Recently, announcements have been made regarding the acceptance of a UN-facilitated peace agreement with a framework to form a Government of National Accord (UN News Centre, January 2, 2016). However, only 88 lawmakers from the rival governments were in attendance at the signing, while the Deputy Speaker of the GNC stated on January 2nd that the GNC rejects the agreement, and the attending lawmakers represented “only themselves” – signifying difficulties and confusion regarding a fully-endorsed agreement by both sides (Abbas, Albawaba News, January 2, 2016; DePetris, Quartz, January 1, 2016). Furthermore, although the peace deal is supported by the international community and the UN has promised to support Libya in its transition (Ibid; Narayan and Robertson, CNN, December 17, 2015), there is an array of indicators discussed in “Scenarios 1: Towards Peace? (1)” and “Scenarios 1 (2) – A Victorious United Government?” that impact the likelihood of not only successfully forming a united government, but also one that is effective enough to retain control and eliminate Salafi threats. With a highly fragile peace agreement that continues to lack full Libyan support (Soguel, The Christian Science Monitor, December 17, 2015), there is a high possibility of regression over the next three years – and thus, it is still valid to envision the scenarios below as Libya may return to a civil war between Islamists, nationalists, and their armed coalitions. Furthermore, the high likelihood of a failed unity government in conditions of heightened need for an allowed international intervention against Salafi threats may have prompted the international community’s decision to support that government – despite its extreme fragility (see Mitchell, Scenarios 1 (3) – A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?”).

This article is the third of our series focusing on scenarios depicting interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed a Joint Arab Force intervention in Libya on the side of the Council of Representatives (COR). In this article, we shall detail types of unilateral interventions from the region. At this stage, external actors have decided to militarily intervene in Libya by taking a side with either the General National Congress (GNC), COR (Sc 2.1.1), or any other future entities, still divided over nationalist versus Islamic lines, that could emerge from a renewed split in the Government of National Accord (GNA – a label used by the UN for the Libyan peace agreement framework).

Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label “nationalist” for the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives and any future anti-Islamist factions; “Islamist” to note the General National Congress and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and “Salafi” will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

For intents and purposes of not detailing every possible unilateral intervention scenario, we chose to detail one country per unilateral intervention type, as we deemed as most likely and representative.

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Sub-scenario 2.1.1.2 Egypt Enters the Libyan Conflict on the Nationalist Side

Concerned with threats and instability spilling over its borders, as chances to see attacks emanating from Libya increase, Egypt decides to intervene in Libya. Considering Saudi Arabia’s protracted intervention in Yemen, its focus on its anti-terror coalition (Wagner and Cafiero, Huffington Post, December 28, 2015), and the heightened tension with Iran, the Kingdom does not want to be dragged into another conflict. Other countries from the region are also less inclined to unilaterally intervene. Desiring a peaceful resolution rather than military intervention with the threat of spillover, Algeria and Tunisia refuse to consider intervention in Libya. Concerned with the overall stability and security of the region, but not directly threatened at the moment and still focused on their involvement in Yemen, the UAE and Jordan also are disinclined to unilaterally intervene in Libya.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Perceptions of national interests regarding Libyan stability and security. With high stakes in Libya’s civil war and its effects – namely Salafi threats and fear of an Islamist government – Egypt perceives Libya as a necessary situation in which to get involved. A past indication occurred when Egyptian President El-Sisi warned that not facing the developments in Libya very soon is a “very dangerous matter” (Ahram Online, December 8, 2015). Algeria and Tunisia are highly unlikely to unilaterally intervene in general, much less for a particular side. Past indications occurred when Algerian Foreign Minister Lamamra warned against “foreign military intervention,” which would increase the likelihood of “having more terrorist activity and of having more destabilization in the countries that are opposed to foreign intervention”; and also when Tunisian Foreign Minister Al-Bakkoush recently stated that Tunisia rejects intervention whose sole purpose is not counter-terrorism, one which is not approved by both “the Libyan people” and “neighbouring states,” and one that aims to support a particular side (Ryan, The Independent, November 30, 2015; Yehia, Ahram Online, December 28, 2015). Saudi Arabia is also highly unlikely to unilaterally intervene for either the Islamists or nationalists, as it continues to focus on more pressing national interests, such as its protracted conflict in Yemen to strategically counter Iran, regional fallout with Iran over the execution of a Shia religious leader, and new threats from the Islamic State (Dettmer, Voice of America, January 6, 2016; Omran and Spindle, The Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2016).
  2. The level of risk between unilaterally intervening and joining the Saudi-formed anti-terror coalition. If regional powers consider the Saudi-formed coalition far less of a risk (considering the member states involved and the levels of support), they may abandon the idea of unilaterally intervening and instead offer to combat Salafi groups in Libya through the counterterrorism coalition (if counterterrorism is a priority) – thus lessening the likelihood of this scenario. However, the feasibility of actually forming and deploying such a coalition is doubtful, and significantly affects the likelihood of Egypt even having to make a decision (The New York Times, December 18, 2015).
  3. The level of risk for Egypt between unilaterally intervening and waiting to join a UN-backed international coalition. President El-Sisi has asked several times for the international community to organize an international coalition to intervene in Libya, but continues to be turned down – a result of the West disagreeing with Egypt’s handling of Islamists, as well as the UN’s primary focus on the peace agreement that establishes a national unity government (El-Ghobashy and Faucon, The Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2015; TeleSUR, December 8, 2015; Afifi, Ahram Online, January 3, 2016). The risk in waiting for a UN-supported coalition is that it will likely not intervene until the unity government fails. With threats in Libya growing each day and a growing worry over the likely failure of the unity government (see interview with Al-Sennawy), Egypt has limited time, and will likely accept the risk of unilateral intervention if the UN ignores an intervention option until a unity government collapse.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.2.1: The Egyptian Intervention Succeeds as No Other External Actor gets Involved Meaningfully to Support the Islamists

Having decided to intervene in the conflict on the anti-Islamist side, Egypt deploys air and ground forces in Libya. Considering its support of the nationalists’ strong stance against Islamists and terrorism, Egypt coordinates with the nationalists to defeat the Islamists – and thus would have one central government with which to work alongside to begin targeting the Salafi groups. With Egypt actively intervening in support of the nationalists, the Islamists and Dawn of Libya condemn the unilateral intervention, and feel compelled to counter it. Not desiring to match Egypt’s military commitment to a unilateral Libyan intervention and not wanting to face international consequences in the event of helping establish a Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Libya, Turkey and Qatar view the potential for a moderate Islamist Libya (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood) as too high-risk and decide not to deploy troops or provide extensive support in favor of the Islamists. Without external assistance and having to face Salafi groups, nationalist forces, and the Egyptian intervention forces, the Islamists and Dawn of Libya are eventually defeated, allowing the nationalists to take full power and preventing an Islamist Libya. With one government now in control, Egypt assists it in engaging Salafi threats in Libya.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.2.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of external constraints on Qatar that could prevent it from fully intervening in favor of the Islamists. For example, with ground troops deployed in Yemen to support the Saudi intervention, its involvement in Syria, and its backing of Saudi Arabia in the intensifying Saudi-Iran crisis, Qatar may be too constrained to focus on Libya and unilaterally send forces in support of Islamists (Cafiero and Stout, LobeLog, December 8, 2015; Al-Jazeera, January 6, 2016; Gulf State Analytics, September 2015).
  2. The level of external constraints on Turkey that could prevent it from fully intervening in favor of the Islamists. Several constraints may impact Turkey’s willingness and ability to support the Islamists in the event of a unilateral Egyptian intervention on the side of the nationalists. Ankara is currently dealing with inter-state disputes with Russia, Iraq, and Iran, as well as the Saudi-Iran crisis, while also addressing issues surrounding the Islamic State, Syria, including most importantly the Kurds, and the refugee crisis (Ayasun, Today’s Zaman, January 1, 2016; Idiz, Al-Monitor, January 5, 2016). With an array of external – and domestic – issues, Turkey is not likely to unilaterally intervene, thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario.
  3. The level of risk that prompts Turkey and Qatar to avoid fully supporting the Islamists. If Egypt is willing to deploy a significantly high number of intervention forces, Turkey and Qatar may not be as willing to match it (considering external constraints), which would be required just to keep the Islamists intact. Turkey and Qatar may also not be willing to support the Islamists, so as to avoid international disapproval and not be subject to retaliatory measures such as sanctions or border closings (for example, see The Clarion Project, “Saudis Threaten Qatar Over Muslim Brotherhood Support,” February 23, 2014). Furthermore, Turkey and Qatar may not want to increase any tension with Saudi Arabia, considering the Kingdom’s level of support for Egypt.
  4. Indicators 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 for sub-scenario 2.1.1.1.1.1 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.2.2: The Egyptian Intervention Fails, Forces a Withdrawal

Egyptian intervention forces deploy, and coordinate with the nationalists to defeat the Islamist groups and then eliminate remaining Salafi threats. Realizing the threat to their survivability, the Islamist and Salafi groups revitalize their efforts to combat the intervention force. Considering Libya’s favorability for Salafi groups, they bolster their power with overwhelming external support and fighters. Forced to confront both the nationalist forces and Egyptian forces, the Islamists and Salafi-nationalist groups may decide to temporarily coordinate their efforts to disrupt the Egyptian intervention. Both of these actions contribute to creating a drawn-out, bloody conflict for Egypt. With no assistance from other countries in the region, Egypt decides to withdraw its forces (potentially to wait for an international intervention), and the intervention fails. Upon withdrawing, Egypt decides to continue providing substantial support to the nationalists, reposition its forces on its western border to prevent further spillover, and awaits the creation of an international coalition to intervene in Libya.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.2.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The Islamists’ perception of Egypt’s intervention and its support of the nationalists. If Egypt intervenes in favor of the nationalists, the Islamists will perceive the intervention as a direct threat to their survival, as well as a violation of Libya’s sovereignty – and thus will attempt to galvanize all their armed factions to oppose Egyptian forces and the nationalists. A past indication occurred when the GNC condemned Egypt’s airstrikes on Derna as “an assault against Libyan sovereignty” (Bayoumy, Reuters, February 16, 2015).
  2. The willingness of the Islamist and Salafi-nationalist groups to temporarily coordinate their efforts against an Egyptian intervention. The Islamists have ties to the hardliner Islamist groups in Eastern Libya (some of the coalitions include Salafi-nationalists), and have loosely allied with them to oppose Haftar’s Operation Dignity (Amer, The Washington Institute, December 18, 2015; Mitchell, “Islamist Forces II,” January 26, 2015; Libya Channel, December 31, 2015). By allying with coalitions of mixed Islamists and Salafi-nationalists, the more moderate Islamists have already shown their willingness to unite with extremist groups against a common enemy. Recently, the Derna Mujahidine Shura Council – a Salafi-nationalist group (see Mitchell, Islamist Forces II”) – announced its support for “any government” where “(Islamic) Sharia Law is the only source of any legislation, and anything in the form of legislation, laws or rules that contravenes sharia is rejected” (Libya Herald, December 24, 2015). The willingness on both sides to ally and coordinate against a common enemy increases the likelihood of this scenario.
  3. The level of external support for Salafi groups. An influx of external support in the form of foreign fighters, resources, and leadership would boost the operational capabilities of Salafi groups in Libya – which would help disrupt the Egyptian intervention, and increase the likelihood of this scenario occurring. Past indications include reports of an influx of foreign recruits headed to the Islamic State stronghold in Sirte, as well as reports of senior Islamic State leaders arriving in Libya (El-Ghobashy and Morajea, The Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2015; Crilly, The Telegraph, December 2, 2015).
  4. The inability to eliminate Salafi strongholds. If Islamic State and Al-Qaida leadership divert large numbers of jihadists and resources to Libya, Egypt, with assistance from the nationalist armed groups, may be unable to eliminate all the Salafi networks and be forced to abandon the intervention for fear of turning it into a bloody, drawn out conflict that further destabilizes the region. The risk of a continued and expanding Salafi presence in Libya could potentially lead to further foreign intervention, which we shall detail in later scenarios.
  5. Ability of Egypt and the nationalists to simultaneously combat Salafi groups and Islamist forces if the latter groups form an alliance. The Islamists will feel seriously threatened by an Egyptian intervention that backs the nationalists, and will actively deploy their forces to counter the intervention, as will the Salafi groups. If Salafi-nationalist groups and the Islamists form a temporary alliance, they will force the Egyptian-nationalist coalition to simultaneously combat an array of enemies. The likelihood of this scenario depends in part on the airpower of Egypt’s intervention force, cohesiveness and military planning, and Egypt’s ability to simultaneously engage both the Salafi groups and the Islamists.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.2.3: The Egyptian Intervention Results in Intensified, Protracted Conflict as Qatar gets Involved to Support the Islamists

With Egyptian forces now intervening in the conflict to support the nationalists, the Islamists request military support from Qatar in order to disrupt and repel the Egyptian intervention. Not wanting Islamist movements in Libya to be crushed, Qatar bulks up their power by deploying forces under the pretext of countering Salafi threats in Libya, or goes to war entirely. Knowing that an Islamist-Qatar victory will lead to an Islamist Libya next door, Egypt decides to remain in the conflict despite the reality of an intensified and protracted intervention.

The actions by Egypt and Qatar that create an intensified conflict then lead to one of three possible outcomes that we shall detail in the following post: general conflagration of the region; Egypt and the nationalists emerge victorious, and Libya becomes a more secularized state; or Qatar and the Islamists emerge victorious, and Libya becomes an Islamist state.

Qatar was chosen as the actor to intervene on behalf of the Islamists in this scenario, but the potential involvement of Turkey should also be examined. Considering the complexity of the forces at work, it was impossible to do so in detail in the framework of these scenarios.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of external support for the Islamists. If Qatar is willing to boost its support for the Islamists, its level of support will impact the likelihood of this scenario. Increasing arms shipments, funding, and vital resources shipments will help the Islamists, but it will not be enough. If Qatar decides that countering the Egyptian intervention is strategically worth it, it may decide to provide the Islamists with air support, and possibly even ground troops if it plans to overtly fight the Egyptian-nationalist coalition. Air support and ground troops from Qatar increase the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
  2. The willingness of Egypt to stay in Libya and fight a protracted conflict. Because Egypt faces the most risk of a failed Libyan state and Salafi threats emanating from Libya, it will likely be more willing than not to stay involved on the ground. If Egypt is determined to side with the nationalists and eliminate both the Islamists and Salafists despite the potential of protracted conflict with other external actors and internal actors, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. The level of external constraints on Qatar that could prevent it from fully intervening in favor of the Islamists. With ground troops deployed in Yemen to support the Saudi intervention, its involvement in Syria, and its backing of Saudi Arabia in the intensifying Saudi-Iran crisis, Qatar may be too constrained to focus on Libya and unilaterally send forces in support of the Islamists – thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario (Cafiero and Stout, LobeLog, December 8, 2015; Al-Jazeera, January 6, 2016; Gulf State Analytics, September 2015).
  4. The perception of Libyan tribes towards foreign troops on the ground. Considering the deep impact of colonization on Libya’s tribal groups, some may consider foreign troops on Libyan soil reminiscent of colonization. Tribes siding with the nationalists will likely perceive Qatar’s involvement in a negative light and be willing to fight both the Qatari forces and Islamist forces. However, Qatar has had previous interaction with Libya’s Tuareg and Toubou tribes by brokering a ceasefire in November 2015 (The Peninsula, November 24, 2015). Although the ceasefire was quickly violated, the Tuareg have reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire agreement brokered by Qatar (Middle East Monitor, December 22, 2015). Considering Qatar’s interaction and temporary success with the two Libyan tribes, it may positively impact their perception of Qatar. However, Egypt has also interacted with Libyan tribes by organizing a meeting in May 2015 with Libyan tribal leaders to discuss operational coordination and safe passage for a Joint Arab Force intervention (Mustafa, DefenseNews, May 10, 2015) – although it likely helped to increase Egyptian credibility with the tribal leaders in attendance. The likelihood of positive perception, and possible assistance, by Libyan tribes towards Qatar and Egypt will depend on the tribes’ previous interactions with the external actors and allegiances to either the nationalists or Islamists.

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Featured Photo: Egyptian Air Force Rafales by RA.AZ [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0] via Flickr

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