The Libya Chaos: A Middle East Wake-Up Call

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By: Yoram Ettinger | CCNS

Fighters of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government gather as they advance against Islamic State holdouts in Ghiza Bahriya district in Sirte, Libya December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny – RC11D1200620

Western misreading yields devastating consequences

The Libyan turmoil is, mostly, the outcome of the 2011 reckless toppling of the Qaddafi regime by a US-led NATO offensive. The offensive was launched despite the fact that the ruthless Qaddafi had become a fervent warrior against Islamic terrorism in Libya, North, and Central Africa. Moreover, the offensive was initiated in spite of Qaddafi’s dismantling of the Libyan nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range ballistic missile infrastructures.

The stated goal of the US-led NATO onslaught was to stop the Libyan civil war, minimize the loss of civilian lives, and promote democracy and peace, as was stated during the 2003 war against Saddam Hussein…. However, the authority vacuum created by the demise of the Qaddafi regime has intensified the intrinsic fragmentation and disintegration of Libya, tribally, geographically, ideologically, and religiously.

The demise of Qaddafi yielded systematic eruptions of volcanic civil wars in Libya, intensified by a heightened presence of Islamic terror organizations, which operate globally, from Central Asia, through the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Latin America, with sleeper cells in the US.

In defiance of the architects of the assault on Qaddafi, Libya has joined Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen as a leading epicenter of international Islamic terrorism. The Libyan pandemonium has stimulated Islamic terrorism in Europe, as well as in neighboring Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia, in addition to Morocco, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.

Contrary to the expectations by the US and NATO national security establishments, there has been substantial military and financial intervention by foreign countries, which conduct proxy wars in post-Qaddafi Libya. Thus, Turkey, Qatar, Italy and the UN support Prime Minister al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-centered Government of National Accord (which controls some parts of Western Libya), while Russia, France, Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan back General Haftar’s Benghazi and Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (which controls most of Libya, especially the eastern and southern areas and most of the oil and natural gas fields and refineries).

Foreign involvement in Libya

The mounting foreign involvement reflects the geostrategic potential of Libya, economically and militarily. For instance, Libya is a 680,000 square-mile-country (2.6 times the area of Texas!), located between the Mediterranean and Central Africa, possessing a 1,000 mile-long-coast along the Mediterranean, between Egypt and Tunisia and across from Turkey, Crete, Greece, Malta, Italy, and Sicily. Libya’s oil and natural gas reserves rank 8th and 21st respectively in the world, which has attracted major energy companies, such as Italy’s ENI (since 1959) and France’s Total (since 1954).

Turkey’s Erdogan considers Libya an effective springboard to assert his national security independence; to defy the US, NATO, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the international community; to bolster his military and energy footprint in the Mediterranean basin; to gain natural gas, oil and construction opportunities; and to advance his grand vision: the re-establishment of the Ottoman Empire.

Russia seeks to expand its air and ground military presence in the Mediterranean region and Africa; it sends a determined message to the US, NATO and allies of the US in the Middle East and Africa, it aims to neutralize Erdogan’s megalomaniacal ambitions, it pursues oil deals, and it wishes to enhance its position during future international negotiations on the fate of Libya.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia consider Libya – and Turkey’s and Qatar’s involvement in Libya – a threatening tailwind for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest Islamic terrorist organization, and a clear and present lethal threat to every pro-US Arab regime. Their wish to neutralize Erdogan, whom they consider a top lethal threat to the Arab World, along with Iran’s Ayatollahs and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt and Libya have always shared adversarial relations: economically poor, demographically large (100 million people), and militarily strong Egypt versus economically endowed, demographically meager (7 million people) and militarily weak Libya. Therefore, an Egyptian military intervention in eastern Libya – leveraging tribal ties – has always been a viable option, in order to secure the western border of Egypt, resume suspended oil projects in Libya, and enhance Egypt’s geostrategic stature. Also, Egypt is concerned about the adverse effect of the Libyan chaos on its war against Muslim Brotherhood terrorism, which has been a domestic fixture since the 1928 establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, Cairo is increasingly concerned about Turkey’s deepening engagement in Libya – on top of its military presence in Qatar, Somali, and Sudan – due to Erdogan’s close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, while demonstrating hostility toward the Sisi regime, which toppled an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regime.

The real Middle East vs. Western conventional wisdom

The Libya mayhem, which erupted during the initial stage of the “Arab Spring,” has exposed a major Western misperception of the Middle East. Hence, the West has sacrificed the reality of “the Arab Tsunami” on the altar of an imagined “Arab Spring” – touting “From Lawlessness to Democracy and Peace” – while the Arab countries have rejected civic liberties and intra-Arab peaceful-coexistence.

The Libyan turmoil, which has raged since February 2011, encapsulates many of the 1,400-year-old explosive features of the Middle East, which have impacted the entire world.

For example:

*Rarity of national identity/loyalty (e.g., Tripolitania western Libya vs. Cyrenaica in the east vs. Fezzan in the southwest);

*Fragmented societies underline local-over-national allegiance (e.g., a 9-tribe-coalition in the Benghazi region, fighting other tribes, while fighting among themselves);

*Violent intolerance religiously, geographically, ideologically, culturally, economically;

*Absence of intra-Arab and intra-Muslim peaceful-coexistence, domestically and regionally, including pan-Arabism vs. pan-Islamism;

*Minority, repressive, tenuous regimes, policies and accords (e.g., Libya’s King Idris deposed in 1969, Qaddafi executed in 2011, succeeded by two warring non-democratic regimes);

*One-bullet-regimes seizing power via the military;

*Centrality of subversion and terrorism, domestically and regionally;

*Shifty allegiance, alliances, and policies;

*Intense complexity, instability, and unpredictability;

*Domination of fundamental Islamic precepts (e.g., the subservient “infidel”);

Has the Western debacle in Libya awakened the Western national security establishment to Middle East reality?

Will the costly Libyan lesson free the West from submission to the utopian “Arab Spring” state of mind, when confronting the litany of tectonic eruptions, which will be triggered by the Arab Tsunami, with regional and global ripple effects?

Will the Libyan chaos advance Western comprehension of the need for extra geographic-topographic security, required by the sole and small “infidel” democracy in the Middle East?

This column was originally published at The Ettinger Report.

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