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A Tale of Two Cities: Tripoli and Benghazi Face Off

The threat in Tripoli begins to reduce, but the potential for conflict remains and shifts Eastwards.

With the defeat of Libyan National Army (LNA) forces in Tripoli, the battle for control of Libya is entering a new phase. Whilst Tripoli will remain under an increased threat into the short term, a reduced level of threat at port for vessels operating in Libyan waters should be anticipated if the Government of National Army (GNA) continues to consolidate its position.

The focus of conflict within Libya is now shifting. Of particular note is the renewed focus on the control of oilfields. Libya’s oilfields have faced an embargo, and Libyan exports have been under force majeure since LNA backed groups prevented output. El Sharara and El Feel oilfields were anticipated to come online yesterday, and the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) units who were present at the site were believed to be facilitating the reopening of the oilfields. However, yesterday evening an armed grouping is believed to have closed the oilfield down again.

This increased focus on controlling oil production, coupled with the GNA’s renewed push Eastwards (GNA forces are currently attempting to retake Sirte from the LNA), suggests a potentially increased threat in Libya’s Oil Crescent into the medium-term. PFG forces (now allied to the LNA), had attempted to take the Oil Crescent terminals such as Ras Lanuf and As Sidr in 2018, when they were opposed to the LNA. The PFG could sense the LNA are losing ground in Libya, and they may take this opportunity to attack within the Oil Crescent again. Furthermore, should Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) be successful in reopening El Feel and El Sharara oilfields, the LNA will become increasingly reliant upon its control of the Oil Crescent to assist its revenue streams. This again increases the likelihood that the GNA may attempt to deprive them of the Oil Crescent.

LNA survival is now conditional on Russian and UAE support, however with Russian arms shipments arriving in Benghazi this week, it is clear that Russia’s appetite to support the LNA and its leader General Haftar has not yet waned. This raises the prospect of a de facto two state Libya, with a Turkish supported government emulating the bounds of historic Tripolitania in the West, and a Russia/UAE-aligned force in the East controlling an area analogous with the historic area of Cyrenaica.

In the short term, vessels should cooperate with the Government of National Accord and the National Oil Corporation, who are the legitimate, UN-backed entities in Libya. However, control and power in Libya is increasingly localised, and vessels should be mindful they may have to increasingly engage with LNA-backed authorities in Eastern Libya.

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