EU’s new naval mission in Libya one-sided, poorly conceived

    The only party that will be affected by this ill-conceived measure is the legitimate government, while the rogue anti-governmental forces are likely to continue receiving regular weapons supplies and are unlikely to face any EU interdiction

    The European Union (EU) has launched [1] a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, and consequently pave the way for a political dialogue to negotiate a long-term political settlement in Libya. A previous naval mission, known as Sophia, was stopped [2] as countries, including Italy and Austria, argued that it acted as a “pull factor” for refugees. They claimed it encouraged migrants attempting to reach Europe through Libya to start their journey via sea in the hope of being rescued. The warlord Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of the east and commands the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), has been the largest recipient of illegal weapons transfers, provided to him by land, sea, and air.

    Haftar and his self-declared LNA announced in December 2019 that a “decisive battle” [3] had been launched to capture the capital Tripoli from the internationally recognized government, the Government of National Accord (GNA). This latest offensive came ten months after he launched an earlier military attack to seize the capital. His offensive was supported by foreign powers through arms shipments and the deployment of military equipment and mercenaries to Libya. As a consequence, fighting escalated in Libya, severely denting the national reconciliation process. The EU officially pretends to support the UN-backed [4] government based in Tripoli. However, France, at the same time, has pursued a destabilizing policy in Libya. Up until now, France’s position towards the two main factions in Libya has suffered from extreme oscillation. While giving lip service to the UN-backed government, the French government has endeavored to build the military and intelligence capacity of Haftar. Such a subversive strategy weakens the EU’s influence in Libya. The EU has been trying to implement the arms embargo, but those efforts have failed miserably thus far; some countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, France, and Egypt, have been increasing their support for Haftar – despite the UN’s arms embargo [5].

    The Munich [6] meeting followed the one hosted by Germany in Berlin [7] in its own attempt to stem the conflict, building on UN efforts to reach a ceasefire, disarm militias, and launch new economic development measures. However, progress depends on preventing weapon flows into Libya, and that has yet to happen. Launching a new concerted effort with a focus on enforcing the UN arms embargo around Libya may not prevent the transfer of arms to Libya, as a number of countries have provided significant military assistance to Haftar by air, such as the UAE, which has done this over Saudi and Egyptian airspaces. The panel of UN experts [8], which reports on violations of the U.N.-mandated arms embargo on Libya, have reported that Haftar’s forces have received aircraft as well as military vehicles from the UAE [9]. They have even established an airbase at Al Khadim [10] — near the north-eastern Libyan city of Marj and Haftar’s headquarters at el Rajma –, which is capable of hosting advanced jets, such as the F-16, the Mirage-2000, and the Rafale.

    Furthermore, according to some reports [11], the UAE has made a 3,000-ton delivery of military equipment to Haftar’s forces over the last few weeks. It is also believed [12] that there are efforts underway to increase the number of Emirati personnel in Libya to support Haftar’s offensive against the internationally-recognized government. Libyan UN-backed government’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Siyala indicated [13] that a new naval mission could be ineffective to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, if the new mission only focuses on maritime surveillance and turns a blind eye to the arms flowing to Haftar via the airspace and the eastern borders. A forceful arms embargo is considered as a vital step in bringing long-lasting peace and stability to Libya, where the UN-backed Tripoli government is under attack by the forces of warlord Haftar. The EU claims to be the most stalwart supporter of the UN-led peace process, but in practical terms, few countries have provided tangible assistance to the UN-backed government so far. Turkey is one of the countries siding with legitimacy, and the Turkish leadership is supporting the government diplomatically, politically, economically, and security-wise.

    From an aspirational point of view, the new mission aims to stop the flow of weapons to Libya. However, when considering Libya’s coastline of more than 1,700 km, it is virtually impossible to implement a monitoring mechanism. Furthermore, some countries, such as the UAE, send their support by air and by land via Egypt, which is another key backer of Haftar. Therefore, practically speaking, the only party that will be affected by this ill-conceived measure is the legitimate government, while the rogue anti-governmental forces are likely to continue receiving regular weapons supplies and are unlikely to face any EU interdiction. In theory, a stable ceasefire in Libya needs a strong arms embargo. Therefore, launching this new EU mission could be seen at face value as a signal of the EU’s commitment to the Berlin process, which aims to bring stability to Libya. However, in this particular instance, the EU is indeed punishing the victims and rewarding the perpetrators, thus merely helping to perpetuate the impunity of the latter.














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