Is Dividing Up Libya the Best Way to End the Conflict There?

Calls for an end to the war in Libya are growing across the international community. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to make ending the Libyan conflict one of her priorities during Germany’s six-month presidency of the EU. She hosted an international peace conference in Berlin in January to support the UN’s efforts for a ceasefire.

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also both expressed support for an immediate ceasefire in Libya during a phone call on Thursday, May 21.

Haftar is Losing the War

Even if the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Russian-backed Libyan National Army (LNA) could be persuaded to support a ceasefire, it is clear that this would harm Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who leads the LNA, as it is more than likely that a ceasefire would not be based on his terms due to his failure to make any significant gains from this conflict.

By the end of 2019, LNA forces were on the verge of seizing control of the Libyan capital Tripoli until Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared his support for the GNA and signed new agreements on military cooperation. This represented a substantial blow to Ankara’s enemies across the Mediterranean.

On Monday, May 18, Haftar also lost control of a crucial airbase southwest of Tripoli. If he fails to take the capital altogether, he will be ejected from power and his popularity would vanish.

Permanent Ceasefire Would Block LNA Aims

Haftar has staked his entire fate on liberating Libya from “terrorists.” That is why he refused to support the Moscow ceasefire and the UN envoy’s idea of military commissions to settle this conflict. Equally, he is losing the war and at some point he is going to have to compromise with his enemies.

According to Middle East MonitorHaftar’s announcement that he has a “popular mandate” to govern his country implied that he is accepting that he may have to govern a newly established independent state, although he has always stated his preference to rule a united Libya.

However, Haftar has the support of those residing in eastern Libya who support a federalist state divided into three semi-independent regions: Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the south and Tripolitania in the west, which is how the country was divided before it gained its independence in 1951. If the LNA general delivered a permanently divided Libya, he would lose the east’s support.

Moscow Will Never Allow a Divided Libya

But a divided Libya works against Moscow for one reason: it would make it easier for Turkey to dominate the state. Ankara signed a maritime accord with the GNA in November, 2019 to access the nation’s oil and gas. Libya is rich in high-quality crude oil. If the east of the country fell to Haftar, the LNA general would be able to control those natural resources, which is why the Turks see it as their priority to defeat him.

As disappointed as the Russians and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are with the LNA, they have no intention of abandoning Haftar. On Wednesday, Russian military personnel flew MiG 29 and SU-24 fighter planes to a Libyan airbase escorted by other aircraft. Even though the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers supported a ceasefire last week, the Russians have realized that the consequences of failure in Libya are too great as it would mean victory for Turkey.

Therefore, dividing up Libya would be too problematic for all those parties involved in the Libyan conflict. The Russians will never allow it to happen because it would pose a security threat to the UAE and enable Ankara to strengthen its grip over the country. Moscow would rather continue supporting a losing horse just to frustrate Turkey’s Mediterranean ambitions. Equally, Haftar’s options are becoming limited and he may have to settle on ruling eastern Libya one day and then hope to retake the whole country at another time, but at least then he would be able to delay Erdoğan from controlling Libya’s resources. This shows that dividing the country would only postpone Ankara’s occupation of Libya and is not an effective or permanent solution to the conflict.