Daily Briefing: ARE EGYPT AND LIBYA HEADED FOR WAR? (June 23,2020)


Egypt Libya Locator (Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Libya’s Crisis is a Tough Puzzle to Solve For Egypt:  Alessia Melcangi and Giuseppe Dentice, Atlantic Council, June 18, 2020

Libya Becomes Latest Proxy Battle for Regional Dominance:  Middle East Policy Council, June 12, 2020

The Implications of Unilateral Annexation for Israel’s Relations with Egypt:  Ofir Winter, INSS Insight No. 1319, May 14, 2020

______________________________________________________Libya’s Crisis is a Tough Puzzle to Solve for Egypt
Alessia Melcangi and Giuseppe Dentice
Atlantic Council, June 18, 2020The new Turkish assertiveness in Libya and Libya National Army (LNA) General Khalifa Haftar’s strategic retreat from the Western part of the country have created a new equilibrium in the conflict. This is a potential watershed moment that could lead Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Russia to rethink their support for Haftar and prepare a possible compromise over Libya, especially given the pronunciation of the so-called Cairo Declaration on June 6, 2020. In fact, Haftar is gradually losing internal and external support—from within his own forces to Egypt and the UAE—to the point that no one will likely bet on him again. In this fluid scenario, neighboring Egypt, which has emboldened Haftar since 2014, may play an important new role in order to protect its specific foreign and domestic interests in Libya.The Libyan crisis is a significant challenge to Egypt’s domestic stability and political legitimacy. Since 2013, the conflict has been of strong geopolitical importance for Cairo due to the strategic convergence between the UAE and Saudi Arabia and their support for Haftar’s war against the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA)—the latter being backed by Turkey and Qatar. Despite several attempts to emerge as a political mediator in the conflict—as in the case of the failed meeting in Cairo in February 2017—Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has never hidden his support for a military solution to the conflict in favor of Haftar, the strongman of Libya’s East, and the so-called LNA. In fact, this area is at the center of Egyptian interests due to the desire to control and stabilize the growing asymmetrical threats along the 1,115-kilometer border that separates the two countries.

Over the past few years, Egypt has taken a number of security measures—such as the deployment of field armies in a counterterrorism mission and the launch of a huge military exercise named “Raad 24” in the western zone, near the Salloum checkpoint—to safeguard the porous frontier and prevent dangerous jihadist penetrations into Egypt from Eastern Libya. A particular focus has been on protecting northern Sinai, a strategic area that suffered several terrorist attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai. From Cairo’s perspective, the emergence of a possible spillover of violence into its territory could also create a dangerous convergence of interests with some radicalized Muslim Brotherhood groups that are operating both in Eastern Libya and in Egypt’s Western Desert.

The latter point is crucial to understanding the similar vision of al-Sisi and Haftar, who, ideologically, share a political project to combat political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which are perceived as an existential threat by both leaders. For Haftar, this aversion offered the pretext to launch his offensive against the GNA, which has been accused of being a pawn of Islamists. Libya has become one of the theaters of this complicated situation, in which the polarizing fight against political Islam has strengthened the tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side and Turkey and Qatar, proponents of political Islamist activism, on the other. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Libya Becomes Latest Proxy Battle for Regional Dominance
Middle East Policy Council, June 12, 2020

The announcement last week by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of a ceasefire initiative aimed at bringing the two sides of the conflict in Libya together has been seen by many as a positive step forward. However, it remains to be seen whether the Cairo Declaration will be able to provide some respite from the fighting between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and Libya’s Government of National Accord (NGA). Meanwhile, the declaration is a reminder of the ever-increasing complexity of the political, economic, and security environment in the country due to the growing presence and involvement of other countries, including Turkey, Russia and Egypt.

This has led The National’s Raghida Dergham to characterize the situation as the “Syrianization” of Libya, highlighting parallels between the instability and violence in Syria with what is going on in Libya. In particular, Dergham draws attention to the “multinational mercenaries and international terrorists waging battles on behalf of various groups jostling for power. There are many moving parts in the conflict, significant among them the Muslim Brotherhood project backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who insists on imposing its ideology on the rest of the Arab world as well. Throw into the mix oil politics, human trafficking and a migrant crisis, and the conflict there has become decidedly more complex…. Turkey’s involvement in Libya – following an agreement with the Fayez Al Sarraj-led GNA – has brought the curse of Syrianization upon Libya.”

However, Turkey is not the only actor involved in Libya. Given the fragmentation of the Libyan political and security landscape, the country’s porous borders, as well as the resources up for grabs, it is not surprising that others have expressed interest in the final outcome.  Writing for Arab News, Yasar Yakis argues that, as in Syria, Russia has also become “an important player in Libya…. Russia is also opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood gaining prominence because of the Chechens who espouse the same ideology. So the Turkish-Russian cooperation in Libya will have to go through a minefield…. [But] an important stake for Turkey is the implementation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) it agreed with Libya…. This cannot be secured without the support of a country like Russia, which has leverage on both sides. So the Turkish-Russian cooperation may be put to a new test.”

One would expect this competition between Russia and Turkey to lead to a possible hot conflict. However, as Asharq Alawsat’s Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy—a former Egyptian ambassador and senior UN official—puts it: “In Libya, while again on opposite sides, it seems that they have now decided to take their cue from their experience in Syria, including from the Astana process. They may have clashing interests, but they can still manage their differences…. Russia… is approaching matters from a strategic perspective. Its objective is to be a major, if not the major, foreign player in the field of energy in the Eastern Mediterranean. For that a foothold in Libya would be an important asset…. News about Russian military aircraft arriving in Libya is an indication that Moscow intends to adopt a higher profile to protect its interests.”… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The Turkey-Libya Agreement Benefits Egypt, But the UAE is a Spoiler
Ali Bakeer
TRT World, June 15, 2020

Last week, an Egyptian official gave a revealing statement to Mada Masr, a Cairo based media platform, saying “the Foreign Ministry and the General Intelligence Service (GIS) were lobbying the Egyptian Presidency for a quiet acceptance of the Turkey-Libya maritime deal, as it would grant Cairo a sizeable maritime concession in the stalled maritime negotiations (with Greece).”
However, the presidency rejected their recommendations.

The statement confirms previous information on the disagreements within Egyptian institutions on how to deal with the Greece issue given that Egyptian experts are in favor of the Ankara-Tripoli maritime deal because it caters to the interest of the Egyptian state, while the presidency is in favor of continuing negotiations with Greece.

Last year, several allegedly official documents on the negotiation process between Egypt and Greece were leaked to the media. One expert document noted that the Greek team “lacked credibility and resorted to crooked methods” in negotiations.

According to the document, the Greek continued “fallacy and false claims”, and “exploited the political understanding between the two governments to embarrass the Egyptian negotiating-legal team.”

Another document by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to President Sisi reveals disagreements between Cairo and Athens on the appropriate principle to delimit maritime boundaries. It clearly states that the Greek position will result in the loss of around 10,000 square kilometres of Egypt’s share, an area that almost equals the size of a country like Lebanon.

The surprising Turkey-Libya maritime agreement in November 2019, however, shuffled the cards in the Eastern Mediterranean and provided Egypt with leverage against the maximalist behavior of Greece.

Cairo’s initial contrasting statements on the agreement reflect this fact.
Although the Egyptian and the Greek governments swiftly condemned the Turkish-Libyan maritime agreement, Cairo used a different pretext than Athens to target the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) rather than the content of the agreement itself.

During his participation in the Rome conference in December 2019, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukri, raised eyebrows when he implicitly acknowledged that the deal is in Cairo’s favor, affirming that the aforementioned agreement “doesn’t harm Egypt’s interest” in the Eastern Mediterranean.  … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The Implications of Unilateral Annexation for Israel’s Relations with Egypt
Ofir Winter
INSS Insight No. 1319, May 14, 2020

At a press conference in December 2019, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was asked to respond to statements from Israel regarding annexation of the Jordan Valley, and replied with a smile that “there is a difference between promises given before elections and their implementation afterwards.” But it appears that the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White, whereby as of July 1 the Prime Minister can ask the government and the Knesset to approve the imposition of Israeli sovereignty on parts of the West Bank, has changed Cairo’s assessment of Israel’s intentions in this context. At the request of the Palestinians, on April 30, 2020 the Arab League held a special video conference at the foreign minister level, and issued a warning that annexation could destroy chances of peace in the region. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry condemned what he called Israel’s attempt to exploit the coronavirus crisis in order to promote unilateral moves and determine facts on the ground, while breaching international law.

Egyptian objections to moves by Israel toward unilateral annexation comprise several layers. At the foundation is the traditional Egyptian solidarity with the Palestinians and with their demand for an independent and sustainable state based on the 1967 borders. In addition, these objections reflect particular Egyptian national interests: the desire for a renewal of negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which will contribute to regional stability and could – according to the Trump plan – lead to projects worth billions of dollars in Egypt’s own territory. Moreover, Egypt is worried about violent escalation in the West Bank – a third intifada – that might foment extremism and instability throughout the region, strengthen radical forces such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and cast a shadow over essential cooperation with Israel – for example, on gas.

At this stage, Cairo is mainly looking for ways to persuade Israel and the United States to withdraw from ideas of annexation, and to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. On May 2 the deputy head of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies (ECSS), Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mohamed Ibrahim, published a policy paper on the subject of Jordan Valley annexation, calling for Arab states to put this issue at the top of their diplomatic and public relations agendas, in order to pressure Israel to renege on its intentions and to embarrass it in the international arena. This would occur by convening the Security Council to discuss the implications of the move, present a united Arab-Palestinian vision of an overall settlement to the UN General Assembly, and send a warning to the United States that annexation will damage the security situation in the West Bank, undermine regional stability, and weaken the Palestinian Authority vis-à-vis Hamas. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Could Egypt and Turkey Go to War in Libya? | Inside Story:  YouTube, June 21, 2020 — The battlelines of Libya’s civil war are changing quickly.

Egypt Could Face Blowback from Somalia Weapons Deal Michael Rubin, AEI, June 1, 2020 — Policymakers in the United States have a bifurcated approach toward Egypt.

Egypt Announces International Anti-Turkey Alliance George Mikhail, Al-Monitor, May 31, 2020 — Egypt has announced an anti-Turkey alliance that includes Greece, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France to confront Turkish moves in Libya and the Mediterranean. The announcement was made during a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers of these countries on May 11.

Turkey Hinders Egyptian Peace Efforts in Libya George Mikhail, Al-Monitor, June 16, 2020 — Over a year into the war in Tripoli, Egypt proposed June 6 a political initiative to resolve the Libyan crisis. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated during a joint conference with Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter and Speaker of the Tobruk-based Libyan parliament Aqila Saleh that “the initiative will be the beginning of a new stage toward a return to a normal, safe life in Libya,” warning against insisting on the military option to resolve the crisis.

Former Trump Adviser Warns of Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood Campaign Against Him:  Raúl Redondo, Atalayar, June 2, 2020 — The New York Times recently published a report revealing that the FBI had conducted investigations to determine whether Walid Phares, former adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, had worked in secret to influence the Egyptian government in the U.S. administration. These investigations focused on possible links between Phares and both the Egyptian state and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.