International readiness for war in Libya

Inaction against extremist groups makes confronting them more difficult and costly later. This is Libya’s situation today, as ever since fighting began, there were many indications of the spread of extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Ansar al-Sharia threatened to slay Burma’s ambassador in mid-2012, but no one addressed these threats. A month later, it attacked the U.S. consulate, killing the ambassador and three others. The reaction was a limited U.S. commando operation raiding an al-Qaeda affiliate’s house in Tripoli and arresting him. Four months passed before Washington put Ansar al-Sharia on the terror list. Meanwhile, the Europeans did not act.

Extremist groups’ activities increased, and they kidnapped the Libyan prime minister in 2013. Then at the beginning of last year, another group kidnapped employees at the Egyptian embassy. Despite all this, the desire to confront terrorists was lacking, perhaps in the hope that they would just vanish! Worse, the Europeans did not support the only power that dared declare its willingness to end chaos: the Libyan army, through General Khalifa Haftar.

Perhaps this was a chance to develop and manage a Libyan military power that assumes the task of uniting the county, eliminating militias and imposing a political solution, which was already available but unprotected. Since such a plan was not supported, the crisis grew and the cancer of extremist groups spread.

Finally, speaking on behalf of the Europeans, Italy’s foreign minister said in a few weeks they would have to militarily intervene if the Libyans did not agree a political solution. The minister brought up the possibility of expanding the international alliance against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to include Libya. Why did they not do so earlier when the task was easier?

Military interventions

Chaos in the Middle East requires international rules of engagement. There are countries on which it may be difficult for the international community to impose itself, no matter how weak they are and unless the relevant governments request this intervention, such as Yemen in the past or recently Iraq.

No one favors going back to the time of foreign interventions, but this may be the only solution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

A few years ago, when Ali Abdullah Saleh was still president of Yemen, the Americans gave his government two choices: fight Al-Qaeda or they would intervene to do so. Yemen approved the presence of U.S. drones. Iraq rejected intervention until ISIS took over Mosul then Ramadi. As for Syria, since there is no central government, intervention happened regardless of the regime’s objections. The problem is that military intervention to fight terrorist groups has always come late.

Libya is vital to European security and interests, and is a close neighbor to Europe. The European Union (EU) could have had a clear stance that in the absence of a strong system, it was willing to intervene in neighboring conflict zones that affect its security.

No one favors going back to the time of foreign interventions, but this may be the only solution amid dangerous circumstances when systems collapse or weaken, and after approval by the U.N. Security Council.

Libya is on its way to becoming another Somalia, as the Italian foreign minister put it. However, the Europeans have not taken the initiative for a military arrangement like the Americans did in Syria.

Worse, some European countries wanted an amended political model based on quotas by imposing Islamic groups instead of fully resorting to elections and despite these groups’ poor electoral performance. The Europeans think this will improve the security and political situations. This submission to extremists and their financial funders is what prolonged chaos and caused the spread of ISIS.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 19, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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