Haftar’s Play For Libyan Oil

To preserve Libyan unity, the United States should threaten to block any oil shipments not authorized by the country’s internationally recognized government. On June 21, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, reclaimed two of Libya’s largest terminals after the militia leader Ibrahim Jadhran had seized them earlier in the month. Haftar then upped the ante on June 25 by declaring that he would not return the facilities to Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) but instead to its eastern-based rival, which reports to the unrecognized eastern-based government.

Then on June 29, he prevented two additional terminals in the east from offloading oil. According to the NOC, these moves have reduced total exports by around 850,000 barrels per day from an average of about 1 million b/d. The longer exports remain offline, the more Libya will lose significant revenues critical to sustaining its struggling economy.

This latest move by Haftar, who returned to Libya in late April after an apparently serious health scare, poses the greatest threat to the country’s fragile unity since the 2014-15 civil war. Moreover, just a month after Haftar joined French president Emmanuel Macron and three other Libyan political leaders in Paris to jump-start the country’s dormant UN-led political transition, the general has chosen to hold the country hostage through an economic siege.

Unless the United States and its allies act strongly to preserve the authority of the Government of National Accord (GNA) over the country’s oil, Haftar’s power play could return Libya to a civil war or a de facto east-west split, not to mention ending prospects for a political solution. For a man recently rumored to have died, Haftar has undertaken an especially aggressive maneuver.