Libya: Putin’s best asset? (HAFEZ)

D.R. HAFEZ – 28th February 2015

As Mohammad al-Dairi pleads with the UNSC to lift an arms embargo, so as to be able to tackle the Libyan branch of the Islamic State, which recently rose to sinister acclaim by slaughtering 21 Copts recently this month, one delegation in the room must have all the difficulty in the world in hiding the smug “I told you so” smile. Indeed, despite Egypt recently signing a lucrative contract to by French Rafales, the Russian delegation must be licking its chops at the prospect of both a political and economic win-win situation. Once again, Europe must provide a viable counter-solution.

He’s not the messiah, he’s just a very shrewd businessman

As has been pointed out in a previous article, Putin’s recent get together with President Al-Sisi and the discussions of Russia possibly building a nuclear power plant for Egypt, as well as supplying it with weapons may seem odd given that Mr. Putin is not exactly the most popular person on the international scene, nor is Al-Sisi totally free in his actions or his finances. However, judging by the Russian UN delegation’s readiness to ease the embargo currently blocking arms trading to Libya, all in the name of fighting the Islamic State (IS), one can assume with some confidence that Mr. Putin’s sales trip in the Middle East served also as a timely reminder of Russia’s stakes and potential in the weapons industry and trade. Libyan observers may well point out that the problem lies not in the absence of weapons but rather in the lack of coordination, governance, training and general administrative structure of the structure, but what do they know? True, the collapse of the previous regime led to a mass exodus and pillaging of weapons stocks that have since poisoned the whole country. However, surely this time will be different…. If weapons are to be delivered to one of the 2 governments currently in place in Libya, then neither Russia nor the US should be left to enjoy this particular opportunity.

 Rafales are great – but Eurofighters are better

France has just signed a lucrative deal worth some €5.2 billion with Egypt concerning the supply of Rafale fighter jets and training of the pilots and mechanics. For an industry that represents more than €15 billion and some 165 000 jobs in France, that is very good news. However, at the same time, one cannot but wonder that, in a time of geopolitical tensions, and in a context where Europe finds itself doubting both its political future and foreign policy towards the Middle East, surely the lifting of the Libyan embargo would be welcome news. For starters, Libya would benefit from Europe’s close geographical proximity, and at a time when other countries in the region have decided to opt for European military packages, it would make sense for the new Libyan government to try and harmonise its forces and weapons systems with some of its regional backers. Eurofighters might not be the more capable fighter jet, but buying European weaponry would send the right signals both to the Middle East, and to Europe itself – for a start, it would be a very elegant way of forcing those European powers that intervened in Libya in the first place, of at least following up and creating a viable military command capable of insuring both the safety of Libyans and of the peoples to the north.

 Underneath the black banners, the lion sleeps peacefully

So, should Europe be shamelessly selling weapons and lifting the embargo off Syria? After all, both Libya and Syria are faced with some of the same problems – both have internal struggles that have recently been overshadowed (at least on a media level) by the black eschatological banners of IS. Both countries, were they to implode, would create a chaotic situation for their neigbouring countries –Egypt is already very worried about the escalating violence and lawlessness in Libya, whilst Jordan and Lebanan creak and groan under the weight of refugees and shudder at a possible outbreak of the Syrian conflict on their home soil. President Assad’s regime must also be relishing the opportunity of scoring media points, though whether they believe their own rhetoric is another matter. However, whichever way one grasps the problem, it is undeniable that Assad’s regime comes out better, which is precisely why the international pressure must not let up on Damascus – legitimizing Assad’s brutal repression that snowballed into a civil war and then chaos would really be the final nail in an already rotten coffin that bears the remains of international human rights and morality.

Policy unity for Europe!

Yet how to combat the inevitable tide of criticism and cynicism that with undoubtedly hit the European leaders in the next few weeks? The key lies in policy coherence and political unity – yes the situation in Libya is chaotic and unstable, yes France, Britain and a few other countries played a direct role in bringing about that chaos by overstepping their mandate. However, France, Britain, Europe and the rest of the international community did nothing to stop the atrocities in Syria, atrocities that ultimately overflowed into neighbouring Iraq and spawned the Islamic State, the very same entity that today caused surplus chaos in Libya. In other words, by not acting, Europe did just as much damage (if not more so) as it would have had, had it been more pro active in Syria. Hence, all it can do now is try to help clean up the Libyan mess – selling weapons is an opportunistic way of doing so. As for the Syrian conflict, it is high time to refocus the media’s attention not on the maniacs waving machetes and cleaving heads in the name of a warped version of Islam, but rather on the Syrian government quietly profiting from the suffering of its own people.



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