As Egypt fires at ISIS, the U.S. still wants to talk it out

We are at a turning point, one prompted by the atrocities committed and filmed by ISIS

Abdallah Schleifer
Abdallah Schleifer
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The beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts working or seeking work in Libya and held hostage by ISIS for the past month was in effect a declaration of war by the extremist group against Egypt.

We are at a turning point, one prompted by the atrocities committed and filmed by ISIS. Those atrocities forced the U.S. to join with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan in an international coalition striking at ISIS forces and facilities in Iraq and Syria from the air. Just as the recent video of ISIS burning to death a captured Jordanian pilot was a turning point in Jordan, the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya has spurred anti-ISIS sentiment in Egypt.

For months, Egyptian military intelligence has been cooperating with Libyan Army intelligence and with the renegade Commander General Khalifa al-Haftar while he has been battling Islamist forces. However, despite the provocations of Libyan Islamists - such as their suspected role in a deadly attack on an Egyptian border post last summer - Egypt did not intervene.

This was because of a concern among both Egyptian and Libyan strategists late last year that an open, significant Egyptian military intervention in Libya might be perceived by Libyan public opinion as Egyptian expansionism. Many Libyans remember the brief border war between Egypt and Libya during the time of Anwar Sadat and Muammar Qaddafi. Sadat, it is said, was preparing to turn that border war into a full scale invasion and ouster of Qaddafi but was deterred by the Americans for convoluted reasons. But now, the time for an intervention, upon the repeated request of what many see as the legitimate government of Libya (for there are two separately functioning governments as the country faces political rifts) has finally come.

How can the White House see negotiations for a political settlement as the sole response to a perverse global terrorist movement operating in Libya?

Abdallah Schleifer

Only last month, the Libyan parliament meeting in Tobruk called upon the U.S. led anti-ISIS coalition to extend the range of its air attacks against ISIS affiliate strongholds in Libya. It is very significant that both Cairo and Tobruk are describing Egypt’s retaliatory air strikes as a joint mission carried out by the Libyan Air Force as well as the Egyptian force.

Little more than a week ago, Libya’s Ambassador to the UAE Dr. Aref Nayed warned in a series of interviews during a brief visit to Washington that “ISIS’s expansion in Libya is much worse than what is publically understood” that ISIS is using Libya as both “an ATM machine and an airport” and that there is “an unfortunate state of denial about of all of this and that is the most dangerous thing.”

Raising the black flag

This denial has been going on in Washington for months. It was as long ago as last October that the Libyan terrorist militia Ansar al-Sharia - with strongholds in Benghazi, Sirte and Derna and its more recent ability to stage operations in Tripoli - pledged its allegiance to ISIS and raised the black flag.

One would think that by now any power opposed to the spread of the ISIS cancer would rally behind Egypt and the beleaguered Libyan government in Tobruk. That seemed to be the case, finally, in Washington when a White House spokesman denounced the beheadings of the Egyptian Copts as “cowardly murder” and confirmed that the U.S. continues to recognize the parliament and cabinet in Tobruk as the legitimate government in Libya and acknowledged that the Libyan ISIS was linked to ISIS affiliate attacks against Egyptian troops in the Sinai. But the White House spokesman’s ultimate response to all of this? It was to call for negotiations leading to “political settlement in war–torn Libya.”

The Libyan government in Tobruk has repeatedly welcomed U.N. sponsored talks with the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated rival government but how can the White House see negotiations for a political settlement as the sole response to a perverse global terrorist movement operating in Libya? A political settlement with whom….with ISIS? It boggles the mind.


Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.

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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