The two mercurial neighbors in the Middle East, Libya and Egypt, seem to be working a common ground in their fight against the ISIS militants that have plagued both the countries. ISIS has been threatening to overthrow the government first in Libya and then its neighboring country, Egypt. Its plan is to seize control of more land in the region, thus expanding the boundaries of the Islamic caliphate declared in Iraq and Syria in the regions controlled by ISIS. This has prompted both Libya and Egypt to join hands in their fight against ISIS.
Libya and Egypt both attained independence in the early 1950s. Their relations were initially cooperative until tensions arose due to Egypt’s reconciliation with the west. A mass exodus of around 225,000 immigrants from Egypt was conducted on the orders of Gaddafi in 1977. There were accusations that Egypt was trying to overtake control of the oil refineries in Libya. In July 1977 several transgressions occurred on both sides of the border. After intense fighting across the border with both sides suffering heavy losses, both the countries negotiated a truce.
Following the 1977 Libyan–Egyptian conflict, bilateral engagements between the two nations were suspended for twelve years. Talks resumed after the hiatus was broken when Gaddafi toured Egypt in 1989.This which was reciprocated by Hosni Mubarak, the then President of Egypt in March 1990. By the early 1990s both the nations had started cooperating and trade between them saw an upswing. After Libya’s involvement in the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, and when it was reported clearly that Libya was working towards acquiring nuclear capabilities, Europe and the United States imposed increasingly tight sanctions. Things were at loggerheads for more than a decade until 2003 when the US forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Libya later renounced support of terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction as it was completely isolated on the world stage. Since then, relations between Egypt and Libya have become more open and there is growing political and economic cooperation.
The arms embargo was placed as responsive action after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the USA, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) created the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). This mandate stated that the measure, imposed in the Resolution 1970 (2011) adopted by the Security Council, shall also not apply to the supply, sale or transfer to Libya of: (a) Arms and related material of all types, including technical assistance, training, financial and other assistance, intended solely for security or disarmament assistance to the Libyan authorities and notified to the Committee in advance and in the absence of a negative decision by the Committee within five working days of such a notification. (b) Small arms, light weapons and related material, temporarily exported to Libya for the sole use of United Nations personnel, representatives of the media and humanitarian and development workers and associated personnel, notified to the Committee in advance and in the absence of a negative decision by the Committee within five working days of such a notification.
Tensions flare up every now and then over their differences in opinion about the formation of Israel. With the lifting of UN and US sanctions on Libya from 2003–2008, the two countries have been working together to jointly develop their oil and natural gas industries. Libya has been disintegrating after the deposition of Gaddafi in 2011 and is now in a state of crisis due to the armed conflicts between militia brigades. This has led to complete lawlessness and has turned the oil rich country into a safe haven for ISIS militants. This has necessitated that Libya and Egypt join hands now and come together in their fight against ISIS and to maintain their sovereignty.
After the horrific video of the mass beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians was circulated by ISIS, Egypt had vowed revenge against ISIS. Jordan too had a similar response to the horrendous video shard by ISIS showing them burning the captured Jordanian pilot alive in a cage. Egypt flew its fighter jets over the marked ISIS camp sites and their storage units in Libya. Though Egypt claimed that it hit ISIS targets with no collateral damages, it has been reported that at least seven civilians, including three children, were killed due to the strikes in the coastal town of Derna.
ISIS is now threatening to cross the Mediterranean Sea and strike Italy next; an ISIS executioner in the video released Sunday pointed his knife to the north, announcing Rome would be next. To prevent this, Egypt has asked the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to lift the arms embargo, impose a naval blockade on areas not under government control and help build the country’s army to tackle ISIS and other militants.
Under the watchful eyes of the UNSC closely monitoring that the 2011 arms embargo is not violated, the Libyan government is currently permitted to import arms and ammunition up to certain limits. However, it has been reported that the Libyan authorities have not been completely transparent in this regard. There is suspicion that a part of the ammunitions has been landing in the hands of the extremists. Only by joining hands against ISIS, will Libya and Egypt prevent themselves from disintegrating and falling into the hands of the extremists.
By Ankur Sinha