A top official close to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar has called on Israel for support in the war against the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), saying the two countries have shared interests.
“We never were and never will be enemies, and we hope you will support us,” Abdul Salam al-Badri, deputy prime minister of the eastern-based government, told the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon. “It has been only circumstance which has separated us up until this point.”
While Israel and Libya have no relations and Jerusalem has avoided any public discussion on the war, it is widely speculated to be supporting Haftar’s forces along with Egypt and the Gulf states.
Over the years there have been multiple reports of Israelis training Haftar’s forces in street warfare in territory under his control, and Israeli weapons systems have also reportedly been sent to the war-torn country.
Appealing to Israel, al-Badri said “We share a common interest: Erdogan is a terrorist. Both of us are on the same side, it would be idiotic of us to ignore that.”
Abd al-Hadi al-Hajj, foreign minister to Haftar’s interim government, told The Jerusalem’s Post’s sister publication Maariv in December that he hopes Libya could establish normal relations with Israel if the Palestinian problem was resolved.
“We support the rights of the people, including all of the rights of the Palestinian people. But we support regional peace, oppose terrorism, and fight it in Libya as well,” he told the publication while in Paris.
Though there are not many Jews left in the North African country, al-Badri played up Libya’s historic Jewish community, saying that “throughout history, we have served as a refuge for people of all faiths. We have a long history of contact with the people of Israel and the Jewish community.”
While expressing support for the two-state solution, he told the paper that “we look for a new map that takes into consideration the interests of our countries alongside the other countries in the region.”
Al-Badri also called on Israel, which has in recent years emerged as a player in the natural gas field, to join the Mediterranean Gas Forum – a maritime cooperation agreement among Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Lebanon – which views the accord reached between Libya and Turkey as a threat since it allows Ankara rights to drill for oil and gas across the Mediterranean.
“The initiative is about signing a joint marine agreement in line with the sea border demarcation agreement signed by Turkey and the Libyan government in Tripoli,” he said.
Though the United Nations Security Council has repeatedly renewed the arms embargo on Libya since 2011, both sides have received significant military aid by numerous countries.
Haftar, who sits in Tobruk in eastern Libya has been heavily backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, France and Russia since 2014.
Russia and the UAE have been heavily supporting Haftar’s forces with various weapons systems, including a Pantsir air defense systems, MiG-21 fighter aircraft and Mi-24/35P helicopter gunships, as well as armored vehicles. Russia has also sent some 2,000 mercenaries from the private military contractor Wagnar to the country since 2018.
The Tripoli-based GNA led by Fayez al-Sarraj is supported by Italy, Qatar and Turkey – which has sent troops as well as Turkish-backed Syrian rebels to fight in the war-torn country. With Turkish support, the GNA gained the upper hand recently and forced Haftar’s fighter to withdraw from key cities in the country.
GNA troops have inflicted heavy losses to Haftar’s forces and pushed them to withdraw from around Tripoli and Bani Walid towards the border with Tunisia. Bolstered by battlefield gains, Sarraj’s military has launched another operation to retake Sirte and al-Jufra.