GHASSAN KADI on a potentially huge situation brewing in Libya that barely makes the news
The ‘War on Syria’ is far from being over, and it will continue until all foreign forces illegally present on Syrian soil retreat; either willingly, or defeated.
And even though the American presence in Syria has no clear and realistic political purpose other than wreaking havoc and making it hard for Russia to help reach a decisive victory, in a twist of fate, the focus of the Russo-American conflict in the region may soon move away from Syria.
In reality, the outcome of the ‘War on Syria’ was never expected by the initial assembly of adversaries when they launched the attack. Furthermore, they had many deep differences and nothing in common other than a shared hatred for Syria, but the unexpected turn of events has intensified their internal conflict and seemingly catapulted the strife between those former allies much further afield to a new hub in Libya.
Whilst the world and its media are busy with COVID-19, a new huge struggle is brewing, and this time, it is drawing new lines and objectives that are in reality going to be fuelled, financed and executed by the former once-united enemies of Syria; but this time, it will be against each other.
An array of regional and international issues lies behind the impending conflict; and to call it impending is an under-statement. It is already underway, but hasn’t reached its peak yet, let alone making any significant news coverage.
It is a real mess in Libya now, and the short version of a long story goes like this:
Soon after NATO hijacked the UNSC mandate to enforce a no-fly-zone decision over Libya and manipulated it in a manner that ‘legalised’ bombing Libya culminating in toppling and killing Gadhafi, the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the formal capital of Tripoli on the Western side of the coast, was created.
But the ‘revolution’ against Gadhafi was launched in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi. After Gadhafi’s demise, another interim government was formed in Libya’s east under the name of National Transitional Council (NTC).
The NTC, whose flag is the flag of the ‘revolution’, did not recognize the GNA and regarded it as a Western lackey.
After a few years of squabbling, NTC strongman General Haftar decided to militarily disable the GNA.
With little concrete protection on the ground from the West, and under the guise of upholding UNSC mandates, Erdogan jumped into the existing void and the opportunity to grab Libya’s oil, and decided to send troops to support the GNA in January of this year.
It must be noted that even though Saudi Arabia did not attend the meeting, it was there in spirit, and represented by its proxy-partner the UAE.
The USA took a step further and accused Russia and Syria of working behind the scenes and planning to send fighters to Libya to support Haftar.
But this article is not about the geopolitical hoo-ha. It is about shedding a light on what score-settling is expected to eventuate in Libya, and who is likely to end up doing the fighting against who.
Even though the Afghani Mujahedeen were purportedly the first Jihadi fighters to engage in battle in the 20th Century, their fight was against foreign USSR troops. In terms of an internal force that aimed for fundamentalist Muslim rule, there is little doubt that the first event of such insurgency in the Middle East was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) revolt that took place in Syria in the early 1980s and which was quashed by the then President, Hafez Assad. After their smashing defeat, the fundamentalists kept their heads low until they lit the flame again in the Palestinian refugee Naher Al-Bared Camp at the northern outskirts of Tripoli Lebanon in 2007.
There are, for those who are unaware, two cities bearing the name Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast; one is in Northern Lebanon, and it is Lebanon’s second largest city, and the other Tripoli is located on the Western side of the Libyan Coast. They are sometimes called Tripoli of the East and Tripoli of the West, respectively.
Shaker Al-Absi, leader of Fateh Al Islam, a Salafist terror organization, declared jihad and engaged in a bitter fight against the Lebanese Army. He was defeated, remained at large, but any look at Lebanon’s Tripoli after his demise displayed a clear evidence of a huge build-up of Salafist presence in the city.
When the ‘War on Syria’ started only four years later, Tripoli became a major hub for the transport of fighters and munitions from Lebanon into Syria. Nearly a decade later, and with a few Jihadi pockets left in the Idlib province now, their defeat in Syria is imminent.
But who exactly are those murderous head-chopping radical elements that we talking about; past and present?
When the coalition that started the attack on Syria took form, it was comprised virtually of all of Syria’s enemies. Most of them were religious fundamentalists. In an early article, I called them ‘The Anti-Syrian Cocktail’.
Back then, ISIS, did not exist in the form that it became known as. Furthermore, I have always advocated that there was no difference at all between Al-Nusra and ISIS and/or any other Takfiri organizations. They are all terror-based and founded on violent readings of Islam.
In time however, and this didn’t take long, it became apparent that even though the ideologies were identical, there were two major financiers and facilitators to those many different terror organizations. One was primarily funded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the other by Qatar and facilitated by Turkey.
The former group is affiliated with what is known as Saudi Wahhabi Islam. They are also known as the Salafists. The latter group are the MB’s.
As the war was shifting in favour of Syria, their agendas diverged, the schism grew deeper and strong rivalries emerged; especially as the Wahhabis and their sponsors were sent home defeated. Part of this fallout was the ongoing Saudi-Qatari conflict.
But the rivalry that is least spoken about is personal. It is the one between Erdogan and Al-Saud.
They are both fighting over the leadership of fundamentalist Sunni Islam. But Erdogan also has his nationalist anti-Kurdish agenda, and of course, he is desperate to put his hands on oil supplies that he can call his own. He cannot find oil on Turkish soil or in Turkish waters, but he is prepared to act as a regional pirate and a thug and steal another nation’s oil. If no one is to stop him, he feels that he can and will.
Upon realizing that Turkey could not get in Syria either victory or oil, Erdogan is now turning his face west towards Libya. He finds in Libya a few scores that he hopes to settle after his failure in Syria. He wants a face-saving military victory, he wants to assert his position as THE Sunni leader who can reclaim glory, and he wants free oil. Last but not least, In Libya, he will find himself close to Egypt’s Sisi; the political/religious enemy who toppled his MB friend and ally, President Mursi.
On the other side, defeated but not totally out, Saudi Arabia wants blood; Erdogan’s blood.
The Saudis blame Erdogan (and Qatar) for their loss in Syria because he was more focused on his own agenda and spoils rather than the combined ones of the former alliance they had with him. They blame him for abandoning them and making deals with Russia. They hold him responsible for the breakup of the unity of Muslim fundamentalism. They fear his aspirations for gaining the hearts and minds of Muslims who regard him as a de-facto Caliph. As a matter of fact, it was Saudi Crown Prince MBS who used the borrowed word ‘evil’ first when he stated more than two years ago that Erdogan was a part of a ‘Triangle of Evil’. And how can we forget the Khashoggi debacle and the ensuing standoff between Turkey and Saudi Arabia?
We must stop and remember once again that not long ago at all, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were allies, who together, plotted how to invade Syria and bring her down to her knees. These are the heads of the two major countries that facilitated the war machine with Saudi money injecting fighters and munitions into Syria from the south, and open Turkish borders and Qatari money injecting them from the north.
Back to Libyan General Haftar. In his westerly advance along Libya’s terrain, he cleaned up the ISIS elements who stood in his way and hindered his progress. But ironically, he is now fighting their religious rival; the Turks, the protectors of the MB’s.
The USA may accuse Syria of sending troops into Libya, but where is the proof and why should Syria do this after all? And even though the Saudis and the Emiratis are warming up relationships with Syria, the Syrian Army is still engaged in battle and is not prepared to go and fight in Libya. There is nothing for it to gain. Once the war is over, Syria will be concerned with rebuilding a war-torn nation. Syria has no interests in Libya; none what-so-ever.
The role of Russia is not very clear on the ground even though there are clear indications that Russia supports Haftar ideologically. The support began when Haftar demonstrated to the Russians that he was adamant about fighting ISIS and exterminating its presence in Libya. He lived up to this promise thus far and gained Russian respect.
How will the situation in Libya eventually pan out is anyone’s guess. That said, apart from sending regular Turkish Army units, Erdogan is not short on rounding up fighters; and he has attained much experience in this infamous field of expertise from his vicious attack on Syria. With Qatari money in his pocket, he can recruit as many fighters as Qatar can afford.
Erdogan realizes that the West is not interested in backing him up militarily in Libya. The best deal he can get from America is a tacit support. And with France, a NATO member taking part in the above-mentioned five-nation conference, he will definitely have to stand alone so-to-speak.
He has Qatar behind him, but how powerful is Qatar? A ‘nation’ of 200,000 citizens? How can such a small state play such a big role and why?
Qatar is not really a nation or even a state in the true sense. Qatar is an entity, a ‘corporation’ owned by a ruling dynasty that serves the interests of the USA and Israel. This family will outlay any sum of money to guarantee its own protection and continuity.
And Erdogan, the friend-and-foe of both of America and Israel, knows the vulnerabilities and strengths of Qatar, and he is using his deceptive talents to provide the Qatari ruling family with the securities that the shortfalls that America and Israel do not provide. For example, it was he who sent troops to Qatar after the Saudi threats. And even though Erdogan will never take any serious actions against his NATO masters except in rhetoric, the weak and fearful Qataris will dance to the tune of any protector and will sell their souls to the devil should they need to.
On the other hand in Libya, if Haftar finds himself facing a huge Turkish army, he will need assistance on the ground. Where will he seek it from? His next-door neighbour Egypt? If so, will it be in the form of regular army units or hired guns?
Sisi is neither a religious nor a fundamentalist zealot, but this is not meant to be a complementary statement. He has not taken any serious black-and-white steps in regional politics. This does not mean he is a man of principles. He is probably waiting for dollar signs, and if he sees financial benefits in supporting Saudi Arabia in a proxy war against Turkey in Libya, he may opt to agree; if the price it right.
Whether or not Saudi Arabia can afford a new war, especially with current crude prices, is another story, but as the war on Yemen winds down, the gung-ho MBS is irrational enough to be persuaded. His regional enemy is no longer Assad. His current enemy is Erdogan.
To be fair to MBS, despite his vile, criminal and megalomaniac attributes, he never claims to be a religious leader, but Erdogan does, and many Sunni Muslims see in Erdogan THE leader they have been waiting for. This alone constitutes a huge challenge for MBS because neither he, nor anyone else in the whole of Saudi Arabia for that matter, is regarded anywhere in the Muslim World as a potential leader of the Sunni Muslims.
In reality, as far as Muslim leadership is concerned, the Saudis can only bank on the location of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Apart from this, they only have wealth that enables them to buy supporters, but their oil wealth is becoming increasingly vulnerable.
In the uphill fight against Erdogan within the Muslim World, both of the Saudis and the Turks realize that the fight between them in Syria is over. Actually, the Saudis have no loyal ‘troops’ on Syrian soil left to fight anyone with. This begs the question of whether or not the Turks and Saudis are moving the battle ground and the score settling from Syria to Libya.
This time around, such a potential battle between the two lines of Jihadis may have to morph from a fight between terror organizations to a war between regular armies; the Turkish Army against the Egyptian Army. Such a battle will rage over Libyan soil, with the Turks financed by Qatar and Egypt by Saudi Arabia.
Such a war will not necessarily bring in Iran into the fight. If it eventuates, it will be a fundamentalist Sunni-Sunni war, sponsored by fundamentalist Sunni states, each fighting for and against different versions of radical Muslim fundamentalism, under the watchful eyes of the USA and to the glee of Israel.
The jihadi war that was first ignited in Tripoli Lebanon between a rogue terror organization and the Lebanese Army did not end. It kept moving theatres and objectives and changing players. Is the final score going to be settled in Tripoli, Libya?