Il generale libico Khalifa Haftar (La Presse)

Why Haftar’s Support is Crucial for the Libyan Peace Process

According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is working to make peace in Libya a reality in the near future.

Specifically, Conte extended an offer from the head of the country’s presidential council Fayez Al-Sarraj, to field marshal the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), General Khalifa Haftar. The offer asks Haftar to nominate a new prime minister for the national government as part of a political solution.

Italian diplomatic sources were quoted as saying that allowing Haftar to nominate a new leader has “a thousand flaws” as he could nominate someone who may be very good at the job, or he may choose someone weak enough to allow militia leaders to manipulate him.

Al-Serraj previously announced his willingness to resign his position when there is a new head of the council, but due to the failure to reach a consensus on who his replacement should be, he was forced to withdraw his resignation and continue his role.

Enabling Haftar’s Control Over Libya’s Government Has Big Risks

La Repubblica is right to argue that enabling the LNA chief to decide who should become the next Libyan prime minister carries many risks. He may well choose a leader who he can easily manipulate, but as Aidan Lewis wrote for Reuters, he holds significant sway over the Libyan peace process regardless. 

Haftar may have suffered some significant setbacks this year such as his troops being driven out of western Libya, and his failure to take control of Tripoli, but over the last six years he has built up a massive security apparatus in eastern Libya.

The blockade that the LNA general imposed on Libya earlier this year led to the closure of the main eastern oil terminals. Haftar then allowed oil to flow again in September, which demonstrates that he still has relevance left.

Haftar Still Enjoys Significant Support from Russia

Furthermore, it has been reported that the LNA can still depend upon support from France, the UAE and Russia. Moscow has recently been accused of using a Syrian airline to send mercenaries to Haftar, alongside Paris and Abu Dhabi. This has led to accusations by Dr Guma el Gamaty, a special envoy to Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) to Northwest Africa, that such a move adds strength to Haftar’s forces. With the support of three important nations, it is impossible to ignore the LNA.

Moscow is particularly anxious to not let the Turkish-backed GNA control the strategic city of Sirte, which remains under Haftar’s influence, as it could provide Russia with a gateway to dominate the ports of Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Marsa al-Brega and Zuwetina, where three gas conduits and 11 oil pipelines reach the Mediterranean coast. The Russian Government will continue to support Haftar so long as he can help the Russians advance their interests in Libya. This makes a permanent ceasefire even more complicated.

Peace is Better Than More War

Recent events have proven how difficult it is to end the Libyan conflict. Earlier this month, Libyan Defense Minister Salahaddin Namroush threatened to withdraw from a ceasefire agreement in his country because of Haftar’s actions. He called on the UN and peace-supporting nations to curb the LNA general following his attack on the southern town of Awbari, 964 kilometers south of Tripoli. Libya’s High Council of State decried it as a new violation of the ceasefire by the eastern warlord. In many ways, peace  nowdepends upon the LNA chief ending military action altogether.

Western influence has only made the Libyan war worse. For example, the 2018 Paris summit failed to consult the Libyan people or make significant progress on bringing together the war-torn nation.

But this time, Conte may be right to argue that Haftar should be provided with the opportunity to determine who becomes Libya’s next prime minister. He may select someone who is an utter disaster for the war-torn country, yet this could still be a better solution for the Libyan people than continuous fighting.