A recent article in the Middle East Eye describes what the author, Mattio Toaldo, calls Khalifa Haftar's Plan B. The plan would replace that of the UN to create a unity Government of National Accord(GNA) supported by the existing two rival governments.
The author is a policy fellow in the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. The plan for the GNA is still ongoing. The UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, who is organizing the dialogue between the rival governments, hoped to announce the names of the main officials of the GNA last night. However, that did not happen as the General National Congress(GNC) government requested more amendments to the final draft of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA). Leon says there can be no amendments. Neither parliament, including the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) has agreed yet to the final draft even though both sides sent negotiators to the recent meetings in Skhirat Morocco. The HoR earlier rejected the draft since it already contained some amendments to address concerns on the GNC. Leon managed to convince the HoR to send representatives to recent meetings at the UN in New York and now at Skhirat.The alternative plan by Khalifa Haftar, the CIA-linked commander of the HoR armed forces, would wreck or stall the UN talks while continuing the already existing division of the country but giving him greater control of the HoR. Taldo notes Haftar started the whole conflict back in 2014. Haftar first launched a failed coup in February and then his Operation Dignity, designed to rid Libya of Islamists in May of the same year. Ironically as part of Operation Dignity, the Libyan parliament buildings were burned down while at the time Abdullah al-Thinni was prime minister. He denounced Haftar's action. Now as prime minister of the HoR he appointed Haftar commander of the HoR armed forces, the Libyan National Army.Recently the HoR unilaterally extended its mandate beyond October 20. This was Leon's deadline for the new Government of National Accord(GNA) to take over as the HoR mandate expires. The UN plan was also to extend the HoR mandate but with the agreement of the GNC and under the terms of the GNA. The HoR claims that their move was necessary to avoid a "power vacuum" should the UN plan fail. According to Toaldo the HoR discussed several options. One would just see the HoR continue to govern without agreeing with the rival GNC or accepting the UN plan. Other options included conferring all powers to a temporary president or declaring a state of emergency with a military council governing the country. This last option is part of Haftar's Plan B with himself as head of the council. Haftar has from the first rejected the UN LPA since under it, the function of commander in chief of the GNA armed forces would be carried out by senior officials of that government. He would be sidelined temporarily and likely permanently as the military leadership would be "reset." The GNC and other opposition groups will never accept Haftar as commander of the national armed forces voluntarily.Toaldo notes Haftar has all along been attempting to scuttle any deal. The possibility of a power void after October 20 gives him an opportunity to consolidate his power over the HoR government. Haftar had to make it clear to prime minister Al-Thinni who was in charge. Haftar has twice stopped Al Thinni, supposedly his boss, from flying out of Libya, once to a meeting, and the other time for a holiday at Eid. Toaldo claims:Even under the continuation of the "fiction" of a civilian government, Haftar would have the advantage of continued recognition. In spite of being threatened with sanctions, Haftar has the support of Egypt, the UAE and the Arab League. He recently signed a military deal with Jordan. Toaldo says Haftar would be disappointed by a joint statement in which the U.S. and many other countries said the UN agreement “will also grant legitimacy to the institutions of the future state of Libya. Any step which jeopardises this agreement is unhelpful.” No doubt Haftar will take such a statement as meaningless rhetoric, just as was the EU naming him as a person to be sanctioned for trying to scuttle the peace process. Haftar no doubt looks at what the international community does, not the rhetoric meant to show how committed to a peaceful political settlement it is.Toaldo says western reaction to Haftar's plan will be important in determining the future of Libya. He believes the U.S. and EU have little to gain by supporting or not opposing Haftar's plan. He claims it would be a green light for de facto partition of the country. Of course Haftar believes that with support from Arab States and no doubt Russia, he can gain enough military might to defeat the GNC and retake the rest of the country. He is not in favour of division of the country. An Operation Dignity spokesperson has even announced a planned military operationalong the lines of that in Yemen. Toaldo points out that without the GNA the EU would be without a partner for negotiations on EU operations in Libya and its coastal waters to deal with the immigrant issue. However neither of the two rival governments would agree to EU plans since both regard them as a violation of their sovereignty. There is no guarantee that the GNA would agree either. The international community no doubt hopes that in return for a great deal of aid they will be allowed by the GNA to carry out their planned military intervention in Libya to fight the Islamic State and "ensure security".Toaldo suggests that if there is no agreement by October 20, the U.S. and EU could suspend any recognition for any Libyan government until there is a deal. This would just help out Russia, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states who would continue to recognize the HoR. The EU and US would lose influence in the HoR. Even if there were agreement on a unity government, there would be no parallel military agreement. This is essential, as Leon admits, for the LPA to be implemented. Haftar vows never to agree to a ceasefire with the GNC forces, considers them terrorists and continues Operation Dignity against them as well as the Islamic State.
Last weekend, the two met at Haftar’s headquarters in the eastern city of al-Marj. The agreement they reached establishes Haftar’s “oversight” over Thinni’s cabinet. From now on, the names of the minister of defence and of the minister of the interior will have to be “agreed” by the two. A peculiar agreement if one thinks that theoretically Libya is due to have a national unity government in less than two weeks.