Libya: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

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August 25, 2020: General Hiftar is not supporting the four-day old ceasefire agreement. His LNA (Libyan National Army) is concentrating forces in the coastal city of Sirte while Turkish forces keep arriving from western Libya and deploying for an attack on the city. To Hiftar this indicates that the Turks have no intention of maintaining the ceasefire.

The ceasefire agreement was brokered by Russia in Moscow. Hiftar was not invited, in part because the negotiations were mainly between Russia and Turkey. Representatives of the GNA (UN created Government of National Accord) and HoR (House of Representatives government, the last elected one) were there to approve or disapprove whatever the Russians and Turks agreed on. These talks were embarrassing for the Libyans, and Arabs in general, because once more Europeans were deciding the fate of Arabs. This view of the situation is understood by most Libyans and Arabs and made worse by the fact that the Arab nations are not able to stop it. The Russians and Turks take advantage of the corruption and fragmentation among the Arabs to bribe or intimidate those who oppose them.

Turkey has recruited over 30,000 Syrians to serve as mercenaries in Syria and Libya and is continuing to recruit, train and fly Syrian mercs to Libya. Turkey has worked with Syrian Arab mercenaries for a long time, not just in the last few years in northern Syria, but for centuries before that. Turkey offers acceptable terms and tends to fulfill its agreements. Despite all that Turkish military efforts in Syria (and Libya) are stalled.

Until the Turks showed up Hiftar had been successful at defeating Western plans for Libya. Those Western machinations were embodied in the GNA government, which was a UN creation that never attracted a lot of support in Libya. Hiftar and the HoR government did and because of that had a lot of Arab nations actively supporting it.

Scheming Frenemies

Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria but are actually fighting each other in Libya. In late 2019 Turkey intervened on the side of the UN backed GNA government. GNA is weak and backs Islamic rule, which is why it was about to be eliminated by the Russian backed Libyan HoR government and its more competent LNA forces. Another advantage was that LNA was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Turkey intervened in return for a signed agreement giving them the right to drill for oil in disputed waters between Libya and Turkey. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. The Libya fighting led to NATO countries openly backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion. Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to pretend they are all friends and allies of Syria but the reality is different and becoming more visible and violent. Many Libyans fear that Russia and Turkey are planning to grab the Libyan oil and keep it for themselves. There’s nothing to be grabbed in Syria.

Turkey does not seem to fear an Egyptian military response to their invasion of western Libya. Egyptian forces are gathering at the Libyan border. The official Turkish view is that Egypt is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudis Arabia and the UAE who have been backing the anti-Islamic terrorist/Moslem Brotherhood LNA in Libya for years. The Turks may underestimate the Arab hostility towards their aggression in North Africa. Iranian involvement is more recent and after the religious dictatorship took power in the 1980s Kaddafi was one of the few Arab rulers the Iranians could do business with. Because of that, Iranian interference is not welcome either.

Smugglers Rejoice

The people smugglers have benefitted from the Turkish invasion. While the LCG (Libyan Coast Guard) cracked down on the smugglers the Turks didn’t care. In part this because back in Turkey the government tolerates people smugglers arranging (for a fee from the illegal migrant) to get Arabs, Africans or Asians from Turkey to Europe. The LCG is something of a mercenary outfit that is not controlled by anyone in Libya. The LNG was founded and sustained by Italy, which pays the LCG to keep illegal migrants from reaching Italy.

Protestors Persist

For the last four days people in Tripoli and Misrata have been gathering in the streets to protest GNA misrule. For the last few days, the local militias that protect the GNA have been shooting at the protestors to discourage them. The GNA insists that the protestors are hostile agents seeking to disrupt GNA rule. The irony is not lost on the protestors, who are desperately protesting GNA incompetence, corruption and calling in former imperial overlord Turkey to keep the GNA in power.

The recent Russo-Turk ceasefire also helped trigger anti-government demonstrations in Tripoli and Misrara. Western media tend to describe the protestors as angry about poverty, corruption and bad government. Western media tend to ignore or play down the Western meddling angle. But this is a big deal in the Arab world and not a paranoid fantasy in Libya. Another reality in Libya is that corruption is rampant and national unity is weak. These two vices existed during the decades of Kaddafi rule and were exploited to keep Kaddafi in power. By 2011 most Libyans admitted they understood this scam and wanted no more of it. Like Tunisia and Egypt, the 2011 Arab Spring only succeeded in overthrowing corrupt governments in North Africa. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring uprisings began, had the most successful revolution. Egypt reverted to an elected dictatorship within a few years and Libya is still fighting for a solution.

The irony of all this is that while Kaddafi was a corrupt dictator, he was a successful nationalist. He kept most foreign, especially Western, influence out of the country. Now the foreigners are back, including ancient foe Egypt, more recent imperial ruler Turley and colonial overlord Italy. Russia bought as much influence as it could get during the Cold War and is trying to get some of that back. Except for Hiftar and the LNA, Libyans have not had much success keeping the foreigners and their “an offer you can’t refuse” tactics out.

August 24, 2020: The GNA, in response to the persistent anti-government protests in Tripoli and Misrata promised to replace some government ministers. This seemed to anger the protesters who saw this as an empty gesture, much like all the previous GNA actions.

August 23, 2020: Covid19 continues to slowly spread throughout the country. Tracking that spread is hampered by the lack of much health care capabilities. There used to be more health care but that has faded away since the revolution in 2011. Up to March 2020 no one in Libya has been tested and found to have covid19. All Libyans agree that it is important to keep it that way. As recently as May only 75 cases had been identified in Libya and three deaths confirmed. Since May there has been more progress in testing and tracking the extent of the virus. Currently 11,000 cases have been confirmed and 199 deaths attributed to covid19. That works out to 1,600 cases per million people and 29 deaths per million. The actual numbers are believed to be several times higher.

Covid19 is most dangerous in crowded urban areas, like GNA controlled Tripoli and Misrata. In LNA controlled Tobruk and Benghazi there is no quarantine, just a night time curfew imposed by the eastern H0R government the LNA works for.

In neighboring Algeria there have been about 33 deaths per million population. That’s much less than the world average of 105 deaths per million. Neighbor Tunisia had six deaths per million. For Morocco it is 25 and Egypt is 51.

August 21, 2020: The GNA and HoR governments both announced a ceasefire and agreement to hold elections in March while also forming a joint police force to maintain order in the coastal city of Sirte and the inland town of Jufra. Sirte is controlled by the LNA and threatened with attack by the Turkish invaders.

The LNA controls Jufra where it has a major airbase that is also used by the Russian Air Force. Jufra is 650, kilometers south of Tripoli or Misrata and hosts Russian instructors for Libyan pilots of MiG-29 and Su-24 aircraft as well as Libyan maintainers for both aircraft.

The ceasefire agreement also calls for the LNA controlled oil facilities to resume operation and for oil revenue to be sent to bank accounts outside Libya that are monitored by foreign auditing firms. This auditing arrangement is part of anti-corruption effort to ensure that most of the oil revenue goes to purchase essential items for all Libyans. Most Libyans are dependent on oil income to avoid abject poverty. Currently the Libyan economy is not developed sufficiently to provide a comfortable standard-of-living for all six million Libyans.

LNA supporters Egypt and the UAE praised the new agreement, as did the UN, which also demanded that all foreign troops leave Libya. That demand was mainly about the Turks who have no intention in leaving.

August 20, 2020: Turkey is negotiating with the GNA to obtain a 99-year lease on part of the port of Misrara for a naval base. Turkey is also seeking control of the al Watiyah airbase, which its forces already control. Al Watiyah air base is 135 kilometers southeast of Tripoli and controlled by the LNA until Turkish forces captured in May. Egypt and other North African countries oppose any Turkish bases in Libya, as do Italy, France and Spain. Turkey is also offering to make major economic investments in Libya and wants assurances that these investments would be protected. A Turkish military base in Libya would help with those security needs and would be staffed with Turkish, not mercenary troops.

August 19, 2020: General Hiftar announced a temporary reopening of oil export facilities so that oil storage tanks can be emptied (into ships for export customers) and undergo long-delayed maintenance. The LNA shut down oil exports at the beginning of the year because of Turkish invasion and accusations that the GNA was mishandling oil income.

August 18, 2020: Egypt is organizing a military training program for a tribal coalition in eastern Libya. Some of the tribesmen will receive military training in Egypt. The ten Libya tribes involved have ancient links with Egypt and some of the tribes straddle the border. About 14 million Egyptians have family or ancestral ties in Libya. Before the civil war a million Egyptians worked in Libya, and accounted for over 80 percent of the foreign workforce. This large foreign workforce is typical of Arab oil states. Foreign workers handle skilled jobs that few locals are qualified for and many more jobs that Libyans disdain. Over 80 percent of the Egyptian workforce in Libya lost their jobs due to financial problems or anti-foreigner violence. Egypt wants peace and prosperity to return to Libya because that will also mean the return of Egyptian workers. Before the 2011 war began the 6.5 million Libyans had a per capita GDP of about $10,000 (50 percent more if adjusted for purchasing power parity). Many Libyans were content to get by on a low-stress government job and let foreign workers keep the economy going.

August 11, 2020: West of the coastal city of Sirte, LNA warplanes attacked a convoy of Turkish mercenaries trying to establish a base on the city outskirts.

August 9, 2020: Satellite photos show that Turkey has brought in Turkish made Korkut self-propelled armored anti-aircraft systems equipped with twin 35mm autocannon and several portable (Stinger or Russian equivalent) anti-aircraft missiles. The 35mm gun is a popular weapon for armored, self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery. Systems of this type were first developed in Europe. These fire 2.5 kg (5.5 pound) rounds at the rate of 300 a minute. Max altitude is about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The 35mm projectiles weigh up to .75 kg (1.65 pounds). This AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) is still useful against helicopters and transports and jets that are moving slowly over the battlefield.

August 7, 2020: Russia has brought in a S-300 or S-400 SAM (Surface-to- Air Missile) system at the LNA battery for the main oil export port of Ras Lanuf.

July 30, 2020: Turkey is trying to diminish Arab criticism of its Libyan invasion. For example, today Turkish police arrested and agreed to turn over to Algeria Guermit Bounouira, a retired Algerian army officer who had fled, with his family to Turkey in March. That rapid exit was to avoid embarrassing questions about what Bounouira while working for his late boss, Ahmed Salah, the military supreme commander who persuaded long-time president Bouteflika to resign in April 2019. Salah died unexpectedly of a heart attack on December 23rd. Salah was thought to be in reasonably good health for a man of 79. He was buried two days later and left the newly elected president with one less potential obstacle to the fundamental political changes most Algerians want.

Salah’s successor, Said Chengriha, was appointed by the new president and is seen as loyal to the goals of the new government. Former aides to Salah were a different matter. Bounouira was the private secretary for Salah and lost his job when Salah died. It turned out that Bounouira had quietly collected a large number of secret documents and even items not written down while working for Salah. Bounouira had already used that information to get rich and feared discovery. That is why he fled to Turkey and quickly began the process of becoming a Turkish citizen. Bounouira was in touch with a lot of other exiled Algerian officers and government officials wanted for corruption. The Algerian government was eager to get custody of Bounouira and Turkey was eager to reduce Algerian criticism of the Turkish military operations in Libya. Bounouira was in front of an Algeria court by August 3rd. Suddenly there was less Algerian criticism of what was going on in Libya. That might not last long if it turns out Bounouira provided Turkey with a lot of sensitive information in order to expedite becoming a Turkish citizen. Meanwhile Bounouira is being charged with embezzlement, selling secret documents and confidential information from the Ministry of National Defense as well as consorting with Algerians wanted by the courts but had fled the country. In addition, Bounouira is also suspected of using his position to illegally acquire property in Algeria and abroad. Turkey also has a lot of investments in Algeria and is a major trading partner (about three billion dollars’ worth a year) and would rather see that increased than reduced because of what is going on in Libya. That happened quickly as Algeria warned that Egyptian plans to arm Libyan tribes with heavy weapons to fight the invading Turks would turn Libya into “another Somalia.” Libya will never become another Somalia but Libyans are concerned about returning to the status of a province of the Turkish empire.

Algeria has no interest in sending Algerian troops to Libya as peacekeepers or to eject the “Turkish invaders.” Like all the other North African countries, except Egypt, Algeria wants a peaceful settlement to the fighting in Libya. With the recent (since late 2019) Turkish intervention peace in Libya may be later rather than sooner.

July 26, 2020: The Arab world has noticed that Turkey is actively fighting Arabs in Libya, Syria and Iraq and ready to get involved elsewhere as well. Centuries of Turkish rule over Arabs ended a century ago when the Western allies defeated the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are determined to keep their own separatists and Arab Islamic terrorists under control in or near Turkey, no matter what the cost.

 

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