Geopolitics

Libyan Civil War: Saudi Arabia & UAE Involvement

September 22, 2020

Michael Ellmer

Key Judgement

KJ-1. It is almost certain the UAE and SA back the LNA fiscally and logistically within the Libyan Civil War, although the extent of their support is not public due to the secretive approach they have taken.

KJ-2. There is a realistic probability that SA and UAE funding has set conditions with their support that have likely impeded any hopes for a diplomatic solution between the GNA and the LNA.

KJ-3. It is almost certain that the instalment of an LNA government is ideologically in the best interest of the UAE and SA. A GNA victory would result in a democratically elected government which is not aligned with their Wahhabis Islamic interpretation.

KJ-4. It is highly likely that the UAE and SA have economic goals in regard to oil production in Libya as well as securing the contracts for post-war reconstruction. 

 

 

Intervention Methods

 

 

Logistical and financial support is the primary way both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia (SA) support the Libyan Civil War. A recent UN report has determined the UAE supplied the Libyan National Army (LNA) with advanced weaponry including a Pantsir-S1 air defense system. This system provides defense against military aircraft, helicopters, guided missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. With a single system costing around 13 million, it is highly unlikely that the LNA or their allies would have the proper funding to purchase the Pantir-S1.

 

A recent UN security report has confirmed that it was not Russia that supplied the system, but likely the UAE. Furthermore, along with all other UAE weapons support has directly violated the United Nations (UN) arms embargo on Libya. Despite ongoing conflict in Yemen, SA has historically provided financial support to the LNA and their commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. However, SA has had a more enigmatic role within the conflict.

 

 

Impact of Intervention

 

There is a realistic probability that SA and UAE support to the LNA has created difficult conditions for a diplomatic solution to be reached between the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the LNA. The impact of SA and UAE support on the conflict is hard to estimate accurately due to the opaque nature of both country’s inner workings. The funding from SA likely went to supporting LNA allied militias, fighters, personnel, and buying support from local tribal leaders.

 

There is a realistic probability this funding has further contributed to more difficult conditions for a diplomatic solution to be reached between the GNA and the LNA. The LNA has also reportedly committed a substantial number of human’s rights abuses and war crimes which makes it highly likely the UAE and SA are partially responsible as a result of their fiscal assistance. 

 

 

UAE & Saudi Arabia Goals in War

 

Political goals

The UAE and SA both desire the prevention of a political Islam government forming in Libya. The GNA and partial ally the Muslim Brotherhood, hold theological and ideological beliefs that are in opposition to the Madhkalis/Wahhabis strain of Islam the UAE and SA subscribe to. Especially, when it comes to the proper government that would submit to SA and their hardline theological views. The UAE and SA would ultimately rather see a theocracy than democracy erected in Libya.

 

SA and the UAE subscribe to the idea of Pan-Islamism and long for it to spread throughout MENA. Pan-Islamism is a philosophy where Muslims are united in a single caliphate that adheres to Islamic principles. The GNA and Muslim Brotherhood support a democratically elected government in Libya which would be antithetical to UAE and SA interests. Therefore, it is highly likely that SA and the UAE are supporting the Haftar and his LNA to further their political goals.

 

 

Security goals

Overall, the most viable security goal for the UAE and SA is the establishment of a buffer zone between the Middle East and North Africa. The geospatial separation between the UAE, SA, and Libya, nullifies any need to fear the primary battlespace reaching the Middle East. SA is locked into their own conflict with Yemen in the Middle East, and there is a realistic probability that SA lacks the strength to wage a direct-action war on two fronts.

 

Egypt’s involvement in the conflict also has a highly likely effect on the UAE and SA. Egypt is not only an ally but also a security blanket between the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt has voiced a recent justification for their direct entrance into the conflict which will bring even more complexity to the geopolitical complexities if they do. The LNA’s victory would be a beneficial addition to the security buffer Egypt already provides.

 

 

Economic goals

An LNA victory in Libya would be economically beneficial to the UAE and SA, especially in terms of crude oil production and post-war reconstruction. Oil production in Libya has slowly resumed since June 7th, 2020 after GNA victories pushed back the LNA. The LNA had shut down oil production in the Eastern deserts and utilised militias to maintain security. The LNA’s intentions are to prevent the GNA from having economic support for its campaign.

 

There is a realistic probability that SA supports the LNA with that move, especially with the desired end-state of an LNA victory. Which would likely give the UAE and SA contracting opportunities for the inevitable post-war reconstruction. On a different economic topic, the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative economic impacts across most global markets, including Libya. Libya already has a lack of coherent infrastructure or health care systems, and a countrywide outbreak would likely be devastating. There is a realistic probability that would set conditions for SA and the UAE to gain more control of oil production for their own interests.

 

 

UAE & Saudi Arabia Future Strategy

 

GNA Victory Scenario

Since the UAE and SA are supporting the conflict covertly, it is unlikely that both will take more direct action in the case of a GNA victory. There is a realistic probability that the threat of a Muslim Brotherhood-backed GNA would likely lead to the UAE and SA secretly funding low-intensity conflict against the government through militia proxies. SA and the UAE have allegedly done this in Yemen.

 

According to the Associated Press agency, In August 2019 a Yemeni official made a claim that the UAE was funding militias to assist in a coup against the Yemeni government. Similarly, SA has been accused of supplying US weapons to militias aligned with Al Qaeda in order to assist in the fight against the Yemeni Houthi’s. The Muslim Brotherhood aligned government in place would open Libya up for democratic elections which is against SA’s political interests.

 

There is a realistic probability that GNA allied factions will desire retribution for the UAE and SA opposition against them which makes it a realistic probability that they could face attacks within their own borders. There is a realistic probability a GNA government would somehow intervene in the Yemen conflict in opposition to SA, depending on their post-war strength or access to resources. It is highly likely that the UAE and SA will decrease their intervention post-war in the case of a GNA victory, although a complete decrease is unlikely due to the ideological threat with an installed GNA government.

 

LNA Victory Scenario

An LNA victory Libya would be an ideal end-state to the conflict for the UAE and SA. The UAE and SA already demonstrated a desire to help fund the LNA’s operations which is highly likely to continue once the LNA assumes the seat of power. The LNA is currently weakened, which means it is likely that it will require funding in order to bolster its strength and prevent any attempts to remove them in their vulnerability. The UAE and SA both want to see the LNA win for political, religious, and economic reasons. A victory would require further supportive action by the UAE and SA to cement it in place. In this case, it is likely that the UAE and SA will increase its fiscal and logistical support, especially throughout post-war rebuilding efforts.

 

Intelligence Cut-off Dat 01-07-2020

 

Image: Al-Masdar (link)

Image 2: Wikipedia

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