Haftar Attempts in Earnest to Take Back Benghazi, and the HoR votes on the GNA
With the UN mediated process looking belly up, it is highly possible that the next few days and week will see an intensification of all conflict dynamics discussed above as various actors scramble to stake their claims via arms rather than at the negotiating table. This primacy of action rather than talks is facilitated by the unilateral international airstrikes in Western and Eastern Libya and by Haftar’s offensive.
On 20 February, the LNA sought to retake Benghazi from a coalition of extremist militias, including the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC), Ansar Al Sharia (AAS) and IS. The ground operation (without using aerial support to reduce deaths due to friendly fire incidents) has reportedly gained considerable ground retaking Benghazi and Al Merissa ports, in addition to hospitals and other areas. If true and consolidated these would be the greatest gains since Operation Dignity was launched nearly two years ago. This ‘progress’ is in inverse proportion to political developments.
The Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) is on the brink of collapse as it does not appear that the ministerial list for the GNA will be accepted by the HoR in their upcoming vote, scheduled for Feb 23. The HoR called PM designate Fayez Serraj to appear before the assembly in Tubruq on Saturday 20 February with the 8 members of his Presidential Council to present the proposed ministerial list, the government program, and to answer questions on the decisions taken by the PC. The session, which was shown live on national TV, exposed irreconcilable tensions and divisions within the PC, contradictions within the LPA and unashamed political corruption in the ministerial selection process.
In an attempt to save the situation, UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler travelled hurriedly to Tubruq to meet with HoR President Ageela Salah as well as Fayez Serraj on 21 February, to push for a majority vote and immediate endorsement of both the LPA and the proposed GNA. Despite international pleas to save this process, PM-designate Serraj left Tubruq for Cairo, a day before the all crucial vote on the GNA Gov list. It is very evident from these developments that Haftar continues to enjoy widespread support in the East, especially now as the offensive to retake Benghazi has so far succeeded more than any other before it. The meaning of these developments is that a pro-Egypt or pro-UAE solution is materializing with International/Western plans for a GNA largely stymied. This solution could undo the gains of the UN negotiations making it easier for the Islamist-aligned groups (such as various militias in Misrata and Tripoli) to support ISIS and other jihadis against Haftar and the anti-Islamist forces. This reassertion of the binary blocs is a very dangerous place for Libya as the country teeters on the verge of an international intervention.