Libya analyst Jalel Harchaoui warns that the current lull in the violence is the “quiet before the storm” and expects “The next phase of the war… to be much more intense,” Harchaoui points to the “The physical amount of foreign weaponry and foreign manpower injected into Libya over the last five to six weeks, on both sides, is absolutely without precedent.”
Indeed, it seems, from looking at flight traffic from Syria to Benghazi in LNA-held territory that Russia is sending additional mercenaries. At the same time, there continued reports of Syrian fighters being shipped in to Tripoli by Turkey, as well as the advanced capabilities Turkey is bringing with it (air defence systems, jamming systems, etc.) meant to ensure the continued survival of the GNA.
While the rationale of Turkey might be to de-escalate and force Haftar to reach a political solution, Harchaoui warns this might lead to an opposite effect. He suggests the UAE, Haftar’s main backer, could push for a “shock and awe kind of assault from the air, to overwhelm whatever Turkey has been able to install since December. It could also use heavy artillery, which hasn’t really been used in the last 10 months”.
In light of these reinforcements, US Africom commander General Townsend commented that the escalation through the interjection of foreign troops from Turkey and Russia is leaving the international community paralysed. The US itself plans on further reducing its already small commitment of 6000 troops stationed across the African continent, a further sign of decreased US influence in a chaotic region.
Harchaoui notes he does not “see any effort that is genuine and forceful in terms of diplomatic push from any Western nation….The U.S. has clearly shown that it doesn’t care. Russia is very limited, and the EU is completely caught in a very binary, simplistic and mostly false depiction of what is about to happen.”
Perhaps more than just indifference, other experts point out that European states especially France and Italy, have even played a destructive role in Libya for years. They also point out that Turkey initially entered the conflict to protect billions in investments and contracts signed during the Gaddafi era, along with its natural affinity for Islamist-leaning regimes. Erdogan has said multiple times he sees no military solution for Libya. However, at the same time, he is sending thousands of Syrian fighters, including Islamic extremists, to prop up the GNA. This in turn, makes some European supporters of the GNA think twice, such as Germany, and when taken together with Turkey’s moves in the Eastern Mediterranean, has already caused Cyprus and Greece to shift their support to Haftar.
In the meantime, Harchaoui points that out everyone seems hesitant to call out the UAE for its backing of Haftar, along with France and Russia. While the various international actors calculated their increased support for their proxy was meant to deescalate, the end result might be only further escalation, death and destruction. In this scenario, it will be the Europeans who will be held partially responsible for not working harder to end the foreign involvement in the conflict.