Renewed sabre-rattling threatens settlement efforts in Libya

Latest escalation dampens the optimism fuelled by the progress made on the political track following the understandings reached in the Bouznika 2 talks.
Saturday 10/10/2020
A file picture of Fighters loyal to Libya’s GNA in Tarhouna city, Libya, last June. REUTERS
A file picture of Fighters loyal to Libya’s GNA in Tarhouna city, Libya, last June. (REUTERS)

TUNIS –Militias affiliated with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya have suddenly raised the tone of their verbal and military actions, threatening to reignite the fighting on all battle fronts.

This renewed sabre-rattling threatens to undermine the cautious calm that has prevailed since the ceasefire agreement announced on August 21, between the GNA’s Presidency Council and the Libyan Parliament.

Naturally, this latest escalation dampens the optimism emanating from the progress made on the political track following the announcement of the understandings reached in the Bouznika 2 talks between the delegations of the Parliament and the Supreme Council of State, and the momentum of the various ongoing regional and international moves in pursuit of a peaceful political solution to the Libyan crisis before the end of this month.

The “Borkan al-Ghadab” (Volcano of Anger) militia, loyal to the Government of National Accord, recently announced that it was mobilising its forces and placing them at the highest level of alert, in a step that confirms its continued escalation in Libya.

Fayez al-Sarraj (C), Prime Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), arrives with GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha (2nd-L) to attend a ceremony in Tripoli, October 8. (AFP)
Fayez al-Sarraj (C), Prime Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), arrives with GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha (2nd-L) to attend a ceremony in Tripoli, October 8. (AFP)

In a brief statement distributed at dawn on Friday, the militia claimed that this step was based on information received, according to which the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, may launch an attack on a number of cities in western Libya, including Gharyan, Bani Walid and Tarhuna.

“Our heroic forces have begun to mobilise and prepare, following instructions of the Minister of Defence Colonel Salah El-Din al-Nimroush to take all measures to repel and prevent any possible attack, and remain at the highest level of alert,” the statement said.

Prior to that, Nimroush announced in successive posts on the official Twitter account of “Borkan Al-Ghadab” militia on Thursday night, that he had received information from the military intelligence department informing him of the possibility of the LNA attacking the cities of Bani Walid, Tarhuna and Gharyan.

He indicated that “instructions were issued for full preparedness and awaiting the instructions of the Supreme Commander (Head of the GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj) to deal with responding to the sources of fire in the appropriate place and time.”

He also expressed his intention to violate the ceasefire agreement when he said, “There is a ceasefire currently under the auspices of the international community, but Haftar has tried more than once to violate it … We will not give up on Sirte or Jufrah or any inch of Libya and we will go on to restore our control over the whole of the Libyan soil.”

Military sources from the LNA denied Nimroush’s claims about it moving units towards those cities, but despite that, the GNA militia announced a state of war in the city of Gharyan and its surroundings, as well as in Tarhuna.

Libyan media sources reported movements of columns of armoured vehicles and four-wheel drive light trucks and cars carrying dozens of militia members in the city of Gharyan, in addition to hearing random and unknown gunfire in the city of Tarhuna.

These developments raised serious and legitimate concerns about the possibility of Libya returning to armed clashes, thus spoiling the settlement efforts currently underway on more than one level. They also coincided with the return of Nimroush from Turkey where he had gone on a mysterious visit during which he met with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Turkey and Russia of obstructing the political process in Libya, warning of the “Syrianisation” of the conflict in Libya.

The concomitance of these developments with Nimroush’s visit to Turkey prompted many observers to say that the timing of this escalation clearly indicates that there are no changes in the original plans of the GNA militias, and that these militias are not really committed to the process of continuing to abide by the ceasefire, or to accepting any political solution that may be reached in the coming days.

In parallel, some observers did not hesitate to link these developments to Turkey’s disruptive role of the settlement efforts. They think that, through this escalation and through the militias it co-opted for serving its agenda, Ankara is sending messages to various regional and international parties stating that it would not accept any settlement of the Libyan crisis which ignores its interests.

In this context, Saltana al-Mismari, a member of the Libyan Parliament, said in a telephone conversation with The Arab Weekly, from the city of Benghazi in eastern Libya, that the GNA Minister of Defence Salah Al-Din al-Nimroush’s hints of a military escalation “came immediately after his return from Turkey, and this confirms Turkey’s suspicious role in Libya, a role that supports a perpetual state of instability and undermining any efforts for peace and a political settlement.”

She further considered that Turkey “is thus playing with the GNA militia according to its (Turkey’s) interests because it is not comfortable with the illegal treaty it concluded with Fayez al-Sarraj, and therefore realises that changing the Presidential Council will make it lose an ally that it will not be able to replace.”

This view is shared by Libyan political analyst Abdel Hakim Fannoush. He expressed by phone to The Arab Weekly his belief that “the statements of the GNA militia and those of the person claiming the status of Minister of Defence come as a translation of the differences between the parties forming the so-called Government of National Accord on how to deal with the political track, which is likely to topple some of them and impose a new perception of power that will exclude their former domination.”

He added that these statements “come after Nimroush’s visit to Turkey and Recep Tayyip Erdogan returning to his antics by showing his hostility to the LNA commander, and in any case, these statements are intended to obstruct the political path in line with the Turks’ vision of how to manage the Libyan file and Erdogan’s failure to reach deals that satisfy him in many places.”