West failing in Libya

West failing in Libya

by Richard Galustian


The barbaric terrorist organisation, Isis (Islamic State) declared its war on Libya and Egypt last week with its ‘Message signed in blood to the Christian nation’.

If there was ever a time for the West to support Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni’s democratically-elected, internationally-recognised government in Tobruk, it should have been now.

In an address to the United Nations Security Council last Wednesday, Libya’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed al-Dairi, called on the international community to help Libya combat Isis by allowing it to build its national army: “This would come through a lifting of the embargo on weapons, so that our army can receive material and weapons, so as to deal with this rampant terrorism.”

Yet, despite this plea to the UN, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The problem is that there isn’t a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory. There isn’t a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support.”

He also claimed that “the first condition has to be the creation of a government of national unity… then the international community needs to rally very quickly around that government of national unity and ensure that it has the means to deal with terrorism”.

The demand from London (reiterated by Washington) for a unity government is something that Libyans will inevitably fail to achieve and just buys Isis more time to seize Libyan territory. It represents a gross error of judgement by the UK, in particular, which threatened to use its veto in the UN Security Council.

Don’t the UK and the US realise that recent events in Libya pose a real and imminent threat to Europe and all western interests?

In addition to the obvious arms needed to defeat Isis, there is clearly a requirement by the Libyan air force for air lift transport planes and helicopters if only for humanitarian missions across the length and breadth of the vast country.

In addition, there is a need for used fighters that could be satisfied from friendly Arab countries.

Moreover, there are requirements for fast patrol craft for maritime surveillance operations given the huge numbers of illegal refugees flowing to southern Europe.

So Libya has no time to waste.

In 2013, while attending Idex, the world’ largest defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi, Abd El Nasser Busnina, a senior air force officer and prominent leader of the February revolution four years ago, said: “We have 2,000 kilometres of Mediterranean coastline to defend and six borders with African countries… We need to rebuild our armed forces. The equipment we have is old and in need of repair.”

Those words are as true today as they were two years ago.

It’s interesting to note that Busnina is undergoing advanced officer training at a US war college and will be one of a handful of American-trained officers to return to Libya in 2016.

Russia wants to fill the void left in Libya by the Americans and the British and supply arms directly to Tobruk, something Moscow is already doing indirectly through Egypt.

This helps Russia widen its sphere of influence throughout the Mena region.

It is important to remember that the Libyan air force is mostly of Russian and former Eastern bloc origin.

The US and the UK must alter their policies so that North Africa remains in the Western camp or, alternatively, resign themselves to cede a part of North Africa to Russia and certain EU countries commercially, politically and militarily.

A notable exception in the West is the French, who seem to have understood the dynamics of the Maghreb, in common with the Russians.

Paris, of course, is already fully engaged in the Maghreb and Mena region, from Mali to the Arabian Gulf, with the appropriate force structure, sales and what looks like a thought-out strategy.

France’s coup in selling its Rafale fifth generation fighters to Egypt last week inevitably will create a domino effect of similar extremely valuable contracts for France from other countries in the Middle East.

Libya is the Maghreb country most in immediate danger, with the tragic miscalculation by the West, which continues to talk to Tripoli’s rebel Dawn coalition.

This is coupled with the UK’s and America’s decision to reject the Libyan government’s plea for a lifting of the arms embargo to fight IS and the consequence of trying to impose a ‘unity government’.

This would effectively force the existing democratically-elected Tobruk government to resign, which it will resist, and could be the trigger that starts a process of partitioning the country into two states. Shame and blame on the international community falls squarely on the shoulders of the West if that occurs.

All these developments in the Maghreb region, particularly in Libya, should be of great and immediate concern to Malta.

Richard Galustian is a security analyst.


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