Force Majeure Declared over Sidra and Ras Lanuf as Fighting Rages on
Fighting continues around the key cities of Ras Lanuf and Sidra after the start on Saturday of an offensive by the Libya Dawn camp dubbed ‘Operation Sunrise for the Liberation of Oil Ports‘. The operation is aimed at dislodging federalist and Tubruq-aligned forces from key oil sites in Eastern Libya and the Tripoli-based establishment maintains it is legitimated by a 2013 GNC-issued order to liberate the then federalist-blockaded ports. On Saturday, Libya Dawn forces were repelled for the most part by Operation Dignity airstrikes targeting them around the town of Bin Jawad, an urban centre located approximately 30 kilometres to the West of Sidra on the costal road. On Sunday, however, fighting involved ground forces on both sides and engulfed oil terminal facilities as well. In particular, reports emerged of Grad rockets being fired towards Sidra oil port while fighters from Operation Sunrise arrived at one point within half kilometer from it before being repelled by further airstrikes. As a result of this, Sidra’s oil port shut down its operations. And even though Ras Lanuf is reportedly still functioning, the National Oil Corporation has already declared force majeure over both sites. Nonetheless, even though Ras Lanuf and Sidra have a capacity of approximately 550,000bpd, the global oil market remained unresponsive to these events as the price of crude continued its steady decrease going below the $60 per barrel mark.
The above described events, however, are having and will certainly continue to have concrete effects in Libya. Firstly, the closing of Sidra’s and Ras Lanuf’s oil terminals represents a major setback for the country’s recovering oil sector and, more broadly, for the already tight annual income budget. Secondly, the attack over oil terminals in Sidra and Ras Lanuf represents the most serious step taken by either side in the battle for control of the oil and financial sectors. This could easily lead to an even more intense conflict in the short to medium term, especially as attacks over Sidra and Ras Lanuf could be perceived by tribes and cities in Eastern Libya as an aggression over Cyrenaica by Western Libya forces. As a matter of facts, reports started already surfacing indicating that some tribes which had so far maintained a nuanced or cautious position are now throwing their weight behind Operation Dignity and its aims. Even more worryingly, on Sunday night Saqr al-Jarushi, the Head of Libya’s air forces aligned with Operation Dignity, threatened to retaliate attacks from Operation Sunrise with airstrikes over key infrastructure and production sites in Misrata. It is therefore all the more crucial that the international community acts swiftly to de-incentivize fighting and avoid further escalation, if necessary by imposing an embargo over Libyan oil so as to devoid the battle for oil infrastructure of its dangerous short term value.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Derna-based militias and armed groups, including the dominant Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade and the infamous Shura Council of the Islamic Youth of Derna, formed a new umbrella group called the ‘Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Derna and Surroundings’. The establishment of this group follows the model of the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council and aims at coordinating military forces in the region of Derna in light of a highly anticipated attack over the town that Operation Dignity forces are expected to carry out in the imminent future. The aim of this attack would of course be that of dislodging radical Islamist groups entrenched in town so as to return it under (Tubruq’s) government control. Last Saturday, Operation Dignity forces carried out their first ground attack on a military convoy patrolling roads in proximity of Derna since the start of the operation in May 2014. This attack most likely signals the start of a new phase in Haftar’s military plan aimed at re-taking what is increasingly portrayed as a global hub and training hotspot for international Jihadists on their way to Syria and Iraq.