Fighting Over Access to Libya’s Energy Supplies

| Intel Brief
The Soufan Center

 

Bottom Line Up Front

  • Fighting in Libya has dragged on for the past eight years following the ouster of the country’s longtime leader, the dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
  • Access to energy reserves are driving the interest of external actors in Libya, in addition to other issues, including migration and counterterrorism.
  • Germany is working to bring the conflict to a temporary halt so that political negotiations can begin, but forging a sustainable cease-fire will be difficult.
  • To sustain momentum for a cease-fire, Algeria hosted ministers this week from Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Sudan, and Niger to discuss the Libyan conflict.

External intervention in Libya has increased in recent years, with a group of countries including Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt supporting warlord Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA). On the other side of the conflict is Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, recognized by the United Nations and receiving support from Turkey, Italy, and Qatar. Both Italy and Greece have expressed further support, including troops, for a potential European Union military deployment to safeguard a cease-fire and deter warring factions from plunging the country into further instability. The LNA has been aggressively targeting the GNA in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, using weapons acquired from countries like Russia in an attempt to tip the balance of power in favor of Haftar.

Access to oil and natural gas are driving the interest of external actors in the Libyan conflict, in addition to a range of other pressing issues, including migration and counterterrorism. Ankara has entered the fray and already sent military advisers and trainers, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to deploy troops to support the GNA. Turkey and Libya recently signed an agreement that would provide Turkey with access to vast potential reserves of natural gas deposits located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Turkey is positioning itself to take advantage of new supplies of energy and is competing with Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus for access. Over the past several years, sizeable deposits of gas have been identified in the area, including the Aphrodite and Calypso fields, in addition to discoveries such as the Glaucus-1 reservoir. Energy companies including Exxon Mobil, Italy’s ENI, Royal Dutch Shell, Israel’s Delek Group, France’s Total, Qatar Petroleum, and others are all jockeying for position as future discoveries are expected.

Germany is working assiduously to bring the conflict in Libya to a temporary halt so that political negotiations can begin in earnest. But forging an agreement between the GNA and LNA, to say nothing of smaller militias and warlord-led groups, will be difficult to achieve. Just last week, Russian-mediated ceasefire talks collapsed in Moscow with Haftar storming off before agreeing to a negotiated settlement. Haftar seems convinced that he can break through the current stalemate and prevail militarily. Many expect the Kremlin will lean heavily on Haftar to eventually come to terms on a cease-fire. Similar to Turkey, Moscow’s long-term goals in Libya are to make significant investments in energy infrastructure, including oil and natural gas, as well as to establish a more permanent military presence on the Mediterranean. Maritime security cooperation and naval exercises in the Mediterranean are becoming more common, as nations attempt to position themselves to take advantage of a possible energy bonanza.

To sustain momentum for a cease-fire, Algeria hosted ministers this week from Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Sudan, and Niger to discuss the Libyan conflict. The collapse of the Libyan state has had region-wide repercussions, with flows of people and weapons destabilizing other countries throughout North Africa. The Algiers meeting comes on the heels of a previous meeting in Berlin where participants agreed to establish an ‘International Follow-Up Committee’ to implement the summit’s objectives, which include securing a sustainable cease-fire based on terms amenable to all sides, as well as enforcing a United Nations arms embargo that has been widely ignored by all sides in the conflict.

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