What would happen if Gen. Haftar became part of Libya’s government?

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On February 7th the Italian government restated its support for General Khalifa Haftar to be part of Libya’s “official” government in Tripoli, the Government of National Accord (GNA). The Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni will urge his British counterpart Theresa May to adopt a similar stance during their meeting on February 13th. Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has also voiced support for including Haftar in the GNA.

Rome has also gotten backing from Brussels where the E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini who stated that E.U. “wants to facilitate dialogue” between Haftar and GNA’s head Fayez al-Sarraj. The U.N. announced growing support for amending GNA’s leadership, but did not mention Haftar.

However, any changes in the GNA leadership will likely include Gen. Haftar because he is the leader of Libyan National Army (LNA), which currently backs a separatist Libyan government in Tobruk. Haftar’s army also controls large swaths of eastern Libya.

The gains made by the LNA are due to Haftar’s success in fighting Islamic terrorist groups. One example being Operation Dignity in 2016 where LNA under Haftar pushed the Shura Council, an umbrella group of Islamic militias that includes Al-Qaeda, out of their stronghold in Benghazi.

The GNA could benefit from Haftar’s experience in fighting Islamic terrorism. So far the Tripoli government has failed to put a stop to a civil war that has been raging in the country since Muamar Qaddafi was deposed in 2011.The GNA leadership is fractured and cannot even pacify the capital.

Forming a unity government with Haftar would allow GNA to reclaim a large part of the country and bring the LNA to their side. With LNA fighting alongside Tripoli forces the GNA might be successful in beating back the Islamist militias that control different parts of the country.

This might also increase Moscow’s influence in Libya because of Haftar’s close ties with the country. So far Russia’s support for Haftar has been mostly symbolic with the General making two visits to Moscow last year, but this seems to be changing.

Two weeks ago the LNA announced that dozens of its fighters have been flown to Russia for treatment, while Haftar has recently been given a tour of a Russian aircraft carrier. These events show that ties between Tobruk and Moscow might be tightening. Russia has went from having formal meetings with Hafez to providing his men with medical help.

Putin’s next step might be giving Haftar financial and military aid in exchange for oil. Currently Russia has $4 billion worth in pre-2011 arms contracts with Libya. A spokesperson for the eastern government has indicated that Tobruk wants Moscow to recognize them as the recipients of these contracts.

In exchange for the $4 billion worth of arms Tobruk would provide Russia with oil. They already have their own branch of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and even signed 29 oil contracts with different countries, with Moscow being one of the signatories.

However, the Tobruk government is unable to export oil because of the U.N. embargo, which only allows the GNA to export petroleum. However, if Haftar is able to form a unity government with Tripoli then Tobruk would no longer be covered by the embargo because its authority would be officially recognized by the U.N.

This could explain why Russia has backed U.N. meditation in Libya. If the U.N. is able to convince the GNA to give Haftar a seat on the Presidential Council (PC) then Moscow could gain direct access to Libyan oil and bring the country into its orbit.

If he is permitted to join the Presidential Council, Haftar could use his position to pressure the GNA into accepting the $4 billion worth of Russian arms in exchange for Libyan petroleum. Haftar’s would be arguing from a position of strength because of his military successes and role in liberating eastern Libya. Faced with pressure from a successful commander the GNA might acquiesce and make a deal with Moscow.

This would give Russia another outpost in the Middle East, along with Syria, allowing Moscow to spread its influence further into the Arab world.

U.S. could lose a potential ally in the war on Islamic terror and have its influence in the Middle East undermined because Russia could use Tripoli as a springboard into Egypt and United Arab Emirates. Both states are major players in the Libyan conflict so they might try to strengthen their connections with Russia if Moscow is able to muscle its way into Tripoli.

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