Did Egypt bomb Libya ?

Quoting Reuters, “Renegade General Khalifa Haftar’s air force was responsible for strikes on Islamist-leaning militia in Tripoli on Monday, one of his commanders said“. The Guardian has a  profile of Haftar. With Haftar’s backing, the Zintan militia had been fighting Misrata militia for Tripoli’s main airport, which the Misratans have now captured.

Haftar claims his forces did the bombings, which the Zintans praised as professional. Reuters: “A Zintani source said fighters in his unit saw planes bombing a Misrata militia position. “Our forces at the airport saw massive and accurate bombings,” he said.

Of course, what we’d really like to know is, who is going to win Libya, Haftar, or the Islamists. But the attention of the press is elsewhere, so the question is not currently tractable, other than to note that losing the airport is not a good sign for Haftar’s bunch. So we start small: Whose airplanes were they? With open source intelligence, this might eventually add up to something.

NATO and Egypt exclude themselves: “A U.S. official and an Egyptian security source, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said their countries had not been involved. ” Since no statement appears credible, this is an occasion to sift through the contradictions, while enjoying a crooked smile:

  • Capability. It is almost a fact that nobody in Libya has warplanes that work.
  • Unimportance of the target. The target has been described as no more than “a Misrata militia position.” This favors Haftar’s claim of responsibility, since the more distant the responsible party, the more important the military justification.
  • Denials. The U.S. and Egyptians deny, but “both speaking on condition of anonymity.” Usually, a denial of involvement is made loudly and with official imprimatur.  But it’s important not to fall into the trap of excessive conspiracy. Their shyness does not inculpate the U.S. or the Egyptians, but it at least implies that the force responsible for the bombings is shielded by ambiguity. And it gives Haftar the benefit of propaganda.
  • Strength. Haftar wants credit for the bombings, because the ability to bomb implies strength, and strength evokes loyalty. There is always an attraction to being on the winning side.
  • Ethics. In the Middle East, in the current conflicts of nationalist versus tribal, there seems to be a “golden rule”: atrocities committed by one tribe against another are acceptable, but outside interference is considered unfair. This is all too familiar to law enforcement responders to domestic violence calls, when one or both parties interrupt their attempts to murder the other by turning on the responders.
  • Secular vs. Islamist. Islamism of all sorts is packaged for export. It has been claimed that Saddam Hussein initiated the Iran-Iraq war because he feared Iran would export revolution to Iraq’s Shi’ites. Saddam’s Iraq was comparatively secular. El-Sisi’s Egypt is secular compared to Libya’s Islamists. By analogy, el-Sisi could fear the potential of Libya’s Islamists to refuel the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The U.S. ? This might seem attractive to those distant from U.S. politics, to those who see the U.S. as the author of conspiracies such as have historical record. Those closer to the U.S. political scene understand that the country has changed. For better or worse, the giant has feet of clay.
  • Israel? Although there is talk of actual cooperation between Israel and Arab states that fear political Islam, it would be unprecedented. The process of exclusion would lead to Israel only if el-Sisi could not safely motivate the Egyptian military to attack Libyan Islamists. But the climate in Egypt, particularly in the insular military, seems permissive of the action.