Intel: Saudi Arabia backs Egypt on Libya

al-monitor Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud attends a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry (unseen) after their meeting in the capital Cairo, on July 27, 2020.  Photo by MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 28, 2020

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said his government supports Egypt’s calls for a cease-fire in Libya after a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Monday.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud said Riyadh sympathizes with Cairo’s security concerns, a nod to Sisi’s recent threats to militarily intervene in Libya if Turkey-backed forces continue to advance on the key city of Sirte and the Jufra region.

Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have backed Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter’s yearlong offensive against the UN-recognized government in Tripoli. That offensive has been turned back by forces aligned with the Tripoli government, in part due to a boost in military support by Turkey.

Faisal also called for a restoration of Libya’s domestic oil flow, in contrast to Hifter’s primary backers, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Why it matters:  Saudi Arabia is an oft-overlooked player in Libya’s civil war, overshadowed by Hifter’s biggest Arab backer, the UAE. While Riyadh’s role alone will not decide the outcome of the conflict, its statement of support for Egypt is likely a reminder to Turkey that Ankara’s designs in Libya face broad regional opposition.

Riyadh stepped up its support for Hifter via Egypt over the past year in response to Turkey’s intervention on behalf of Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

The Saudi press has sought to delegitimize Turkey’s involvement in the conflict and Riyadh has reportedly given financial assistance to the Wagner Group paramilitary organization, which acts as an unofficial arm of the Russian Defense Ministry in support of Hifter.

The GNA cites the kingdom’s alleged ties to Libya’s Madkhali Salafi movement as further evidence of Saudi support for Hifter.

What’s next:  So far there is little indication that Turkey is taking Egypt’s threats seriously and no clear sign the GNA intends to negotiate until Hifter’s forces and their backers pull out of Sirte.

Besides Turkey, nearly every other foreign country invested in the conflict has voiced support for a cease-fire since the GNA turned back Hifter’s yearlong nationwide campaign in recent months. But the recent appearance of Russian and UAE military hardware in the area suggests Hifter’s foreign backers are preparing for a fight nonetheless.

Know more:  While Metin Gurcan’s sources say Turkey is calling Sisi’s bluff in Libya, the threat of Turkish fighter aircraft facing off with Russian and UAE jets in a potential battle for Sirte remains real.

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