Libya is now a center of jihadist terror. The Western intervention in
Libya in 2011 accelerated the destabilization of the Libyan state and the North
African and Sahel regions, and as a result chaos, weapons, and jihadist groups
have spread outside of the state’s borders, said Prof. Yehudit Ronen of the
political science department at Bar-Ilan University.
After the fall of
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya became a weak state that fails to exert control over its
territory and borders, and various armed militias have now come to
In a lecture at a symposium on post-revolution Libya at the Moshe
Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, Ronen described the current situation in
the country and how the results of the war have made many Western governments
scared of intervening in Syria. Various radical Islamic groups that were kept at
bay by Gaddafi suddenly sprang into action during the Libyan civil war in 2011,
forming the base of the opposition forces, as has been the case in other
countries that underwent uprisings.
She also stressed the geographical
importance of Libya, as it lies between two other “Arab Spring” states – Tunisia
Libya is predominantly Sunni, with some ethnic minorities such
as the Tuareg and black Africans, which made up much of Gaddafi’s security
forces, many of whom fled the country to neighboring states after the government
Some of the Tuareg retreated back to their fellow tribesman in
northern Mali and declared the independence of the state of Azawad. The
French-led intervention, however, ended the dreams for Azawad for the time
In addition, states such as Niger, Algeria, Chad, and Nigeria are
having to deal with negative blowback from the chaos in Libya.
example, in northern Nigeria the radical Islamic organization Boko Haram, which
is linked with al-Qaida, has been massacring civilians and trying to wrest
control from the Nigerian government, and some evidence suggests the group has
been strengthened since the Libyan war.
In Syria, the opposition is
dominated by Islamist groups; in Egypt and Tunisia, Islamists came to power
through popular elections; and in Jordan, the government is trembling as it
faces the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated opposition.
Ronen professed deep
skepticism over the logic of Western intervention in Libya because the Western
forces entered Libya without having real knowledge of the political alternatives
to Gaddafi’s political leadership.
As it turned out, the West’s interests
in Libya and its geostrategic position in the region have been seriously damaged
by the military intervention, she said.
In an interview with The
Jerusalem Post after her lecture, Ronen said that the lessons drawn from the
intervention in Libya affect Western decisions regarding Syria, where it seems
likely that jihadists would play a central role in taking control of the
Another characteristic of the current situation in Libya, says
Ronen, is that jihadists are coordinating their activities across borders and
smuggling weapons and fighters to hot spots throughout the region. Libyan
weapons have found themselves in the hands of Islamist fighters in Syria, Sudan,
Mali, Sinai, and Gaza.
“The Islamists won in Libya and toppled Gaddafi,
and this is a motivating message carried by the Islamist opposition in Syria,
which is trying to follow this example in bringing down Syrian president Bashar
Assad’s regime,” she said.
It was during the Afghanistan war during the
1980s that many Arabs fought a jihad against the Soviets and then returned to
their countries of origin as experienced jihadi fighters, said Ronen. Libyans
who participated in that war and later in Iraq became the core of the Libyan
jihadists in Libya, with some becoming affiliated with al-Qaida. Gaddafi was
able to keep a lid on them through his brutal dictatorship, but after he fell,
they gained freedom of action, as Libyan jihadists residing elsewhere along with
other foreign fighters reinforced them.
Therefore, it is no surprise
today that Libyans and other Arabs can be found fighting with the Syrian rebels
based on ideological kinship.
In regard to the deaths of the US
ambassador and other officials in September 2012 at the consulate in Benghazi,
Ronen questioned the wisdom of placing US diplomats there in the first
“What was the US doing there?” she asked, adding, “the attack was
a message to stay away.
“The jihadists wanted Western military support to
topple the regime, but after Gaddafi’s fall many of them reverted to referring
to the West as the enemy,” she said.
Asked by the Post what she sees as
the future for the country, she said that the government remains weak with
little experience, and it needs external aid to function and to establish a
security force that could exert control over its territory and break down the
various armed militias.
“The situation is not going to change soon. The
state and the society are in a dizzying maelstrom of violent disorder,” Ronen
told the Post.
For now it is the militias that are imposing their
interests on the country, she said.