But days before launching his latest offensive, the self-styled general visited Saudi Arabia, where he was promised millions of dollars in aid to pay for the operation, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The money, meant to pay off tribal leaders and recruit new fighters, represents another reckless gamble by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has already launched a disastrous intervention in Yemen as well as failed attempts to subjugate the Lebanese and Qatari governments.
The Saudis and the UAE have been destabilizing several countries in the region for many years, and this episode in Libya is just the latest in a string of their ill-conceived power plays. Along with Egypt, they want to install a ruler in Libya that relies on and works for them, and they aren’t concerned about what it costs the people of Libya to do it. Much like the failed war on Yemen, they are trying to carve out greater influence for themselves at the expense of another country’s population, but once again they have failed to anticipate the resistance to their scheme. They claim that they are trying to “stabilize” Libya, but as usual they are doing just the opposite. All three of these governments are U.S. clients, but this is another reminder why the U.S. shouldn’t be supporting them with weapons and military assistance. The U.S. ought to make it clear to Haftar’s sponsors that their destabilizing activities will damage their relations with Washington, but I don’t expect the Trump administration to confront them over this or any other issue.
Libya has suffered quite enough from foreign meddling over the last eight years, and it is unfortunate that outside governments are fueling a new round of fighting. To prevent Libya from deteriorating even further, the Security Council should demand a ceasefire and a return to negotiations, and the U.S. and U.K. should use their influence with the Saudis and the UAE to rein in Haftar and halt the offensive on the capital. Failing that, the war in Libya will likely drag on and intensify thanks to the destructive role of Haftar’s patrons.