By Salman Parviz

Post-war reconstruction plans for Libya?

July 4, 2020 - 10:44

An assessment trip is planned within two weeks by Turkish banks and companies on how to rebuild post-war Libya and secure its energy infrastructure. People familiar with the plan informed Reuters. Turkish state lenders plan to help set up Libya's banking system and assist in organizing payment channels through Turkey for key Libyan imports.

"Separately, a meeting between Libyan business heads and Turkish manufacturers of food, medicine, and other goods is expected to be rescheduled "soon" after a coronavirus-related delay," said Murtaza Karanfil, head of the Turkey-Libya business council at the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey.

Pundits believe that Libya is one of the most important crises to watch for in 2020 because of Russia and Turkey's involvement in a country endowed with Africa's largest oil reserves.

Turkey is supporting Tripoli repel a 15-month assault by renegade general Khalifa Haftar. According to agency reports, Turkish drones were used to back up militias aligned with UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), inflicting heavy losses in early June prompting Haftar's forces to retreat. The renegade general declared early June that he was ready to stop fighting and enter talks. Haftar announced a ceasefire in Cairo in the presence of Egyptian ally, President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi. 

There were no representatives of (GNA) or its main backers, Turkey, and Qatar during the announcement.

Worth mentioning is that Jens Stoltenberg, head of NATO military alliance in an interview early May, commented that Turkey remains an important ally, and NATO is ready to support GNA, locking horns between Russia and NATO allies. Libya, after all, is minutes away from major NATO surveillance and reconnaissance installations in southern Italy.

Analysts say a ceasefire in Libya will depend on whether Russia and Turkey can reach an agreement first.

After the siege of the capital broke, Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha hailed "the beginning of the end of the entire dictatorship project," and urged cities under Haftar's control to rise up against him and spare themselves further conflict.

President Sisi has threatened to intervene militarily in neighboring Libya if Turkish-backed forces capture Sirte. Control of Sirte also means control over the crucial port and gateway to important oil terminals to export Libya's vast oil wealth.

In televised remarks after inspecting military units at an army base near the border with Libya, Sisi warned that the fall of Sirte or the inland Jufra airbase would be a "red line" for Egypt.

Egypt has been alarmed by Turkey's intervention, which it considers a regional foe because it supports the Muslim Brotherhood group that Sisi ousted from power in 2013.

Former U.S. ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, expressed her surprise at Sisi's statement saying Egypt didn't consider the city a red line when the Daesh (ISIS) terror group occupied it, reports Middle East Monitor. In a sign of defeat, the report added that Haftar's forces had started stealing equipment from Sirte power plant, a reminder of the plundering and destruction that late Saddam Hussain committed after his occupation of Kuwait in 1991 when he was convinced of his withdrawal.

The 76-year-old Libyan born Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) launched his campaign into the war in 2014. He is backed by Russia, UAE, Egypt, and Jordan. Thousands of Russian mercenaries, along with fighters from Sudan and Chad, are reportedly on the way to Sirte's strategic city as GNA moves to take the city. The GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, announced it was determined to end "the occupation" of the cities of Sirte and Jufra by foreign fighters.

In a complex web of the military alliance by various sides, Turkey and France have engaged in a war of words in recent weeks over their roles in war-torn Libya

Macron accused Turkey of importing a large number of fighters reportedly from Syria into Libya and lambasted Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambivalence over his country's mercenaries operating in the oil-rich North African state. However, on Monday, Macron said Putin had told him that private contractors fighting in Libya did not represent Russia.

France has long denied backing Haftar but has stopped short of rebuking his allies, especially UAE, which has also been singled out by the UN for violating an arms embargo in Libya. Under President Nicolas Sarkozy, Paris led the military intervention in Libya in 2011 toppling Gaddafi.

While fighting continues near Sirte, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's top deputies visited the GNA in Tripoli in mid-June, reports the New York Times quoting sources adding politicians could join the upcoming trip by what they called a "committee" of business representatives.

Turkish builders had worked projects in Libya before Turkey officially threw its support behind the GNA in November. The backlog of Turkish contract works there amounts to $16 billion, a sector official said in January.

Tripoli has been under siege by LNA's Haftar, who started his offensive on the capital last April. The offensive was launched while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Tripoli to prepare for a peace conference. Unsuccessful in taking over Tripoli, Haftar laid siege on the capital since the start of his offensive.

Turkey has heavily criticized France, saying Paris is trying to restore "old colonial rule" in the North African country. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said, "The people of Libya will never forget the damage France has inflicted on this country."
Macron has denied backing Haftar, claiming it is favor of finding a "political solution."

Ties between the two NATO allies have soured in recent weeks over Libya, northern Syria, and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions escalated following a June 10 incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.

Oil production

With 46.4 billion barrels as of 2010, oil reserves in Libya are the largest in Africa. Much of Libya's oil wealth is located in the east, but the revenues are channeled through Tripoli-based state oil firm National Oil Corporation (NOC), which says it serves the whole country and stays out of its factional conflicts.

Prior to the 2011 Libyan civil war, Libya produced over 1.5 million barrels a day. As a result of a blockade of export terminals by LNA by February of this year, oil production dropped to 200,000 barrels a day reports Bloomberg. NOC said the North African state's current production level is at 91,221 barrels per day as of March 17.

In order to choke GNA from the crucial crude export revenue, the LNA seized Libya's export terminals and ports in the east in mid-January. 

Spain's foreign affairs ministry released a statement on Tuesday calling for the blockade's end, expressing its "grave concern over the deterioration of the economic situation in Libya."

According to the NOC statement on June 22, the blockade has plunged production from around 1.2 million barrels a day, has added up nearly $6 billion over the last five months.

Foreign players

Eight years after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi destroyed his country's weapons of mass destruction the colonel was overthrown and killed in 2011, submerging the country in a civil war

NATO members led by Britain and France supported the so-called revolution by airstrikes – then watched the country sink into chaos. Barrack Obama said, leaving Libya without a plan after Gaddafi was the "biggest mistake" of his presidency.

By 2014 the situation quickly escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers that poured arms, money, and mercenaries into the fight.

In his dominion, Haftar is known as "the marshal," and is the military ruler of eastern Libya, with Benghazi as his stronghold. He has promised to build a stable, democratic, and secular Libya, but the regions in his control are without any law and order, and corruption abounds.

There were several summits by the international community to put an end to the Libyan strife before the Covid-19 pandemic sidelined the Libyan crisis.

The last summit was called the Berlin Conference was held on January 19. Haftar and al-Sarraj didn't even meet face to face, and the summit failed to yield results. With German Chancellor Angela Markel's last term in office, while holding the EU presidency, this could be the last chance for her to play a role in bringing peace and stability in Libya.

China has remained neutral in this conflict. Under the Gaddafi regime, China engaged in various infrastructure activities, with 35,000 Chinese laborers working across 50 projects, ranging from residential and railway construction to telecommunications and hydropower ventures. The year leading to Gaddafi's overthrow, Libya was providing three percent of China's crude oil supply, constituting roughly 150,000 barrels a day. All of China's top state oil firms – CNPC, Sinopec Group, and CNOOC – had had standing infrastructure projects in Libya.

In the outbreak of protests in 2011, China sought to preserve economic ties with Libya and rejected the NATO-led military intervention. China abstained at the UN Security Council vote to authorize military intervention.

When it comes to the U.S., foreign policy issues rarely feature in U.S. elections five months ahead. The U.S. is overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that has ensued. Most important of all, Donald Trump's lack of insight into international affairs is an obstacle. 

Libya is no different. Where Obama failed to make a plan for Libya in 2011, now Trump remains as detached. If there is a ceasefire or compromise of any sort, U.S. leadership will just be a spectator.

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