Haftar’s military move creates new situation in Libya

Sunday 18/09/2016
About 90% of Libya’s oil exports flow through seized facilities

TUNIS - When forces led by General Khalifa Haf­tar swept through key oil facilities in eastern Libya, they met almost no military challenge despite the stakes involved.
The capture of the oil terminals upsets the balance of political forc­es in Libya and makes the survival of the leader of the UN-brokered government in Tripoli less likely. The Government of National Ac­cord, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, is almost entirely dependent on oil revenues for its income. It said Lib­ya was at a “turning point” after the assault on the oil ports.
No rival military force is consid­ered able to threaten Haftar’s suc­cess in putting most of the coun­try’s oil wealth under his grip.
Misrata militias, the main mili­tary power of the government in Tripoli, are tied up battling Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Sirte. Any at­tempt to roll back Haftar’s gains by mobilising other militias protecting the government from rival Islamist groups would likely throw Tripoli into more chaos.
“The operation was carefully prepared in total secrecy with re­gard to ammunition, weapons and soldiers. The storming and takeo­ver of the gates of the terminals were carried out in a record time of about 15 minutes,” Colonel Fawzi al-Mansouri, one of Haftar’s mili­tary spokesmen, said of the capture of the oil facilities.
“The resistance lasted 45 min­utes with some fleeing and others were taken hostage and the seizure of their weapons,” he added in a statement.
Three soldiers were slightly wounded, Mansouri said, detailing the capture of the oil terminals of Ras Lanuf on September 12th and Zueitina the day before. Brega and Sidra followed within 24 hours.
“The latest outpost of Jadhran was taken over,” Mansouri said in reference to the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) forces, Ibrahim Jadhran, an ally of the Tripoli authority who had con­trolled the terminals since 2013.
About 90% of Libya’s oil exports flow through the seized facilities.
PFG militiamen are recruited from tribes scattered near oilfields and oil terminals and other facilii­ties including al Magharba tribe of Jadran.
“The whole operation was pre­pared with the support of tribal chiefs. The tribal chiefs and leading figures of the tribes gave orders to their men in the PFG to avoid using their weapons and withdraw or let Haftar’s forces take over the facili­ties,” said Libyan political activist Kamel al-Houni.
“That is why there was no blood­shed. The operation was very peaceful because of the broad back­ing of the tribes and their chiefs,” he said.
“Even Jadhran was aware of the upcoming operation. He had evacuated his family from the area more than one week before the at­tack.”
Houni said that tribes in the east­ern oil basin switched their back­ing from Jadhran to Haftar because they see Haftar as the “saviour of Libya” from its political infighting and regional and ideological di­vides.
“They dumped Jadhran as he proved lacking vision to propose an alternative to the crisis. He floated the idea of protecting the oil wealth from corrupt politicians in Tripoli by shutting down the oil exports,” said Houni.
“But over time, that move proved wrong because the closure had cost the loss of a lot of revenues from the oil for the whole population,” he added.
The victory for Haftar is likely to bolster his image after he was seen in the West as having no role in the settlement of Libya’s problems be­cause of his negative view about building a democracy in the coun­try under the dominance of Islam­ists, whom he views as terrorists.
The United States and other Western countries have called on Haftar’s forces to withdraw from the seized oil terminals, ironically drawing a rebuke on September 12th from the internationally rec­ognised parliament, which had elevated Haftar to field marshal to reward him for the move.
The United States, France, Ger­many, Italy, Spain and Britain said Sarraj’s government was the “sole steward of these resources”, add­ing that “Libya’s oil belongs to the Libyan people”.
“The ports of Zueitina, Brega, Ras Lanuf and Sidra were handed over to the National Oil Company” (NOC), said Colonel Ahmad Mes­mari, another spokesman for Haf­tar.
“The entire oil crescent is un­der the NOC’s administration,” he added, stressing that a force under Haftar’s control would continue to guard the ports without any in­volvement in the operations.
UN envoy Martin Kobler had struck a deal with Jadhran in July to try to resume oil exports but the move failed.
The NOC blamed Jadhran, who attempted to sell oil tanks without government approval, for causing the country to lose more than $100 billion from his blockade of oil ex­ports.
“I said always that General Haftar must have a role in this joint united army structure, and I would like to sit together with him and discuss it,” Kobler said after briefing the UN Security Council September 14th.
Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-gov­ernmental organisation, wrote on its website: “Any military response coming from western Libya is likely to be met with resistance from east­ern tribes, especially where it con­cerns the terminals”
Zine Cherfaoui, an Algerian se­curity analyst, said if Haftar’s allies and their opponents fail to reach a compromise, including giving Haf­tar and the east a significant role in the security structure of the gov­ernment to offset their “mistrust” of the Islamists the military ad­vance might ultimately ignite more violence.
“Haftar and his allies’ goal is to deal with rivals from a position of strength to impose his army and men as the guardians of post- Qaddafi Libya. But this game is dangerous. With it, he risks offering the Libyans only civil war because Sarraj’s government and his allies in Fajr Libya (Islamist camp) will cer­tainly not sit on their hands for long time,” Cherfaoui said.