Is Libya still a country? A former colonial geographical unit, maybe yes. But little more: There is no state apparatus, no authority other than that of some tribal leaders. Add to that, there is no security. The surrounding of various ministries’ buildings by militias in the past few days in Tripoli only goes to prove the fact that another national Arab state has been destroyed, to the great joy of surviving neo-conservatives in the US who have definitely learnt nothing from the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Iraq has become a bloody battlefield. Libya’s provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripoli and Fezzan are now going their own way, in what has become a de facto partition. Will Syria be the next on the list? If that happens, then Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs analyst Oded Ynon will finally reap the benefits of a strategy he defined 30 years ago: Make as many Arab states disappear as possible. Only the reason why some Arab diplomats supported the move remains a mystery.
The on-going disintegration of the country has a direct consequence for the Libyan people. They are not wholly responsible for it, as Libya was also attacked by foreign powers who obviously had other things in mind than “bringing democracy”. Still, anarchy reigns, as in Iraq.
However, another consideration goes far beyond the interests of the Libyan people.
In southern Libya (Fezzan), eastern Algeria and northern Niger, a kind of a triangle has emerged around the city of Sebbah, which is serving as a base for jihadists who want to fight in Syria and Iraq. It is a traditional route, from the Salvador Pass in Niger to Sebbah. The place has been used for years by Egyptian salafists and some members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who used to train their people there. Some of them would ultimately join the Al Qaida nebula — and now the Jabhat Al Nusra. All kinds of activists, it seems, have used the place, including those terrorists who attacked the oil-installation in Amenas as well as followers of Tripoli’s current military chief Abdul Hakim Belhadj.
Not by chance have some Tunisian would-be jihadists recently confirmed that their aborted trip to Syria had the Sebbah area as an exit point. It was also not by chance that some of the fighters captured by the French army in north eastern Mali, in the Adrar Ifogas mountains, confirmed that they were coming from southern Libya. As for the Red Crescent C-130 Hercules aircraft that left Gao airport just before French troops arrived, many wondered about the true nature of the ‘mobile chirurgery equipment’ left in haste on the tarmac; but few are aware of the destination of the plane — Sebbah. According to German intelligence sources, 30 jihadists were on board.
A European intelligence chiefs’ summit held on March 23 warned France that activists joining Jabhat Al Nusra were coming from Turkey and Libya. Nobody can, therefore, say anymore that they were not aware. However, if the fight against terrorism should now start in the region of Sebbah, how will the fight develop when it appears that those fighting terrorists there are the same who are paying them in Iraq or in Syria? Time has come to call a spade a spade, especially when looking at what is happening in Syria.
Recent accusations from, among others, Israel about the supposed use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government remind us of former US secretary of state Colin Powell’s declaration in 2002 at the UN: “I have the proof ...” of the existence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons simply did not exist. The rest is history: No-fly zones, shelling, additional civilian casualties. Why would Israel interfere in Syria, when the job is being done by others? As for the young Arab jihadists condemned to jail in their home countries but those who have “offered” to flee to Syria, one is reminded of Afghanistan.
The experience of Iraq and Libya has taught the US nothing. George W. Bush’s Iraq strategy has brought terrible harm to a significant portion of the Arab world. The “liberation” of Libya was actually an invasion led by Special Forces and was part of a similar philosophy.
When the Libyan minister of interior claims that the recent bomb attack on the French embassy in Tripoli was carried out by Muammar Gaddafi loyalists, he should also explain why the local tribes want to hide the reality of south-based training and departure camps — even though they would be useful to so many people.
Luc Debieuvre is a French essayist and a lecturer at Iris (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques) and the Faco Law University of Paris.