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In the bizarro world which is the Middle East these days, nothing is more bizarre than the repeated bombing of Libya by parties unknown. There were off-and-on aerial attacks in the eastern part of the country – Benghazi, Derna, Ajdabiyah – last spring which were believed to have been carried out by one of the contending parties in the civil war raging in Libya, but lately there have been a number of attacks in the west, around Tripoli, which no one has taken the credit – or blame – for.
The attacks in the east are attributed to remnants of the Libyan air force under the command of a dissident general from the Qaddafi era, Khalifa Haftar. Haftar spent the last couple of decades prior to NATO’s aggression against Libya ensconced in McLean, Virginia, where he would take his kids trick-or-treating down the street at his neighbor’s place: CIA Headquarters (got some treats for himself there as well no doubt). He now leads one of the umpteen militias competing for power in Libya. He calls his campaign “Operation Dignity” and has won the support of the more secular, Western-oriented players in Libyan politics.
The Operation Dignity supporters are embodied in a House of Representatives elected last June. It presently rules the country from Tobruk, a town east of Benghazi almost on the border with Egypt (yes, WW II buffs, that Tobruk). Funny place for what bills itself as the government of the nation and is recognized as such by those countries which believe Libya has a government to reside; but they had no choice, having been driven out of the real capital, Tripoli, by an amalgam of Islamist militias calling themselves “Operation Libyan Dawn”. The Dawnists enjoy the support of the Grand Mufti of Libya and have succeeded in securing control of Tripoli and most of Benghazi.
(Funny sidelight: Tobruk, being a fairly small place, doesn’t have sufficient accommodations for all the HoR legislators and bureaucrats, so they leased a Greek car ferry, the Elyros, to live on. Now the ship’s owner wants his ship back and has demanded that they leave. As of this date, they have refused to disembark.)
No one believes Haftar’s forces have the capability to have carried out the bombings in the west of the country. The first, on August 17th and 18th, occurred in Tripoli. This was followed by an attack on an ammo dump in the town of Ghariyan on September 15th. Then, just today (9/24), Tripoli was bombed again. All the air attacks have been against positions held by Islamist forces.
No one has claimed responsibility for these attacks. We attributed the August bombings to the United Arab Emirates acting in collaboration with Egypt, but those two countries denied it was them and we rescinded our attribution. The head of the government in domestic exile, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, does not hold the UAE or Egypt responsible. Nor does Libya’s UN ambassador. So who’s bombing Libya?
Interestingly, the most recent attack came two days after 13 countries released a communique at the United Nations calling for non-interference in Libya. The countries are Algeria, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, UK, US. If we take these signatories at their word (which I am not suggesting is appropriate as they have been the prime meddlers in Libyan affairs), who does that leave who could be conducting the raids?
Everyone’s, well, almost everyone’s, favorite bete noire in the area comes to mind: Israel. In fact, the Israelis pretty much win by default. Some might like to blame that other Middle Eastern bete noire, Iran, but that hardly seems likely or feasible. Why would they intervene in support of Our Man from Langley and how could they, lacking appropriate bases on land or sea. Russia? China? Burkina Fasso? No one other than the Israelis makes much sense. Now if you assume someone had their fingers crossed when they signed that communique, then a whole host of suspects arises, in fact the entire list!
If we ever do find out who is bombing Libya, it might shed some light on developments elsewhere in the turbulently jumbled Middle East. On the other hand, it might prove to be an inconsequential sideshow, a mere addendum to Libya’s existing entry in world trivia: the country in which the first aerial bombardment took place (by the Italians in 1911). Who bombed Libya in 2014? If you know the answer, you must be clairvoyant!
Ken Meyercord is a retiree with a master’s degree in Middle East History from the American University of Beirut. He produces a public access TV show in Fairfax County, Virginia called “WORLDDOCS”, which he bills as “bringing the world to the people of the Washington, DC area through documentaries you won’t see broadcast on corporate TV”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.