Over the past week a new geopolitical mystery emerged: an “unknown” party was launching airstrikes against Libya, which is already reeling in its latest political crisis where headlines such as this have become the norm:
- MILITIA MEN SET HOUSE OF LIBYAN PM THENI ABLAZE: ARABIYA
- LIBYA’S NEIGHBOURS AGREE NOT TO INTERVENE IN LIBYAN AFFAIRS, CALL FOR NATIONAL DIALOGUE
The strikes puzzled all media outlets, including Reuters which just over the weekend reported that “Unidentified war planes attacked positions of an armed faction in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday, residents and local media said. Local channel al-Nabaa said the planes had attacked four positions of the Operation Dawn, an umbrella of Islamist-leaning forces from Misrata which has been trying to expel brigades from Zintan, also located in western Libya.” This follows a similar report when on Monday, the government said unknown fighter jets had bombed positions from armed factions in Tripoli, an attack claimed by a renegade general in Benghazi.
Turns out the renegade general was lying, and merely trying to take credit for another party’s intervention. That party, or rather, parties has been revealed as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which as the NYT reports, “have secretly teamed up to launch airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation between the supporters and opponents of political Islam.”
But what is surprising is not the intervention: after all, hardly a day passes now when there isn’t some small to medium political invasion taking place somewhere, in a world in which newsflow no longer affects anything. It is that both countries decided to roundly ignore advising the one country which previously had made it quite clear it has explicit national interests in Libya: the United States.
The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington or seeking its consent, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines.
It gets worse: Egyptian officials explicitly denied the operation to American diplomats, the officials said. It is almost as if the theme of ignoring and/or mocking US superpower status exhibited most recently by both China and Russia, is gradually spreading to even the more “banana” republics around the world. Because while one can debate the pros and cons of any previous administration, it is very much improbably that any regime, especially ones as close to the US as the UAE, and to a lesser extent Egypt, would have conducted such military missions without preclearing with the Pentagon first.
So now that the “mysterious” owners of the punitive bombing raids has been revealed, the next question is: why? The answer is simple – to keep Islamists in check. And since the US can no longer be relied on to do the bidding of formerly key petrodollar allies, the UAE decided to take the law into its own hands.
The strikes are another high-risk and destabilizing salvo unleashed in a struggle for power that has broken out across the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolts, pitting old-line Arab autocrats against Islamists. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt one year ago, the new Egyptian government, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc exerting influence in countries around the region to rollback what they see as a competing threat from Islamists. Arrayed against them are the Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by friendly governments in Turkey and Qatar, that sprang forward amid the Arab spring revolts.
And while “old-line Arab autocrats” may see the military invasion as justified (they can simply point to what the US is doing in Iraq), that doesn’t mean that the US is happy in being ignored. In fact, quite the contrary: the US is “fuming” (perhaps because it is not the one conducting the airstrikes?)
Libya is the latest, and hottest, battleground. Several officials said that United States diplomats were fuming about the airstrikes, believing they could further inflame the Libyan conflict at a time when the United Nations and Western powers are seeking a peaceful resolution.
“We don’t see this as constructive at all,” said one senior American official.
The U.A.E. has not commented directly on the strikes. But on Monday an Emirati state newspaper printed a statement from Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, calling questions about an Emirati role “an escape” from the recent election that he suggested showed a desire for “stability” and a rejection of the Islamists. The allegations about the U.A.E. role, he said, came from a group who “wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives,” and “the people discovered its lies and failures.”
Most important, however, is that as the NYT notes, this latest escalation in direct political intervention in a sovereign state, means the middle-east is no longer a playground for proxy wars: after all, who needs to beat around the bush when one can directly bomb a proximal country without fears of repirsals by the international community, as Abu Dhabi and Cairo have done:
Officials said that the government of Qatar has already provided weapons and support to the Islamist aligned forces inside Libya, so the new strikes represent a shift from proxy wars —where regional powers playout their agendas through local allies —to direct involvement.
All of this ignores whether or not the strikes have actually achieved their objective of halting the militants’ progress. They haven’t.
The strikes have also proved counterproductive so-far: the Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli successfully seized its airport the night after they were hit with the second round of strikes.
American officials said Egypt had provided bases for the launch of the strikes. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and other officials have issued vigorous but carefully worded public statements denying any direct involvement inside Libya by Egyptian forces. In private, officials said, their denials had been more thorough.
American officials said the success of that earlier raid may have emboldened Egypt and the U.A.E. to think they could carry off the airstrikes without detection. Or the brazenness of the attack may reflect the vehemence of their determination to hold back or stamp out political Islam.
The biggest irony in all of this is that, just like in the case of ISIS, the U.A.E. is said to have one of the most effective air forces in the region, and is now using it to engage its own enemies directly, all of which is possible excluslively thanks to American aid and training.
Which means that at this point one can start the countdown until the US, seemingly in aattempt to halt the progress of another ascendent regional hegemon, will now arm the very Islamists that it was backing in Egypt before the whole Morsi fiasco, in the process making even more enemies, while the rest of the world awaits as the latest batch of weapons are used either against US interests in the region, or, as ISIS has shown, against the US itself.
Clearly, however, what is needed, is even more US intervention in a region which is rapidly bacoming nothing but rubble thanks to US weaponized “assistance and training”, which benefits nobody except a few US military/industrial conglomerates, and the global money-laundering banking consortium of course.