Syria and Ukraine might be enjoying new, if probably temporary, ceasefires, but as for Libya…
Libyan forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar said on Monday they had tightened their control over four major oil ports, casting a Western-backed project to unite Libya and revive oil exports into deep uncertainty.
Haftar’s forces met little resistance as they seized the terminals at Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, Zueitina and Brega in an operation launched on Sunday, displacing a rival armed faction aligned with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Haftar’s move, apparently backed by UAE-supplied air power, may be the beginning of a whole new phase in the civil war or it may be the beginning of some kind of endgame–it largely depends on how the GNA responds. If the Tripoli-based and internationally-recognized government opts to remove Haftar from those ports, or at least try to remove him, then it’s likely Libya will keep on keeping on, unfortunately for pretty much everybody involved. On the other hand, if the GNA chooses to negotiate with Haftar over the use of those ports, that could offer an opening to wider talks about reconciling the GNA with Haftar’s forces, who have increasingly overshadowed the Tobruk-based government to which they’re nominally subservient. The seizure of these ports, then, would have been Haftar trying to improve his position before opening talks. This isn’t that far-fetched a possibility, though it’s the less likely of the two. Haftar, presumably, could align himself with the GNA just as the group that previously held those ports did, if the terms were right.
Actually, if you squint just right, seizing the ports without then negotiating with the GNA seems kind of pointless. Oil ports aren’t much good without oil, and oil in this case would have to come from Libya’s National Oil Corporation, which was recently reunified in a deal that requires oil revenue to be evenly split between the western (GNA/Tripoli) and eastern (Tobruk) governments. If Haftar tries to impose his own (presumably pro-Tobruk) terms on oil sales, then the GNA will undoubtedly raise a stink, and there’s a decent chance that America and the EU, who have already condemned Haftar’s port seizure, will block oil exports from those four ports. And oil ports also aren’t much good if you can’t sell any oil from them.
Libya, while we’re on the subject, is currently doing for David Cameron’s legacy what Iraq did for Tony Blair’s, and rightly so:
David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee.
The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds.
The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.
Fortunately one of the most dangerous legacies of the 2011 Libyan intervention still looks like it’s on its last legs. What appears to be the final push to drive ISIS out of Sirte has been delayed, due to the possibility that ISIS fighters have exfiltrated to a position behind Libyan lines, intending some kind of counterattack. But there’s no indication that they’ll be able to salvage their position in the city. Removing ISIS from Sirte won’t remove it from Libya, but it will deprive the group of its strongest base of operations outside of its Syria-Iraq core.