The latest signature of the Libyan Political Agreement was supposed to reunify Libya under a strong and legitimate Government of National Accord to cooperate in the international fight against ISIS. However, the fragility of the UN-mediated process, and the severe political fragmentation within both Libya’s factions on the agreement, is undermining international and western action against the immediate terrorist threat IS poses to the region and to Europe.
Western policy rhetoric and action has significantly changed since last year from the outset of Libyan political negotiations. A year ago Western public pronouncements shuned the idea of international intervention or the idea of a ‘military’ solution to Libya’s sovereign crisis. Since then, the rapid expansion of the ISIS threat in Libya resulting from the political vacuum, and its disturbing impact in the Paris attacks, has pushed western nations to prepare for a more active military intervention against ISIS in Libya, by providing military support, training and technical assistance at the request of a unified legitimate government. Currently, plans reportedly include an Italian led, multinational mission composed of 6,000 strong, under the supervision of UN military advisor Paolo Serra, to provide support, training, and assist in the protection of the GNA and key facilities inside the capital, Tripoli.
However, some western action did not wait for a government to be formed. Although there was no unified government in Libya throughout last year, in November the US acted against high value ISIS targets in Libya targeting Abu Nabil Al Anbari with airstrikes in Derna, while France also flew sorties over Sirte and Derna. On Sunday night 20 Dec, there were new reports of ‘unidentified’ low-flying, surveillance aircraft over ISIS territory east of Sirte, near Noufaliyah, Um Qandil and Bin Jawwad, a town just 40km from Sidra and Ras Lanuf, the largest oil terminals in Libya. Sources speculate that the aircraft are likely French jets flying from the French Carrier Charles De Gaulle.
However, as the international community are seeking to obtain UN and GNA authorization to bomb IS in Libya, it is clear that such an authorization would lack legitimacy on the ground.
In fact, the lack of a critical mass of legitimacy for the newly formed GNA, whether in the rival political factions or in their military and social bases, may hamper the international fight against ISIS, if not magnify the threat. Wide swathes of public opinion in both camps perceive the GNA as an attempt to impose an illegitimate puppet government in Libya by the UN, under the cover of fighting ISIS. The recent embarrassment of a US special operations unit being ejected out of the HoR-controlled Watiya airbase Libya due to an apparent ‘miscommunication’, indicates the underlying tensions, even in the ‘internationally recognized’ LNA army units, when it comes to foreign boots on Libya, especially during a crisis of national political legitimacy.
Hardliners are reported as saying that any attempt to impose the GNA in Tripoli by force will lead to an all-out war against this government and that they will actively block all efforts to this end.