The Global Strategy of General Khalifa Haftar

As the civil war in Libya rages on, Prof. Giancarlo Elia Valori discusses the Libyan General's strategic ties with the Russian Federation, as well as the support he receives from neighboring African states and key actors in Europe and the Gulf

General Haftar (Photo: AP)

The agreement between the Libyan factions signed in Morocco on December 17, 2015, has not been implemented yet.

It implied an enlightened "process of national reconciliation" – obviously bottom-up – that no one wanted to put in place while bullets were whizzing and the self-styled "Caliphate" of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi established itself in the Sirte region.

However, in the naive mentality of the major international decision-makers, only Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army was the true enemy of national reconciliation. The former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, referred precisely to the former Gaddafi’s protégé when he said that the "battles of individuals, having only their own interest in mind, jeopardize the security of Libya."

We know for a fact that, for some strange alchemy, the former Secretary of State stated the exact opposite of the truth, with haughtiness and self-conceit. Hence, we can infer that Haftar’s forces were inevitable to eliminate the jihadist militants in the Sirte region, which, however, is a fact.

Therefore, when the old Gaddafi’s General launched Operation Dignity (Karama) on May 16, 2014, he had some goals in mind. One of them was Libya’s unity – a sentiment much more widespread than we may believe among the populations. Another was the inevitable establishment of a military-civilian dictatorship, the only form of government capable of disarming and stabilizing the whole Libyan crisis arc, not with UN-style talk but with deeds.

From the very beginning, Haftar had the support of Algeria, well aware of the resilience and dangerousness of permanent jihad. He was also helped by Egypt, willing to protect its citizens working for the Libyan economy, which was by far the most prosperous economy in the Maghreb region before Gaddafi’s fall.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi does not want the Muslim Brotherhood in his way, a real jihadi "third international," and is arming Haftar, the sworn enemy of every totalitarian Islamism.

Haftar can also rely on the support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that want neither the Muslim Brotherhood, namely the backbone of both current Libyan governments, nor the structural crisis of one of the largest oil producers in Africa. Finally, he is also helped by France, which, despite everything, had a moment of strategic lucidity in the Libyan region. Fortunately, at that moment, President Hollande was asleep.

Italy has made no strategic choice, and it is still betting on an impossible unity government immediately – that, if any, would count nothing – and on the UN strange and idealistic geopolitics, which I think is based on the horoscope of the day.

Conversely, Renzi’s Italy at first and Gentiloni’s later rolled the dice (a game forbidden in the Islamic culture) by betting only on Fajez Al-Serraj’s government that, with its twenty ministers counts for little or nothing even in the streets of Tripoli where it has its headquarters, on the sea which saw the sinking of Italo Balbo’s aircraft, shot down "by mistake" by the friendly fire of Italy’s anti-aircraft guns.

Hence, in my opinion, Italy should have had to deal also with Khalifa Haftar, who is not a disarmed prophet as Serraj or Savonarola, but a very armed prophet, such as Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus – just to quote Machiavelli’s Prince, in which the disarmed leaders always ruin themselves and fail.

The end of political realism, replaced by an idealism halfway between the 1968 movement and Rousseau-style thinking, is a decisive cultural problem of our time, as we will see later on.

The Russian Connection

Currently for Khalifa Haftar, the other strong point – namely the void filled, as taught by the ancient doctrine of Sun Tzu in his Art of War – is the agreement with the Russian Federation, signed aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier returning victoriously from the Middle East on  January 11 last.

Thanks to the decisive mediation of the Algerian intelligence services, Russia will grant to the Libyan General military equipment and advanced electronic devices for surveillance and signal intelligence.

Russia, which has already won its war in Syria, another Western void filled by Russia and Assad’s Alawites, is now a leader in the South-Mediterranean basin and therefore has the immediate need to find a place and a credible ally in the Libyan system.

The Russians still know how to wage war and, therefore, they know that only one or two bases in the East-Mediterranean basin are undefended and can be strategically silenced, even without explicit acts of war.

Instead of waiting for Kantian "perpetual peace," Russia has chosen the horse on which to bet, namely Khalifa Haftar, and it is supporting him not with pacifist talk, but with its weapons and its political and strategic support at international level.

Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat could be the motto of Western geopolitics in recent years.

Operation Dignity is certainly a decisive ally of Tobruk government but, in spite of aid, the other government, namely the Tripoli one, has lost control also over what should be its capital city – hence it would no longer make sense to support it. But whoever forgets Machiavelli is bound to study it in defeat.

Furthermore, Russia has always wanted a base in North Africa: in 2010, it asked the Algerian government to have access to the Mers el-Kebir base, which at that time was denied to it.

Today, however, Russia has Libya available – a country it had always dreamt of having even when Gaddafi was in power. Just before being overthrown, as a result of the combined effect of jihadists and European democracies, Gaddafi had bought weapons from Russia – allegedly to the tune of four billion US dollars – while he had accepted the presence of Russian "instructors" for his Armed Forces.

Russia cannot sell weapons directly to Haftar, owing to the UN embargo in force since 2011, but it can make them be "assigned" by Algeria, which already has 90% of its arsenal in Russian arms.

Moreover, the militants of the so-called "Caliphate" are fleeing from the Sirte region and central Libya southwards, namely on the Libyan border with Algeria, Chad, and Niger. In fact, it was exactly Chad to seal its borders with Libya on January 3 last.

Moreover, Algeria wants to continue talks with all Libyan players, but it would prefer to have two Russian bases in Cyrenaica, which have already been planned, instead of the empty and dumb indolence of Western idealists. Meanwhile, however, it is betting on the strongest horse, namely Khalifa Haftar.

In the meantime, Russia has become China’s largest oil supplier, by supplanting Saudi Arabia. This happens exactly after the agreement signed by OPEC and non-OPEC countries, which has led to a decrease in production both for the Arab-Islamic producers and for the Russian ones, thus making the oil barrel price rise again.

While, however, history is magistra vitae, as it should be, it is nonetheless true that Haftar wanted to become Commander-in-Chief of the new post-Gaddafi’s Libyan Armed Forces. Nevertheless, due to the endless hair-splitting and pedantry of politics in the Maghreb region, Yussuf Al-Mangoush was chosen. He immediately created a private militia of jihadists and had several loyalist officers killed.

Al-Mangoush probably also ordered to kill General Abdel Fattah Younis, the powerful Head of Eastern Libya’s rebels.

And again, if the West is not a blind kitten, as I unfortunately suspect, the Misrata forces – that support Al Serraj’s government against remuneration – will still be more of a challenge for Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

Instead of doing like that 1968 activist who pushed his way through the police and the red revolutionaries with a white sheet, shouting "Peace", but being given an awful beating by both of them, Italy and the rest of the EU should deal with Haftar – and now we will see what Trump’s America will do. They should also open a "dialogue" (a word which is now particularly fashionable) with Khalifa al-Gwell, the leader of Tobruk government, and finally decide to design a new map of Libya, where possible.

Possibly by force and not only with bombastic statements of principle.

This means two governments – and we would also do a favor to Serraj by taking him seriously - with one single Army led by Haftar and, above all, a border between Eastern and Western Libya controlled by Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians, Tunisians and a Multinational Force in Libya established under a UN mandate as interposition force by Italy, Spain, France, the United States and Russia.

Currently, the tension between Misrata Forces and Operation Dignity is very high and could also affect the city of Tripoli, but the conflict would also directly concern the central oil-producing region, while Haftar is operating tribal alliances in the South, the same strategy which enabled him to conquer the Libyan Oil Crescent.

In all likelihood, the center of gravity of this war will still be the Sirte region, where Khalifa Haftar will do his utmost to block Misrata forces.

Moreover, at the meeting of the African Union held in Brazzaville on 30 January last, Al-Serraj said he wanted to create an "anti-terrorist" unit and, to this end, he could meet General Haftar.

The agreement that al-Serraj has in mind is certainly the appointment of Haftar as Commander-in-Chief of the joint Libyan Armed Forces but above all the preservation of his Tripoli government and his current job.

At least by capitalizing on his international connections and support, namely the "disarmed prophets" of the West.

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