Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have jointly bombed Islamist militants in Libya twice without U.S. notification or knowledge, The New York Times reports, citing four senior U.S. officials.
The strikes, which Egypt has vigorously denied having any part in, come as Libya continues to fracture amidst fighting between various armed groups. Islamist-oriented militants have clashed with government forces throughout the country, and the country even has two competing governing bodies — one dominated by Islamists, the other by liberals and federalists.
The Egyptian and UAE airstrikes were intended to prevent the Islamist rebels from taking Tripoli’s international airport, although the strikes ultimately proved ineffective.
Egypt and the UAE’s involvement revealed how Libya is becoming yet another venue for proxy war in the Middle East, according to officials that spoke with the Times spoke.
Qatar has allegedly supported Islamist forces in the country, in a continuation of the country’s policy of supporting Islamic movements and the Muslim Brotherhood. Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hifter, who attempted to disolve Libya’s government in response to to its alleged takeover by Islamists, has made this allegation of Qatari support explicitly.
Qatar’s larger strategy of supporting Islamists throughout the Middle East has brought it into conflict with Egypt before. After the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of former President Mohammed Morsi, relations between Qatar and Egypt rapidly cooled. Egypt has imprisoned three journalists from Al Jazeera, a Qatari-funded media company, on trumped-up terrorism charges.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have also taken issue with what they saw as Qatar’s meddling in their internal affairs. The three countries withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March, in an unprecedented move among the countries, over protest of Qatar’s support of Islamist movements.
Bombings carried out by Egypt and the UAE against Islamists in Libya could be an extension of an anti-Qatari policy aimed at limiting the reach and impact of Islamist movements throughout the Middle East.
At the beginning of August, Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former foreign minister and a close ally of Sisi, argued that Egypt should consider a military response to the chaos in Libya. Egypt and Libya share a porous 700-mile border.
“Statelets, sects and extremist factions in Libya directly threaten Egypt’s national security,” Moussa said in a statement. “I call for a broad public debate to sensitize public opinion to the risks, and to build the necessary support in case we have to exercise our right to self-defence.”
Aside from air strikes, U.S. officials told The New York Times, a special forces team likely comprised of Emirati and Egyptian personnel destroyed an Islamist camp in eastern Libya as well.
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