So much shifting sand

However, in Libya, tensions between the two countries continued unabated with the Emirates and Egypt increasing their military support to Haftar in recent months.

Libyan General Haftar following a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Russia, November 2016
Head of the Libyan National Army, General Haftar enjoys the backing of the UAE and Saudi Arabia: "the septuagenarian Haftar is perhaps the ablest military commander Libya has ever produced. Libya′s Napoleon not surprisingly has Napoleonic ambition. He makes little secret of his neo-Gaddafi ambition to rule the country. Personality traits aside, his rapid rise has been accelerated by Egyptian and Emirati airstrikes in support of the LNA," write Hammond and Kebhaj

This was apparent in the most recent Egyptian bombing campaign in Libya. Though it used the May 26 attack on Coptic Christians as a pretext, the Egyptian government acknowledged its new bombing campaign was not aimed at the perpetrators of that attack per se. Instead the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, an Islamist group, bore the brunt of the campaign. The group was an impediment to Haftar′s efforts to consolidate control of the country and according to Arab press reports, the group has also received support from Qatar.Still isolated and with little options, Libya may prove one place where Qatar chooses to strike back at the UAE.

The shifting sands of Libyan politics mean that Haftar could easily find himself on the defensive.  Haftar′s LNA is not a modern army, but a coalition of militias whose allegiances could quickly change. Haftar′s weakness is Qatar′s strength. Qatar can magnify the scale of its financial involvement with its proxies and provide them with public relations support though its media outlets, especially Al Jazeera.   

Either way it suggests that the war in Libya is likely to be a long one.

As Westerners continue to watch events in Syria and Yemen, they should pay more attention to events in Libya where Gulf tensions may most likely lead from civil war into war.

Joseph Hammond and Suhaib Kebhaj

© 2017

Joseph Hammond is a senior contributor with the American Media Institute. As a former Cairo correspondent for Radio Free Europe during the 2011 Arab uprisings, he has also reported from four continents on issues ranging from stability in Somalia to the M23 rebellion in the Eastern Congo.

Suhaib Kebhaj a research assistant at the International Monetary Fund and has worked extensively in his native Libya. The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the authors and do not represent those of his employer or his employer's policy.

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