KJ-1. It is almost certain that the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia back the LNA fiscally and logistically in the Libyan Civil War, although the extent of their support is not public due to the secretive approach they have taken.
KJ-2. There is a realistic probability that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have set conditions with their funding that have likely impeded any hopes for a diplomatic solution between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA).
KJ-3. It is almost certain that the installment of an LNA government is ideologically in the best interest of the two countries. A GNA victory would result in a democratically elected government that is not aligned with their Wahhabi Islamic interpretation.
KJ-4. It is highly likely that the two countries have economic goals in regard to oil production in Libya as well as securing the contracts for post-war reconstruction.
Logistical and financial support is the primary way through which both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia support the Libyan Civil War. A recent U.N. report determined that the U.A.E. supplied the LNA with advanced weaponry including a Pantsir-S1 air defense system. This system provides defense against military aircraft, helicopters, guided missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Since a single system costing around 13 million, it is highly unlikely that the LNA or their allies would have the proper funding to purchase it. Furthermore, this is in direct violation of the United Nations’ arms embargo on Libya.
Looking at the case of Saudi Arabia, despite the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it has historically provided financial support to the LNA and their commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. However, it has had a more enigmatic role in the conflict.
Impact of Intervention
There is a realistic probability that Saudi and Emirati support to the LNA has created difficult conditions for a diplomatic solution to be reached between the U.N.-backed GNA and the LNA. The impact of the two counties’ support in the conflict is hard to estimate accurately due to the opaque nature of both country’s inner workings. The funding from Saudi Arabia likely went to support LNA allied militias, fighters, personnel, and to buy support from local tribal leaders.
It is likely that this funding has further hampered conditions for a diplomatic solution to be reached. The LNA has also reportedly committed a substantial number of human rights abuses and war crimes. This makes it highly likely that the two countries are partially responsible as a result of their fiscal assistance.
Emirati & Saudi Arabian Goals in War
The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia both desire to prevent the formation of a political Islam government in Libya. The GNA and its shaky ally the Muslim Brotherhood, hold theological and ideological beliefs that are in opposition to the Madhkali/Wahhabi strain of Islam the Emirates and Saudi Arabia subscribe to, especially, when it comes to the proper government that would submit to Saudi Arabia and its hardline theological views. The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia would ultimately rather see a theocracy than democracy erected in Libya.
The two countries subscribe to the idea of Pan-Islamism and long for it to spread throughout MENA. Pan-Islamism is a philosophy whereby Muslims are united in a single caliphate that adheres to Islamic principles. The GNA and Muslim Brotherhood support a democratically elected government in Libya which would be antithetical to U.A.E. and Saudi interests. Therefore, it is highly likely that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are supporting Haftar and his LNA to further their political goals.
Overall, the most viable security goal for the two countries is the establishment of a buffer zone between the Middle East and north Africa. The geographic separation between the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, and Libya, nullifies any fear that the primary battlespace will reach the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is locked into its own conflict with Yemen in the Middle East, and there is a realistic probability that it lacks the strength to wage a direct-action war on two fronts.
Egypt’s involvement in the conflict has also highly likely affected the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is not only an ally but also a security blanket between the Middle East and north Africa. Egypt has voiced a recent justification for a potential direct entrance to the conflict. Egyptian involvement would create even more complexity to the geopolitical environment if it happens. The LNA’s victory would be a beneficial addition to the security buffer zone that Egypt already provides.
An LNA victory in Libya would be economically beneficial to the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, especially in terms of crude oil production and post-war reconstruction. Oil production in Libya has slowly resumed since June 7th, 2020 after GNA victories pushed back the LNA. The LNA had shut down oil production in the eastern deserts and utilized militias to maintain security. The LNA’s intentions are to prevent the GNA from having economic support for its campaign.
It is likely that Saudi Arabia supports the LNA in that move, especially with the desired end-state of an LNA victory, since it would likely give the two countries contracting opportunities for the inevitable post-war reconstruction. On a different economic topic, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most economies, including Libya’s. Libya already has a lack of coherent infrastructure or health care systems, and a countrywide outbreak would likely be devastating. There is a realistic probability that if this were to occur it would set conditions for Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to gain more control of oil production for their own interests.
UAE & Saudi Arabia Future Strategy
GNA Victory Scenario
Since the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia are supporting the conflict covertly, it is unlikely that both will take more direct action in the case of a GNA victory. It is probable that the threat of a Muslim Brotherhood-backed GNA would lead to the UAE and SA secretly funding low-intensity conflict against the government through militia proxies. They have allegedly done this in Yemen.
According to the Associated Press, in August 2019 a Yemeni official made a claim that the U.A.E. was funding militias to assist in a coup against the Yemeni government. Similarly, Saudi Arabia has been accused of supplying U.S. weapons to militias aligned with al-Qaeda in order to assist in the fight against the Yemeni Houthis. The Muslim Brotherhood-aligned government in place would open Libya up for democratic elections which is against Saudi Arabia’s political interests.
There is a realistic probability that GNA-allied factions will desire retribution for Emirati and Saudi opposition against them. Thus the two countries could face attacks within their own borders. A GNA government could somehow even intervene in the Yemeni conflict in opposition to Saudi Arabia, depending on its post-war strength or access to resources. It is highly likely that the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia will decrease their intervention post-war in the case of a GNA victory, although a complete decrease is unlikely due to the ideological threat that an installed GNA government will pose.
LNA Victory Scenario
An LNA victory in Libya would be an ideal end-state to the conflict for the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. The two countries have already demonstrated a desire to help fund the LNA’s operations. This is highly likely to continue once the LNA assumes the seat of power. The LNA is currently weakened, which means it is likely that it will require funding in order to bolster its strength and prevent any attempts to defeat it in its vulnerability. The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia for political, religious, and economic reasons both want to see the LNA win. This would require further support towards the LNA. In this case, it is likely that the two countries will increase their fiscal and logistical support to the LNA, especially throughout post-war rebuilding efforts.
This report was written by Michael Ellmer and originally published on GREY DYNAMICS.