This is the latest in an occasional series of posts entitled ‘another good reason not to intervene in the Middle East’. Last time, we had a look at the situation in Iraq, where the west intervened to remove a dictatorial regime, only for things to sink into bloody chaos. This time we look at Libya, where the west intervened to remove a dictatorial regime, only for things to sink into bloody chaos. Next time, we may take a look at Afghanistan, where the west intervened… well you get the picture.
Most of us are vaguely aware that the Libyan revolution has degenerated into a messy civil war involving a bewildering array of regional, tribal, religious and ethnic factions. For the significant details, however, we can be grateful to Frederic Wehrey for his briefing in the Washington Post:
“Recent reports of Egyptian military aircraft bombing Islamist militant positions in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have highlighted once more how the Mediterranean state has become a contested site of regional proxy wars.”
The various factions are now loosely organised into opposing alliances – ‘Operation Dignity’ and ‘Operation Dawn’. The latter includes, but is not limited to, Islamist groups, while the former is anti-Islamist in character and includes the forces of the official government:
“A dangerous scenario looms ahead. Backed by Egypt and the UAE, the Libyan government is extending the narrative of its counter-terrorism struggle against jihadists in Benghazi to include what is effectively a multi-sided civil war in Tripoli and the western mountains – of which Islamists are only one player. It is a multifaceted struggle that is only partially understood, and for which the literature on proxy interventions does not fully account.”
Backing the other side, we find our old friend Qatar, which despite presenting a pro-western face to the rest of the world, is busy supporting Islamists across the Arab world:
“Operation Dignity attacks in Tripoli have been accompanied by allegations of Qatari support to Tripoli-based Misrata and Islamist factions… With Tripoli’s airport non-operational, Qatari cash and weapons shipments are believed to be funneled through the Matiga airport, on the eastern flank of Tripoli, which is under the control of Islamist militias. The alleged support from Qatar has produced an escalatory response from Operation Dignity forces, with dire consequences for civilians caught in the crossfire.”
You may have thought that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both being Gulf monarchies allied to US, would have the same foreign policy objectives. But, in fact, they find themselves engaged in a proxy war against one another.
With Egypt and Saudi Arabia joining in on the Emirati side and Turkey and Sudan on the Qatari side, it is clear that the Sunni-Shia split is not the only fault line running through the Arab world:
“What is remarkable about Gulf intervention is the brazenness of it and that the opposing Gulf states – UAE and Qatar – are both members of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition. Together with Egypt, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey were among the signatories of a recent 13-country statement pledging non-interference in Libya’s internal affairs. But such oaths ring hollow in the face of recent airstrikes and the under-the-table shipments of funds and weapons.”
Advocates of western intervention should ask themselves what hope we have of ‘bringing peace’ to the Middle East, when we can’t even stop our regional allies from fighting one another.