The Libyan Arab Armed Forces’ (LAAF) withdrawal from western Libya has redrawn the fault lines of Libya’s conflict. It has emboldened the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) which, with Turkish backing, will push hard to extend its area of control as far as possible, thereby providing it with greater bargaining power when peace negotiations eventually resume.
The new flashpoints in the conflict will be Sirte and Al-Jufra. However, the LAAF is not going to let these areas go without a fight and will defend them to the hilt, not least because, if they fall into GNA hands, Khalifa Haftar’s power will be significantly diminished. Both sides are therefore gearing up for confrontation and a major showdown could well be imminent.
The Oil Crescent will be another key focus area because the GNA knows that it needs to retake control of the oil export terminals in order to resume production and get and oil revenues into its coffers. The LAAF will, however, do its utmost to prevent this from happening because it cannot afford to lose what is essentially its last major bargaining chip. It will therefore bolster its defences at the ports but attacks by GNA-aligned elements, and possibly even by Turkish warships, are not inconceivable given Ankara’s determination to wrestle control of the area from Haftar.
Turkey and Russia will continue to play a major role in determining what happens next in Libya, although discussions over the establishment of permanent bases by both powers will enflame tensions on both sides, as well as internationally.
Turkey will do everything it can to curtail Haftar and to block him from any part in the negotiation process. However, this is unlikely to be acceptable to Russia or Egypt because his removal from the scene will greatly diminish eastern Libya’s power and influence. Moreover, there is still no real alternative to Haftar in the east. Therefore the perennial question of what role he will play in the new Libya will continue to hamper attempts at any peace deal.
Egypt’s recent so-called Cairo Initiative will probably die a quiet death given that it has been rejected outright by Turkey, the GNA, and others in western Libya. Meanwhile the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is notable by both its absence from the scene as well as the ongoing vacancy at the head of the organisation. Unless the international community can cooperate and devise a new approach for resolving the conflict, Libya’s fate will be left in Russian and Turkish hands.
Tarhouna will remain a trouble spot for the foreseeable future. The mass displacement and revenge attacks that have taken place since the GNA re-took the town will ensure that resentments continue to fester. Meanwhile, the discovery of mass graves in Tarhouna will haunt the town although, despite the international outcry, any investigation is unlikely to lead to concrete conclusions about who was responsible.