According to Al-Monitor, Saudi Arabia seems to be increasing its presence and role in Libya in recent weeks, especially behind Haftar, and could become another potential power broker in a future political settlement.
Much of this stems from Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s concerns about Turkey’s growing engagement, especially as it sends Syrian mercenaries; Saudi Arabia and Turkey are long-time regional rivals. This involvement has been evident in both the diplomatic and military spheres, the website notes.
If this is accurate, then Saudi Arabia’s new and growing involvement would differ from their previous cautious support for Haftar, who is backed by Saudi Arabia’s closest ally the UAE. Saudi Arabia’s role is less visible, including in the military, financial and diplomatic spheres however. There is also another aspect, in which Saudi media, think-tanks and diplomats have worked to delegitimize Turkey’s intervention in the country.
A Saudi foreign policy analyst stressed that the kingdom’s main motivation is to counter Turkey’s growing military and diplomatic presence there and in the region, and prevent Turkey from establishing a North African foothold. Turkey’s moves, tied to its Eastern Mediterranean steps, could be a catalyst for regional instability. Riyadh also seeks to back one of its other main regional allies, Egypt, another major rival for Turkey. The analyst also explained that Riyadh seems to be on Haftar’s side as the LNA controls 90% of the territory that is backed by the elected parliament, and that it is no surprise that Al-Sarraj has to go to Turkey, a non-Arab power for help, while most Arab states back Haftar and the East. He compared Saudi Arabia’s efforts to their similar opposition to Iranian interference in Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia is concerned Turkey could move in an Iran-like direction and develop proxies and influence around the region.
One Turkish analyst pointed out that it is Turkey that should be concerned with Saudi Arabia’s alignment with the Madkhali Salafi movement, one of the ultraconservative Islamist militias tied to Haftar. He suggested that Saudi Arabia could try to connect between the LNA Salafist militias and the Misrata Salafists, to expand Riyadh’s presence in Libya.
IN the meantime, we can estimate that Saudi Arabia can be expected to only increase its role so long as Turkey does. Riyadh can only hope that perhaps Turkey will dial down its involvement in Libya as it incurs increasing challenges closer to home in Syria.