The war-torn nation of Libya, which descended into a foreign-backed civil war in 2011 after NATO warplanes helped rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi, has faced a major escalation of fighting in the past year as Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) attempts a final push to drive the Government of National Accord (GNA) out of Tripoli.
The murky web of backdoor alliances, arms deals and geopolitical infighting for control of oil-rich Libya seems to have become even murkier amid reports that the United Arab Emirates has quietly purchased an advanced Israeli-made missile system for Marshal Haftar’s LNA forces.
According to a report by the New Arab newspaper citing informed sources, the UAE is supplying the weapon to Haftar to counter the drones supplied to the GNA by Turkey.
The sources did not provide any details on the air defence system’s characteristics, except to say that it was “advanced” and “produced by an Israeli manufacturer.”
The weapons system has reportedly already been transported to Egypt, and expected to head to neighbouring eastern Libya after LNA troops are trained to operate it.
Israel’s defence industry is known for the manufacture of several surface-to-air missile systems, including the transportable Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, David’s Sling, an anti-rocket and cruise missile defence system, and the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defence system.
The arms deal is said to have been made despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE.
Israeli, UAE and LNA officials have not commented on the veracity of the New Arab’s reporting.
Libya, home to the largest oil reserves on the African continent, has received military equipment from suppliers around the globe as world powers seek to shore up either the LNA or the GNA as the two compete for control of the country.
In January, Turkey took the unprecedented step of sending troops to support the GNA amid the LNA’s ongoing Tripoli offensive, deploying boots on the ground to complement the arms deliveries sent earlier.
The two sides have since engaged in drone warfare, air battles, and ground-based operations. In mid-March, the LNA claimed that the GNA were building a “base on the border with Tunisia” to which they could escape if they lost their capital. The LNA has claimed to have already taken control of 95 percent of the country, a claim which the GNA has disputed.
Last week, the UN condemned the cutting off of water supplies to Tripoli, expressing concerns for the city’s two million residents, as the LNA reported sending a large number of reinforcements to the city to make one ‘final push’ to clear the city of GNA forces and their allies.
Once one of the wealthiest, most developed and stable countries in Africa, Libya collapsed into a failed state in 2011, after militants backed by NATO airstrikes toppled and summarily executed longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The Mediterranean nation has since turned into a haven for militants, terrorist groups and human smugglers smuggling people from across Africa into Europe. In 2011, Gaddafi warned former British Prime Minister Tony Blair that sleeper cell terrorists would take control of Libya and try to stage attacks against Europe if he were toppled.