Hawks Prevailing in Tobruk? Another ‘Lost’ Week for Libya
The past week witnessed limited developments at the military and political levels in Libya as efforts continued to be made by international stakeholders to salvage the UN-backed negotiations process. In fact, contrary to what expected, UN backed negotiations in the Moroccan town of Skhirat did not resume during the past week as the Tobruk-based House of Representatives appointed an internal team to evaluate and discuss the interim political roadmap drawn at the last session of negotiations only on Monday 6 April. In light of this, it is safe to say that the latest postponement was the result of deliberate tinkering from the Tobruk-based establishment. As a result, both the Misratan Municipal Council and representatives of the rump General National Congress based in Tripoli threatened to abandon the negotiations process if military activities in western Libya from Operation Dignity aligned forces were not stopped and if no positive attitude and interest towards achieving a political solution to the crisis were displayed by the House of Representatives in the coming days. The rest of the week was thus spent by international stakeholders and by UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon trying to salvage the whole negotiations process. As of Monday 13 April, talks with political leaders and activists resumed in Algiers, whereas the official negotiation process with HoR and GNC representatives is expected to resume in Skhirat during the next few days, at least according to a statement made by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Frederica Mogherini, on Sunday 12 April.
Mogherini’ statement came at the end of a week where Libya resurfaced on several agendas. Last week in fact, the Italian, Algerian and Egyptian Ministers of Foreign Affairs gathered on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 April in Rome to discuss the ongoing Libyan crisis and possible ways forward. Whilst no breakthrough or unexpected development emerged from this conference, the overall impression is that international stakeholders have once again turned their attention to Libya and to the potential negative domino effect that a protracted crisis there could have on the security situation in neighbouring countries. As repeatedly said during the past few months, however, it remain to be seen whether this interest and the pressures that come with it will be enough to encourage rival blocs, or at least the majority of members from each bloc, into a political deal. David Kirkpatrick on the New York Times today presented an interesting overview of conflicting visions for the best way forward.
Meanwhile, on the ground, little changed throughout the past few days. The port of Hariga (Tobruk) was declared closed on Sunday 12 April due to adverse weather conditions. Reports indicated that a tanker had been waiting off the coast of Tobruk throughout the weekend without being able to dock and load crude. This is not the first time that rough sea prevents tankers from docking at Hariga, however, already on Monday 13 April, the port was re-opened and loading operations restarted. As for the ‘Oil Crescent’ region, the ceasefire agreement reached at the end of March between Operation Shuruq and forces aligned with Operation Dignity entrenched there continues to hold. However, the recent move made by the Tobruk-based establishment to set up alternative bank accounts to receive payments for the sale of crude could re-exacerbate the situation in the region. As a result, a sudden resumption of fighting in the ‘Oil Crescent’ region during the coming weeks should not be completely ruled out as hawks on both sides have a stake in a resumption of all-out fighting. No change occurred instead to the established patterns of fighting and instability witnessed in the past weeks and months in Benghazi, Derna, Sirte and western Libya. As of last week, no military breakthrough was achieved by any side in the crisis as most actors appear to have been busy with under-the-radar negotiations within their own constituencies, to plan ways forward in the crisis, rather than with undertaking fresh large-scale military offensives.