Libya has been in the midst of civil war for almost a decade. However, in the last year, the conflict has escalated and become a regional proxy war. This matters because Libya is a gateway for migrants coming to Europe and because whoever wins in Libya will emerge a powerful figure in the Middle East. Eastern Libya is run by Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army. He is principally backed by the UAE, Egypt and Russia; and he appears to receive support from France, Saudi Arabia and Greece. The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey and Qatar. Haftar seemed poised to take Tripoli in recent months but his allies in Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Moscow have suffered setbacks. They have not been able to get Haftar over the line.
Libya is the Middle East’s most important proxy conflict today. Just read the differing pro-government media accounts from voices across the region, like those in the UAE and in Turkey that illustrate just how important Lybia has become. Turkey calls Haftar a ‘warlord’ while The National in the UAE accuses Tripoli of arming ‘militias’ while playing up accounts of the Muslim Brotherhood controlling the Lybian capital.
On 18 May, Government of the National Accord forces in Tripoli captured a strategic airbase from Haftar. They destroyed several Russian-made Pantsir air defence systems, according to satellite images and local accounts. Turkish Bayraktar drones are now competing with Chinese-made Wing Loong drones, supplied to Haftar’s forces, for control of the skies of Libya. The country is a testbed for drone and air defence technology.
While the world has been focused on conflicts in Yemen and Syria, Libya is where some of the most powerful countries in the Middle East are increasingly involved.