In Libya, Muslim Brotherhood betting on splitting pro-LNA camp

A media campaign is targeting supporters of Qaddafi and eastern tribes backing Aguila Saleh.
Friday 22/05/2020
Forces loyal to Libya’s GNA after taking control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Forces loyal to Libya’s GNA after taking control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. (REUTERS)

TUNIS – The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and their local and international allies are attempting to drive a wedge between supporters of the Libyan National Army (LNA),playing on the emotions of those who are unhappy with the army’s recent setbacks.

From this perspective, it has waged a media campaign targeting tribes backing the Tobruk-based Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh and supporters of the late Muammar Qaddafi.

The campaign is taking aim at LNA leader Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, accusing him of lacking sophistication in battle and minimising the military gains achieved by his troops throughout the country. Despite its recent withdrawal from al-Watiya air base, the LNA continues to stand at the gates of Tripoli and controls most parts of the country, including strategic oil fields and ports in the south and east.

Libyan channel Al-Jamahiriya TV, which was Qaddafi’s former mouthpiece and is ssupected of receiving funds from the Muslim Brotherhood, published an unsigned statement announcing that the LNA had lost support and questioned whether its withdrawal from the strategic al-Watiya air base was due to orders “from overseas.”

Saleh, who enjoys the support of key tribes in the east, is one of the main backers of this drive, which has increased already-simmering tensions between him and the LNA leader.

Divisions between the two Libyan leaders have become clearer after Haftar said his forces had a “popular mandate” to rule Libya.

Qatari websites are spreading rumours that Haftar could be abandoned by his foreign allies, especially Egypt and Russia, after his recent losses, hoping to draw potential defectors to the GNA.

Libyan political analyst Mohamed Al-Jarih warned against efforts to split pro-LNA camp in the province of Cyrenaica (the eastern coastal region of Libya) on several internal and external fronts, saying this could lead to future attacks by extremist groups affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia backed by the GNA, with the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, in addition to the rest of the Saraya Defend Benghazi (BDB) militia.

He stressed that continuing to fight the war without significant external military support to match Turkish support for the GNA would be “a suicide mission,” meaning that Haftar will need to expand his alliances with some of the countries that support his movement.

Statements by the GNA’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, contradicted accounts by various Qatari and Turkish media outlets.

Bashagha claimed that the LNA obtained Russian aircraft recently supplied by Moscow. This goes against Qatari claims that Russia stopped supporting Haftar due to an agreement between Moscow and Ankara.

Moscow has recently given indications it supports Turkey’s presence in western Libya. This was evident in its rejection of the EU’s “Irini” Libya mission that was aimed at cutting Ankara’s arms supplies to Syrian militias and mercenaries. However, this did not mean that Moscow was giving up on its interests in Libya.

Bashagha has attempted to amplify Russia’s role in the conflict since last year in an effort to convince the West to stand with the Islamist-backed GNA.

Russia will likely remain involved in the Libyan war, and is expected to sign an agreement with the LNA similar to Turkey’s agreement with the GNA.

The head of Libya’s air force, Brigadier General Saqr al Jarushi, announced in a press statement that the Libyan Air Force was “about to carry out the largest air operation in the history of the country,” prompting a quick warning from Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy responded that there would be “grave consequences” if Turkish interests in Libya were targeted, adding that the LNA’s statements were “delusional.”

The response raised questions about whether Turkey is planning to carry out direct airstrikes on Libya.