Is the Arab League setting the stage for military intervention in Libya?

Alia Soliman , Wednesday 19 Aug 2015

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al Dairi spoke before the Arab League calling for intervention (Photo:Reuters)

The Libyan government on Tuesday called on fellow Arab states to arm its military against the Islamic State group, which has recently taken over the city of Sirte in western Libya.

At the emergency meeting of the Arab League where the internationally-recognised Libyan government made the plea, many questions were left unanswered; member states agreed to support Libya but failed to specify any specific details about the military assistance they pledged to provide.

The Islamic State seized control of the coastal city of Sirte in June after heavy battles against government forces.

Fighting intensified again last week, leaving up to 200 dead.

Egyptian strategic expert Brigadier General Samir Ragheb told Ahram Online that an intervention in Libya will not be possible unless the UN allows international forces to go in.

Libya is currently ruled by two rival governments; the internationally recognised government is based in Tobruk in the east, while the other is based in Tripoli and controlled by the Islamist coalition Libya Dawn.

The rival governments have been fighting for control of Libya, which sunk into civil war after the ouster and killing of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In August 2014, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2174, enforcing an arms embargo on Libya.

Ragheb argued that the resolution must be amended and that the UN must lift or ease the embargo, so that the Arab League can face the Islamic State, which is expanding.

Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says that yesterday’s meeting means one of two things: either that there will be a direct Arab military intervention by a joint Arab force, including ground troops, or Arab states will supply weapons to support the Libyan army in its fight against Islamist militants.

Akl believes it is just a matter of time before an intervention in Libya would take place.

“This meeting can be taken in the international context and could lead to a development in positions within the Security Council or NATO… accordingly we can see the formation of a coalition such as the one in Syria and Iraq,” Akl added.

In Iraq, the US had launched airstrikes on 8 August, and in Syria on 23 September to target the Islamic State group.

A coalition of countries later joined to help allied ground forces combat the Islamic State.

To date, the coalition has launched more than 5,800 airstrikes in both countries, according to AFP.

“If such a coalition was to take place in Libya, this time Arabs will learn from the NATO 2011 negative intervention and the Arab element/component will be more present,” Akl said.

He added that if this happens, Egypt and the UAE will be the most involved, along with Saudi Arabia, as they were the most supportive of the idea of a joint Arab force.

In February, IS beheaded 20 Egyptian Christians and one Ethiopian Christian in Libya, prompting air strikes by Cairo.

Since then, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has pushed for a joint Arab military force to fight radical Islamists in the region.

Arab army chiefs have recently met to discuss the matter, after it was approved at the Arab summit in March.

Algeria, which shares long borders with Libya, had earlier said it opposed intervention, and has argued that no decision should be taken ahead of a dialogue that would produce a government of national unity.

Qatar shares a similar view to Algeria, opposing intervention.

Ragheb argued that Qatar has relations with Libya Dawn and may be able to mediate a compromise with the radical Islamists.

Akl highlighted the importance of an exit strategy if Arab states were to intervene, as Libya is still suffering from consequences of the lack of an exit strategy by western armies during the 2011 NATO intervention.

Ragheb said that there must be a dialogue between all parties in conflict, the parliament in Tripoli, and the internationally recognised government in Tobruk, if a political solution could be reached.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Arab League also called on Libyans to back the UN-brokered political dialogue process and to quickly produce a government of national unity.

Akl said that due to the fear of Islamic State's expansion in Libya, Arab states were devising a plan of action but ignoring the problems on the ground, mainly divisions in Libya itself.

Both Akl and Ragheb agree that the Arab League has shown greater persistence in attempting to deal with the crisis in Syria than in Libya.

In 2011 and 2012 the Arab League attempted to end the Syrian crisis by launching a peace plan and by sending a monitoring mission to Syria, although the mission did not end in success.

By contrast, the internationally recognised Libyan government has been calling for military support from the Arab League for some time, but such calls have yet to bear fruit. 

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