Tripoli Military Council leader Abdel Hakim Belhadj speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tripoli, November 28, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Tripoli Military Council leader Abdel Hakim Belhadj speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tripoli, November 28, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Analysis: Qatari arm in Libya works to destabilize region

Mon, Oct. 23, 2017
CAIRO – 23 October 2017: The western border shared with Libya constitutes the biggest challenge for Egyptian security institutions as militants infiltrate Egypt’s western desert amid the absence of Libyan border guards. The Egyptian military alone protects a border whose length exceeds more than 1,000 kilometers between the two countries.

Libya suffers from an intense proliferation of weapons and terrorist camps in a number of cities in the eastern region, close to the Egyptian border. Of those cities, Derna houses the most dangerous terrorist elements in North Africa including the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) militant Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who created Hizb al-Watan in 2012.

Hizb al-Watan was believed to be financed by Qatar, according to the Jamestown Institution report in July 2014 and Qatari Leaks, who claim Belhadj commanded the Qatari-trained Tripoli Brigade.

In November, Egyptian security forces arrested a group of militants, who trained in Derna. Egyptian Prosecution investigations revealed that Qatar financed militants such as Belhag and the Egyptian militant Hisham Al-Ashmawy, head of the armed wing of Al-Morabeton group, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula.

In July 2015, Asmawy announced in a statement that he became the emir of Al Murabitun, affirming his affiliation to Al-Qeada. Al Murabitun is another turning point in Ashmawy’s life. After the Egyptian-based terrorist organization Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM) announced in November 2014 its allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), Ashmawy refused to pledge allegiance to IS. He remained loyal to Al-Qaeda and IS cut off its supply to the Egyptian group. In response, Al-Qaeda provided Ashmawy with weapons and training camps in Libya as a prelude to carry out more operations in Egypt.

On Friday, Dozens of Egyptian security personnel were killed and injured Friday during a raid on a militant hideout near the Giza-Al Wahat Road in Giza. The death toll has risen to at least 17.

Following the deadly clashes, some security sources pointed an accusatory finger at Hisham Ashmawi, the operation commander of the Sinai-based (ABM), the country’s most active jihadist group.

Derna: The center of terrorism and extremism

Derna is an hour and a half drive from the common border with Egypt and is the most dangerous city in the Libyan east because it is packed with a large number of extremists and militants fleeing the towns of Benghazi after the army liberated the city.

The Libyan army, represented by the operations room of Omar al-Mukhtar, besieged the city of Derna as a prelude to liberating it from terrorist elements. Since most of the terrorists’ finances made it to Libya from across the sea, the Libyan air force is trying to secure the maritime border and prevent the arrival of any more supplies.

According to Libyan military sources, a large number of Egyptian terrorists and militants take to the city of Derna as a training camp. The camp equips and trains new recruits in preparation for a push into Egypt. Their targets were state institutions.

The port of Siwa-Jagbub, which connects Egypt to Libya, is one of the most dangerous terrorist corridors into Egypt. Smugglers operating in the mountains use it to smuggle arms and drugs through the mountain routes.

Armed conflict in Libya

The timing of the pre-emptive operation carried out by Egyptian police against terrorists in the oases coincided with Belhadj’s moves, Doha’s man in Libya. Belhadj is known to be the financer of terrorist organizations in Libya and is one of the most hostile fighters against the Libyan national army led by Khalifa Hafter

Over the last three years, Egypt has battled terrorism by building and reconstructing what terrorists destroyed. It is the message of peace that the Egyptian people bear; the Egyptian state will continue to confront terrorism and extremism by building.

President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi directed the government to study the possibility of establishing a land outlet in the Jaghbub area, to link it with the Libyan border.

The decision to establish a land port in Jaghbub would ease the pressure on the Salloum land port, which also links the two country. It will also play a prominent role in creating real development in Siwa and promoting the economy, trade, export and import between Egypt, Libya and the North African countries.

This is in addition to allowing better control of the common border between the two countries, which would reduce the smuggling of weapons and any other kind of aid to militants.

Jaghbub is located west of Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and is about 286 kilometers away from the city of Tobruk in the south-east, in a low area of about 56 square kilometers. It is located in a border zone between Egypt and Libya which has made it strategically important throughout history. Jaghbub also comes under the administrative jurisdiction of Tobruk.
The desert road linking Jaghbub to the far south-east and Siwa Oasis to the Libyan Desert, has become an increasingly popular smuggling route for arms, goods and people, which represent a threat to Egyptian national security.

The failure of Libyan political dialogue enhances chances of military escalation

With political dialogue between the state and Parliament in Libya coming to no avail, the chances of resorting to a military-based solution to end the crisis are becoming more likely. Such a solution could lead the country to unknown fates; especially because of the regional and international finances being pumped into Libya from states such as Qatar and Turkey that oppose the establishment of a unified Libyan state.

The failure of the Libyan political dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations in Tunisia is a major challenge for Libya's neighbors, especially Egypt, since it is the most affected by the institutional vacuum consuming Libya.

The Libyan national army’s capabilities are in dire need of support, particularly as it combats the fierce crackdown from Libyan Islamic leaders following political Islam; namely Belhadj, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani’s most crucial player in Libya.
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