Days ago, representatives of renegade warlord Khalifa Haftar met in Syria with officials of the Assad regime to announce “diplomatic” ties. The fact that Haftar’s group, which has no international standing as a government, has been allowed to open its first embassy in Syria is very telling. The legal, internationally recognized government of Libya is the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Both Haftar and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad stand accused of mass atrocities, and the regions under their control are repressive police states. Their premise of cooperating against “terrorism” would be ridiculous if it weren’t so perverse. Assad’s main backers include Iran — designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. Government — and Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, which is defined by many governments as a terrorist movement. Assad’s crackdown since the Arab Spring has been so murderous and destabilizing that the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011.
This new alliance speaks volumes about Haftar’s intentions, as does his heavy reliance on Russian mercenaries. His insurgency against the GNA and his rejection of any path to a political solution pose a clear and present threat to the Libyan people and to U.S. interests.
Haftar’s Saudi and Russian patrons may also be using Haftar’s “embassy” as a carrot to Assad, who with Russia’s help has brutally retaken control of most of Syria. This latest agreement is further evidence that Haftar does not represent the Libyan people, nor does he wish to. He seeks to rule by force.
Haftar, a former general under Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s late and reviled dictator, rejects peace and eschews democratic values. He doesn’t want a life for his people. His only desire is to return Libya to the destabilizing terrorist power it once was, to join Iran in threatening the world and the region. From Qaddafi to Assad – it’s long past time to judge him by the company he keeps.
Brad Gerstman is a founding partner of Gotham Government Relations & Communications, which has previously represented the Trump Organization and currently represents the UN-recognized GNA in the United States.