Developments in Libya these days have attracted the attention of the countries of the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, and the world because, in addition to the strategic position of Libya’s oil-rich country, we are witnessing the intervention of a large number of regional and trans-regional actors regarding the crisis in this country and perhaps its escalation. The intervention of the United Arab Emirates as one of the most influential countries in the Persian Gulf in Libya’s internal affairs and its full support for the National Army led by Khalifa Haftar against the Libyan National Unity Government raised many questions among the public opinion. Since Libya does not share a border with the UAE, the question arises, what are Abu Dhabi’s goals in Libya?
The UAE is geographically far from Libya and has no common border with Libya. However, the country has a base in eastern Libya, and its planes land at this base. The UAE’s ambiguous interventions in Libya have reached the point where even the Supreme Council of the Libyan National Unity Government has described the UAE as an enemy and announced the severance of ties with the country. The council said relations with the UAE were at war because the country was supporting war criminals in Libya. In the meantime, even if some regional and supra-regional actors are content with the political support of the Libyan National Army under the command of Caliph Haftar, the UAE has gone beyond this and by sending equipment and troops to Libya, it intends to appear as a full-fledged supporter of Haftar. The UAE has repeatedly sent large military equipment, including armored vehicles and drones, to Libya. Recently, a large group of reinforcements consisting of Egyptian and Emirati soldiers arrived in eastern Libya on three Emirati military cargo planes to support the Haftar forces. Also, these days, no one denies the role of Emirati drones in attacking residential areas and targeting civilians in Libya and government institutions and airports in support of Haftar.
Abu Dhabi sabotage on the way to a Libyan ceasefire
Abu Dhabi not only supports Haftar by sending equipment and troops but also indirectly threatens the country with significant stances, with UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash recently announcing that he would marginalize the role. The Arab countries, similar to what we saw in Syria, are a difficult experience that will not be repeated. This means that the UAE does not intend to back down from the developments in Libya and make it available to other actors. On the one hand, the UAE claims that Libyan officials do not interfere in Libya’s internal affairs, and on the other hand, it tries behind the scenes to prevent the country from seeing peace and stability. One of the UAE’s most important steps in recent days to keep the Libyan crisis afloat has been to prevent a ceasefire from being signed. In this regard, Khalid al-Mashri, chairman of the Libyan Supreme Council, said that the UAE embassy in Moscow played a major role in sabotaging the signing of the ceasefire agreement in Libya. Apart from this, the light of all the UAE interventions in Libya these days, Abu Dhabi seems to be frustrated with Haftar and his advance to take control of Tripoli, so he is trying to replace 57-year-old Aref al-Nayez, the former Libyan ambassador to the UAE. The UAE’s interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region, especially in Africa, is not limited to Libya, but the UAE has also supported the Egyptian coup that led to the rise of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
UAE conspiracy for civil war in Libya and looting of oil resources
One of the main goals of the UAE in this large-scale political and military intervention in Libya is to move in the direction of confiscating its oil resources and mineral wealth. Last year, the Wall Street Journal revealed the secret meeting of Emirati officials with Haftar. The report said that Caliph Haftar is working to curb Libyan oil exports and gain the UAE’s support for the illegal sale of Libyan oil outside the UN-approved channels. Abu Dhabi is seeking to facilitate the process of selling Libyan oil directly through Caliph Haftar. It was the UAE’s support that led Caliph Haftar, in an unprecedented move, to prevent the Libyan Oil Institute from gaining control of the country’s oil facilities. A closer look reveals that Haftar has targeted oil resources in Libya and should not be surprised by the targeting of oil fields in Libya and the halting of more than half of the country’s oil exports. Because Haftar now has an informal route to sell its oil. It can also be said that attacks by Haftar-affiliated forces have halted oil exports from the ports of Al-Bariqa, Ras Lanuf, Al-Hariqa, Al-Zawitina and Al-Sadra in eastern Libya. The closure of these ports will greatly reduce the country’s oil production.
Compete with Turkey over influence in Libya
Turkey from the very beginning of the conflict in Libya with the support of the National Unity Government and later with the signing of security and naval agreements tried to protect its interests in Libya and its waters. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are on one side of the field, behind Caliph Haftar, and Turkey and Qatar, on the other, behind the government of national unity, are seeking to settle their old political accounts. The issue of the disputes between Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Qatar, which is not hidden from anyone, and the crisis in the Persian Gulf region between this country, which led to the severance of relations, has not been resolved yet; Qatar and Turkey are strategic allies in the region, and their support for each other in the Libyan case is not surprising.
Besides, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have wide-ranging differences with Turkey on various issues in the region, and Turkish officials have repeatedly sharply criticized the leaders of the two countries. Therefore, the UAE is trying to strengthen its presence in Libya and seemingly it refuses to back down the field against this country.
In conclusion, in the region, not only the UAE but also other countries are seeking to increase their position. These goals will lead to a change in the situation in the region. Therefore, no matter how similar the system of governing countries is to the UAE or other actors, it will pave the way for them to gain power. In general, the most important goal of the UAE is not the control and destruction of terrorism, but its mentioned interests in the region and expansionist actions. This is evident in the creation of bases that are crucial to the security of international trade, especially in Africa, and another important factor in the UAE’s foreign policy is its confrontation with its rivals, Turkey and Qatar.
*Amin Bagheri is a member of the Iranian International Studies Association in Tehran. His research focuses on Iran and the Middle East.