
Libyan security forces stand guard outside the Italian Embassy which reopened and resumed work a day earlier, in the capital Tripoli on January 10, 2017. Diplomatic missions in Libya have been targeted in recent years, including in 2012 when an attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American staff. The Italian embassy was one of the last western missions to close in February 2015 after a coalition of militias seized the capital Tripoli. AFP
 
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What will happen in Libya in the first three months from the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump as US president on January 20th when the realpolitic of US foreign policy becomes clear.

One indication is certain. Washington interests appear to favour a military solution to the quagmire in Libya that involves Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter as part of some sort of leadership council which could and should include some former Muamar Gaddafi officials if the country is to be united.

The eradication of IS in Libya is however still paramount.

That would put America and Russia on the same side in Libya.

This is because Russia signalled with its meeting with Haftar at their foreign ministery in Moscow in mid December its willingness to support Hafter's Libyan National Army, as the legitimate military force of the House of Representatives (HOR) the legal legitimate parliament in Tobruk.

On December 2nd Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov categorically said Moscow “does not want Libya to end up like Syria, as a failed state.”

Moscow has been cultivating ties with Hafter and the LNA as well as the HOR in Tobruk for more than a year. Notably, along with Tobruk’s key allies Egypt and UAE, it continues to recognise HOR, not the UN/US/UK/Italian backed Government of National Accord (GNA) government, as the legitimate government of Libya, pointing out that UN recognition granted by UN Security Council December 23rd 2015 was and is still conditional on the HOR voting yes to the GNA, which it has refused to do.

As with Syria, Russia sees an opportunity to gain new increased and important influence in an Arab state.

Four Russian made attack helicopters were delivered to LNA via UAE and Egypt in summer 2016 and proved crucial, along with Soviet-made Migs, in repelling attacks by pro GNA forces, militias to be exact, at the key central oil ports, seized by LNA in September 2016.

But Russia’s stance looks to be reactive. It said in January it publicly supports lifting UN arms embargo, implying weapons would go to the LNA.

This contrasts with the Obama administration, UK and Italy et al in wanting the embargo lifted only for GNA militias. In other words, if Western Powers lifts it for the GNA, Russia’s UNSC vote will come only if LNA also gets weapons.

That's why it's hard to second guess Trumps foreign policies where he appears to want to keep everybody guessing until after his inauguration.

Likewise with oil; two thirds of oil, now at a record high for two years of 700,000 plus bpd comes from the East of Libya. For now the money flows to central bank in Tripoli, but that didn't stop Tobruk attempting to sell independently in May only for the UNSC to order the tanker to turn around. Russia has an option of buying direct from Cyrenaica, the East Libya, challenging western powers to intercept its tankers, should the consensus in Libya break down. A potential flash point.

A further problem is that there is a movement in the East to create a new flag for Cyrenica as well as a new national anthem. This would certainly inevitably lead to Libya becoming two separate Countries, East and West Libya.

Exasperating the situation is the predicted total collapse within days of General Electricity Company of Libya's ability to distribute electricity to the entire country; this will very much heighten and speed up internal tensions.

Moscow is running a wait-and-see policy. Buying oil or providing weapons would tip the strategic balance, but that option is likely to be part of a larger calcuation in its competition with western powers in other areas of the world.

So the wild card remains; the Trump card which may see the US drop support for the GNA in its current form, and Trump’s hopefully good relations with Putin and Moscow could well see Russia seeking a chunk of influence in Libya at presumably the expense of the Italians and British with the French solely interested in Southern Libya.

A new 'Great Game' seems to be emerging all over the region.


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