On Monday, July 20, the Egyptian parliament authorized the deployment of troops outside the country after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi threatened to act against Turkey-backed forces in neighboring Libya. Parliament unanimously approved “the deployment of members of the Egyptian armed forces on combat missions outside the Egyptian borders to defend Egyptian national security against criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements“. Trops deployment would be carried out on a “western front“, a likely reference to Libya’s western neighbor. The move could bring Egypt and Turkey – which support rival parties in Libya’s chaotic proxy war – to a direct confrontation.
Libya was thrown into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was subsequently killed. The “Libyan revolution” and subsequent NATO military intervention were the product of a regime change strategy organized by France and the United States
After Gaddafi’s fall, the “revolutionaries” failed to create a government and move to democracy (as the European Union and the United States hoped). On the contrary, the various opposing political and religious forces, the various clans and tribal leaders kept under control by the dictator continued the conflict. Who with the dream of succeeding in leading the country, who simply to control his fiefdom and his illegal trafficking.
In 2014 the second civil war broke out. The country is now divided between the Tobruk government controlled by Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Tripoli government controlled by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, recognized by the United Nations. Marshal Haftar controls the Libyan National Army which has the mission of eradicating all the various factions and armed gangs to restore sovereignty over the entire Libyan territory. Al-Sarraj does not recognize this mission. On the contrary, it claims that its government is the only sovereign entity.
The chaos and fighting from 2014 to 2019 will in fact create a situation similar to that of Somalia: no contender is strong enough to prevail militarily and dozens of fiefdoms are created. A situation that prevents national unity and a central government. As was foreseeable, the Libyan chaos favors the proliferation of weapons throughout the region and the strengthening of Islamic terrorist groups operating both in North Africa and in West Africa (especially Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria).
In 2015 the DAESH (known in the West as the Islamic State – ISIS) entered the Libyan theater of war. Despite the joint offensives between the Tripoli government and the US Army special unit, DAESH continues to represent a serious problem for peace and national unity. The loss of control over the city of Sirte (2016) and the defeats inflicted in 2018 by the Tobruk government did not prevent DAESH from continuing its terrorist activities.
Since 2016, the Algerian terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda: Tanẓīm al-Qā’idah fī Bilād al-Maghrib al-Islāmī (known in the West as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM) also expands its military operations in Libya by entering in direct conflict with DAESH. A third terrorist group: Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya, which arose during the first civil war in 2011, operates in chaos. Until 2017 it was part of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council. Following a military offensive led by Marshal Haftar, Ansa al Sharia is now in difficulty and many militiamen have deserted to join the DAESH.
Despite the engagements taken by the Tripoli government, in fact the only bulwark against the expansion of Islamic terrorists remains the army of Marshal Haftar who has become the number one enemy of DAESH, AQIM and Ansar Al-Sharia.
On April 4, 2019, Marshal Haftar launchesOperation Flood of Dignity with the aim of conquering Tripoli, definitively defeating Fayez al-Sarraj and unifying the country. Operation Flood of Dignity opens the door to a proxy war similar to the one being fought in Syria. Egypt, alongside the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, France, Jordan, Sudan and Russia, supports Khalifa Haftar, with Russia and Sudan pushing to ensure active support for Marshal Haftar.
Russia has sent 1,200 mercenaries to fight alongside the Haftar army, coordinated by the Wagner Group, a Russian private paramilitary militia founded in 2013 by DmitriyValeryevich Utkin ex Lieutenant Colonel of the Spetsnaz GRU(Russian special forces). The Wagner Group operates in close collaboration with the Moscow government and is engaged in war theaters in Syria and Ukraine. The Sudanese military junta which is an integral part of the Transitional Government in December 2019 sent 3,000 soldiers (many from Darfur) to fight alongside Haftar (as the British newspaper The Guardian denounced at the time).
United States, increasingly concerned about Moscow’s growing influence in Libya, is adopting a contradictory policy. White House has been supporting the Tripoli government since 2015, but since the start of the military offensive in Haftar on Tripoli, the Trump administration has sent ambiguous signals. The Tripoli government suspects that the United States may change partners, especially after Trump, during a telephone conversation with Haftar, recognized the “significant role of the Marshal in the fight against terrorism and the security of oil resources in Libya“. Washington in July 2019 blocked a Security Council conviction against Haftar for the airstrike on the immigration detention center that killed 40 people and 70 others were injured.
Italy (European country most penalized by the Libyan civil wars due to its oil interests, through ENI) formally supports the Government of Tripoli, also, at times, in an anti-French key – France was the first actor of the destruction of the monopoly ENI in Libya-, dialogue with Haftar, albeit from a very difficult position, given that Rome is in fact blackmailed from Tripoli due to the migration issue.
Periodically, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj threatens a generalized release of all migrants detained in Libya, who would pour on the Italian coast. To avoid the threat, Italy periodically supplies Tripoli with material (patrol boats etc …) and funds.
In August 2018 Rome gave 12 patrol boats to Tripoli to control migrants. On 16 July, the resolution passed in the Chamber guaranteeing Tripoli 58 million euros of bilateral aid, of which 10 million will go to the assistance of the Libyan coastguard, including education and training, 3 million more than in 2019. The resolution was approved by both majority and opposition forces. The Tripoli government and its coast guard are directly involved in human trafficking. The management of detention centers for migrants is punctuatedby violence, torture, abuse and violations of their fundamental rights. On several occasions the Coast Guard has rammed or opened fire on the ships of NGOs that help migrants, using the patrol boats given by Italy.
There are only two countries that militarily support the Tripoli government: Quatar and Turkey. The feudal monarchy of Doha, led by Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, supports the Tripoli government as it is tolerant of Islamic extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood that Quatarhas supported for years by using them as instruments of its foreign policy. Unfortunately in Libya these extremist groups are closely linked to DAESH, AQIM and Ansar Al-Sharia. In addition to political and financial support, King Al Thaniguarantees a large influx of weapons and pays hundreds of mercenaries recruited in Syria to fight against Haftar alongside the loyalist troops in Tripoli. Many of them come from the ranks of Jihadist fighters.
For Turkey, the Government of Fayez al-Sarrajis a key player in realizing its expansion plan in North Africa and in the Mediterranean as well as containing the Egyptian power.
In addition to a constant influx of weapons (even thinking), Turkey carries out air raids against Haftar’s troops, using Bayraktar TB2 combat drones (already used in Iraq and Syria). Turkish air raids began in June 2019, when they hit the Mitiga air base, controlled by Haftar.
On April 5, 2020, Turkish drones attacked the Russian contingent in Libya, destroying an Antonov An-26 transport plane, on an airstrip near Tarhuna. The plane was carrying ammunition for Haftar soldiers. Theoretically, Turkey employs 20 combat drones in Libya. The real number would be much greater, given that from June 2019 to today Haftar forces have shot down about 15. Turkish drones have contributed to stopping Haftar’sadvance. At the end of May 2020, air raids destroyed 9 batteries of Pantsir S1, the Russian medium-range anti-aircraft defense system.
Last January Ankara increased its commitment to Libya by entering the conflict in all respects by sending ground troops with the (official) task of “supporting the legitimate government of Tripoli to help him avert a humanitarian tragedy”. Turkish troops were instrumental in reversing the fate of the battle of Tripoli in favor of al-Sarraj. In late May Tripoli’s troops took control of the Al-Kayikh neighborhood in Tripoli near the city of Qaser Bin Ghashir. On June 4, al-Sarrajloyalists and Turkish troops launched an attack on Tripoli airport, which they captured. Haftar’s forces were forced to withdraw from their remaining positions on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, allowing the Tripoli government to regain control of the entire city. This marked the end of Haftar’s 14-month siege on Tripoli. On June 5, Turkish and Tripoli soldiers launched an offensive conquering the strongholds of Tarhouna and Bani Walid.
Tripoli’s offensive on Sirte began on 18 July, the gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals under Haftar’s control. Only massive intervention by the Egyptian army could save Marshal Haftar, now in great difficulty. President al-Sisiordered the army to be ready for the mission in Libya. The first heavy attack is believed to be conducted with massive use of military aviation, tanks and assault infantry to prevent the Turks and Tripoli from conquering Sirte. The Libyan city is located 800 km from the Egyptian border. Cairo sees Sirte as a ‘red line’ which must not be crossed.
It’s not be the first time that Cairo intervenes militarily in Libya. Air strikes by Egyptian air force and armed groups in Libya occurred during the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Egypt also supported (via air cover) Haftar when it gathered a force in eastern Libya, according to reports from the United Nations. But sending ground combat troops is new and represents an important escalation. An Egyptianintervention would further destabilize Libya.
The Tripoli government denounced the Egyptian threat of military intervention, labeling it as a “declaration of war”. Qatar’s Minister of Defense met with Turkish Minister of Defense and Libya’s Minister of Interior on Monday to discuss the latest developments in Libya.
Turkey, meanwhile, has called for an “immediate” end to support in Haftar after the trilateral talks held in Ankara between Libyan, Turkish and Maltese officials on Monday. “It is essential that any kind of help and support given to the putschist Haftar – who forbids guaranteeing peace, tranquility, security and territorial integrity of Libya – ends immediately,” said Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Ankara invide Haftar to withdraw from Sirte and negotiate the surrender.
“I think the military adventure in Libya is extremely dangerous for Egypt,” said Ibrahim Kalin, Security Adviser of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday. Egyptian Foreign Minister SamehShukry responded by stressing the importance of reaching a political solution in Libya that provides for a “firm” response to “extremists” and foreign interference, who “not only threaten the interests of Egypt, but also the security of the Mediterranean countries “.
According to data provided by the European military analysis site Armedforce.eu, a clash between the Egyptian and Turkish armies could theoretically create serious problems for Turkey, as the armed forces of Cairo exceed those of Ankara. The Egyptian army exceeds the Turkish army in number of soldiers (including reservists), tanks, artillery, short and medium range missiles. The two military air forces are the same, while Egypt has total naval superiority.
Is clash inevitable? To hear the warlike declarations of Cairo and Ankara yes. Butbehind the scenes, diplomacy is at work, and some diplomatic moves could avoid it.Yesterday, July 23, 2020, Turkey and Russia agreed to create the conditions for a ceasefire and stop the offensive on Sirte.
On Monday 20 July, the President of the United States, during a telephone conversation with al-Sisi, would have advised the Egyptian ally to calm down and focus on a ceasefire and economic andpolitical negotiations. In return, the White House would again provide support in Cairo to resolve the issue of the Great Renaissance dam in Ethiopia fairly. Issue that could provoke the first continental conflict in Africa over water resources, and which would also involve Sudan. President al-Sisi has confirmed Cairo and Washington’s common intention to focus on the ceasefire and negotiations to avoid a military escalation in Libya.
Despite the agreement reached with Moscow,Ankara’s intransigence could wreck the necessary respite. Turkey insists that Haftar’sarmy is illegal. So he must withdraw from Sirte and, in the medium term, end hostilities and integrate into the ‘regular’ Libyan army accepting that the Government of Tripoli achieve national unification and prepare free elections where Haftarwill, if he wishes, participate as political candidate.
Ankara’s request to Haftar is in fact a demand for surrender. To avoid conflict the Marshal of Tobruk should abandon the armed struggle and move on to the political struggle, a terrain on which he does not feel particularly comfortable, and moreover accepting the legitimacy of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, which can be put into discussion only through democratic elections.
An unacceptable request for Haftar.
Russian allies are well aware that the ceasefire may not be declared or hold for long. This is why they are sending fighter planes (via Syria) to the front of Sirte. Moscow is also strengthening the contingent of mercenaries present in the Haftarbastion to contain a possible Turkish and Tripoli militia offensive.
Cairo, supporting the ceasefire proposal, proposes a government of al-Sarraj – Haftarnational unity and immediate presidential and administrative elections. Proposal already rejected by the Tripoli government. A refusal that galvanized the Egyptian nationalistic press.“President al-Sisi must intervene militarily in Libya to defend Egypt from Turkish aggression,” said the popular Egyptian newspaper “Al-Ahram”.
Another actor appears on the horizon of the Libyan conflict: Greece.
Athens could side with Egypt to the point of opening hostilities against Turkey, in order to resolve the dispute over the mining rights of the seabed of the eastern Mediterranean and stop Ankara’s plans to take over oil and gas in the south of the Greek islands. A project that the Greek government spokesman, Stelios Petsas, described as a direct violation of Greek sovereignty.
‘Al-Ahram’ informs about a meeting between al-Sisi and the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotak. Very important meeting with Libya and the eastern Mediterranean at the center of the discussions.
According to the prestigious newspaper, Mitsotakis rejected all foreign interference in Libya and “welcomed Egypt’s efforts to reach a political agreement and restore peace throughout Libyan territory”, calling for respect for United Nations resolutions and conclusions. ofthe Berlin conference. Al-Sisi, for its part, would have given full support to Mitsotak in its intention to do “everything necessary” to defend its sovereign rights, in response to Turkey’s plans to proceed with an oil and gas search mission to the south of the Greek islands, in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece and Turkey have been in conflict for decades on maritime borders, but recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans in the eastern Mediterranean have aggravated the situation. Turkey argues that Greek islands should not be included in the calculation of maritime areas of economic interest, a position which Greece believes is a clear violation of international law. Greece has around 6,000 smaller islands and islets in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, of which over 200 are inhabited.
The European Union and the United States have called on Turkey to stop its plans for Greece’s hydrocarbons.
In response, President Erdogan, during the visit to the Supreme Military Council, threw petrol on the fire stating: “The historical successes on different fronts, from Syria to Libya, from the eastern Mediterranean to the fight against terrorism, demonstrate the strength of our country and the capabilities of our armed forces. “ Erdorgan also added that Turkey is able to hold an armed confrontation to defend its energy sovereignty.
The movements of Turkish troops near the disputed Greek islands were considered by the United States as unilateral provocative actions that prevent the necessary cooperation to ensure lasting energy security and shared economic prosperity for all. As a preventive measure, the Pentagon has strengthened its military presence in the region by sending 2,000 marines, dozens of helicopters and hundreds of vehicles to the port of Alexandroupolis (north-east Greece). Highlighted news on ‘Al-Ahram’, accompanied by the statement by Geoffrey Pyatt, American Ambassador to Greece. “The arrival of our marines must not alarm us. They will take part in NATO training exercises and are part of a regular rotation of the troops, “minimizes Ambassador Pyatt. Ankara takes note without comment.
Moreover, the same newspaper, also yesterday, published a very harsh analysis aimed at demonstrating how “relations between the EU and Turkey are on a collision course”. The list of hotspots that are increasingly turning Turkey away from the European Union is really long, according to a European diplomat heard from ‘Al-Ahram Weekly’, the weekly back of the newspaper: “Libya, gas resources in the Mediterranean, Syria, Kurds, Russia, NATO, support for radical Islamic groups and illegal immigration in Europe “.
Taking advantage of the situation, the Ethiopian government is filling the basin of the Great Renaissance dam before the compromise agreements with Egypt and Sudan are finalized. New satellite images show the reservoir of Ethiopia’s hydroelectric dam starting to fill up. The images emerge as Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan say that the latest talks on the controversial project ended last Monday without agreement.
Some analysts and the Addis Ababa government say that the presence of water in the dam basin is due to heavy seasonal rains. Despite this explanation, Seleshi Bekele, the Ethiopian Minister of Water, said Wednesday that Ethiopia will begin filling the tank of the $ 4.6 billion large dam this month even without an agreement. Unilateral action that would further increase tensions.
The decision came true on Wednesday 22 July, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officially informed of the dam basin’s filling operations. “The completion of the first filling round is a historic moment that shows the Ethiopians’ commitment to the renaissance of our country,” said Abiy, in a note read on state television.
The Egyptian reaction comes from the business world. In an interview with “The African Report”, billionaire businessmanNaguib Sawiris clearly expressed the position of the great Egyptian capital. “Egyptians have the right to water from the Nile. This is why the war between Egypt and Ethiopia is becoming a possibility. The Ethiopians have turned off the tap and our agriculture is falling apart and our people will start to die. What can we do? Watch them die?Or go fight for their rights? If there is a war, Egypt will not be blamed for starting it. Ethiopia is the one to be blamed because it has turned off the tap after hundreds of years that the Nile flows freely in the land of the Pharaohs “.
So, Cairo is about to start two wars simultaneously: in Libya and Ethiopia? It would be madness. “Not at all. Two conflicts are possible for Cairo. As the one with Ethiopia would not actually break out conventionally, with fighting of ground troops, “explains an Egyptian military expert under guarantee of anonymity.
“Egypt has some long-range missiles. The former were designed in collaboration with Argentina and Iraq and have a range of 900 km. The latter were carried out thanks to a joint venture with North Korea; in practice a modification was made of the Soviet Scud C missile, and they have a range of 1,200 km. As long as these missiles are placed in Sudan and the dam can be destroyed. We will go to war with Ethiopia, but the conflict will hardly be consummated, as Egypt has no advantage to a territorial occupation and the Ethiopian military aviation is not numerically and technologically suitable to attack Egypt “.
In fact, the possibility of a missile attack is taken seriously by Ethiopia, which deployed an anti-missile system purchased from Russia in defense of the dam. Some military observers disagreed with the Egyptian military expert and toldthe Arab newspaper “TheNewArab” that a conflict between the two countries is unlikely in the immediate future.
In short, the area is boiling, wars, conventional or otherwise, are behind the door of Europe ready to break out.
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