The global strategy of General Khalifa Haftar

T
he agreement between the Libyan factions signed in Morocco on December 17, 2015 has not been implemented yet. It implied an enlightened "process of national reconciliation" - obviously bottom-up - that no one wanted to put in place while bullets were whizzing and the self-styled "Caliphate" of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi established itself in the Sirte region.

But, in the naive mentality of the major international decision-makers, only Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army was the true enemy of national reconciliation. The former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, referred precisely to the former Gaddafi’s protégé when he said that the "battles of individuals, having only their own interest in mind, jeopardize the security of Libya".

We know for a fact that, for some strange alchemy, the former Secretary of State stated the exact opposite of truth, with haughtiness and self-conceit. Hence we can infer that Haftar’s forces were inevitable to eliminate the jihadist militants in the Sirte region, which however is a fact.

Therefore, when the old Gaddafi’s General launched ''Operation Dignity" (Karama) on May 16, 2014, he had some goals in mind, including Libya’s unity - a sentiment much more widespread than we may believe among the populations - in addition to the inevitable establishment of a military-civilian dictatorship, the only form of government capable of disarming and stabilizing the whole Libyan crisis arc, not with UN-style talk but with deeds.

From the very beginning Haftar had the support of Algeria, well-aware of the resilience and dangerousness of permanent jihad. He was also helped by Egypt, willing to protect its citizens working for the Libyan economy which, before Gaddafi’s fall, was by far the most prosperous economy in the Maghreb region.

Abdel Fattah Al Sisi - that only Italy’s terrible mismanagement of the "Regeni affair" has made depart from our interests, promptly replaced by France’s - does not want the Muslim Brotherhood in his way, a real jihadi "third international", and is arming Haftar, the sworn enemy of every totalitarian Islamism.

Haftar can also rely on the support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that want neither the Muslim Brotherhood, namely the backbone of both current Libyan governments, nor the structural crisis of one of the largest oil producers in Africa. Finally he is also helped by France, which, despite everything, had a moment of strategic lucidity in the Libyan region.

Fortunately, in that moment, President Hollande was asleep.

Obviously Italy has made no strategic choice and it is still betting on an impossible unity government immediately - that, if any, would count nothing – and on the UN strange and idealistic geopolitics, which I think is based on the horoscope of the day.

Conversely, Renzi’s Italy at first and Gentiloni’s later rolled the dice (a game forbidden in the Islamic culture) by betting only on Fajez Al-Serraj’s government that, with its twenty ministers counts for little or nothing even in the streets of Tripoli where it has its headquarters, on the sea which saw the sinking of Italo Balbo’s aircraft, shot down "by mistake" by the friendly fire of Italy’s anti-aircraft guns.

Hence, in my opinion, Italy should have had to deal also with Khalifa Haftar, who is not a disarmed prophet as Serraj or Savonarola, but a very armed prophet, such as Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus - just to quote Machiavelli’s Prince, in which the disarmed leaders always ruin themselves and fail.

The end of political realism, replaced by an idealism half-way between the 1968 movement and Rousseau-style thinking, is a decisive cultural problem of our time, as we will see later on.

Currently for Khalifa Haftar, the other strong point - namely the void filled, as taught by the ancient doctrine of Sun Tzu in his Art of War - is the agreement with the Russian Federation, signed aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier returning victoriously from the Middle East on January 11 last.

Thanks to the decisive mediation of the Algerian intelligence services, Russia will grant to the Libyan General military equipment and, in particular, advanced electronic devices for surveillance and signal intelligence.

Russia, which has already won its war in Syria, another Western void filled by Russia and Assad’s Alawites, is now a leader in the South-Mediterranean basin and therefore has the immediate need to find a place and a credible ally in the Libyan system.

The Russians still know how to wage a war and, therefore, they know that only one or two bases in the East- Mediterranean basin are undefended and can be strategically silenced, even without explicit acts of war.

Instead of waiting for Kantian "perpetual peace", Russia has chosen the horse on which to bet, namely Khalifa Haftar, and it is supporting him not with pacifist talk, but with its weapons and its political and strategic support at international level.

Quos Deus perdere vult, dementat could be the motto of Western geopolitics in recent years.

"Operation Dignity" is certainly a decisive ally of Tobruk government but, in spite of aid, the other government, namely the Tripoli one, has lost control also over what should be its capital city - hence it would make no longer sense to support it.

But whoever forgets Machiavelli is bound to study it in defeat.

Furthermore Russia has always wanted a base in North Africa: in 2010 it asked the Algerian government to have access to the Mers-el-Kebir base, which at that time was denied to it.

Today, however, Russia has Libya available - a country it has always dreamt of having even when Gaddafi was in power. Just before being overthrown, as a result of the combined effect of jihadists and European democracies, Gaddafi had bought weapons from Russia - allegedly to the tune of four billion US dollars - while he had accepted the presence of Russian "instructors" for his Armed Forces.

Russia cannot sell weapons directly to Haftar, owing to the UN embargo in force since 2011, but it can make them be "assigned" by Algeria, which already has 90% of its arsenal in Russian arms.

Moreover, the militants of the so-called "Caliphate" are fleeing from the Sirte region and central Libya southwards, namely on the Libyan border with Algeria, Chad and Niger.

In fact it was exactly Chad to seal its borders with Libya on January 3 last.

Moreover Algeria wants to continue talks with all Libyan players, but it would prefer to have two Russian bases in Cyrenaica, which have already been planned, instead of the empty and dumb indolence of Western idealists.

Meanwhile, however, it is betting on the strongest horse, namely Khalifa Haftar.

In the meantime Russia has become China’s largest oil supplier, by supplanting Saudi Arabia. This happens exactly after the agreement signed by OPEC and non-OPEC countries, which has led to a decrease in production both for the Arab-Islamic producers and for the Russian ones, thus making the oil barrel price rise again.

While, however, history is magistra vitae, as it should be, it is nonetheless true that Haftar wanted to become Commander-in-chief of the new post-Gaddafi’s Libyan Armed Forces. Nevertheless, due to the endless hair-splitting and pedantry of politics in the Maghreb region, Yussuf Al-Mangoush was chosen. He immediately created a private militia of jihadists and had several loyalist officers killed.

Probably Al-Mangoush also ordered to kill General Abdel Fattah Younis, the powerful Head of Eastern Libya’s rebels.

And again, if the West is not a blind kitten, as unfortunately I suspect, the Misrata forces - that support Al Serraj’s government against remuneration (even Italy’s) - will still be more of a challenge for Haftar’s ''Operation Dignity".

Instead of doing like that 1968 activist who pushed his way through the police and the red revolutionaries with a white sheet, shouting "Peace!", but being given an awful beating by both of them, Italy and the rest of the EU should deal with Haftar - and now we will see what Trump’s America will do. They should also open a "dialogue" (a word which is now particularly fashionable) with Khalifa al-Gwell, the leader of Tobruk government, and finally decide to design a new map of Libya, where possible.

Possibly by force and not only with bombastic statements of principle.

This means two governments - and we would also do a favour to Serraj by taking him seriously - with one single Army led by Haftar and, above all, a border between Eastern and Western Libya controlled by Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians, Tunisians and a Multinational Force in Libya established under a UN mandate as interposition force by Italy, Spain, France, the United States and Russia.

Currently, the tension between Misrata Forces and "Operation Dignity" is very high and could affect also the city of Tripoli, but the conflict would also directly concern the central oil-producing region, while Haftar is operating tribal alliances in the South, the same strategy which enabled him to conquer the Libyan Oil Crescent.

In all likelihood, the centre of gravity of this war will still be the Sirte region, where Khalifa Haftar will do his utmost to block Misrata forces.

Moreover, at the meeting of the African Union held in Brazzaville on 30 January last, Al-Serraj said he wanted to create an "anti-terrorist" unit and, to this end, he could meet General Haftar.

The agreement that Al Serraj has in mind is certainly the appointment of Haftar as Commander-in-chief of the joint Libyan Armed Forces, but above all the preservation of his Tripoli government and his current job.

At least by capitalizing on his international connections and support, namely the "disarmed prophets" of the West.

Giancarlo Elia Valori

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa

Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York.

He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board.

In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

 

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