Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have already launched two secret attacks against Islamist-allied fighters battling for Tripoli. The events seem to have been set off by Arab Spring revolts, senior US official states, and represent a major escalation of the power struggle in the region.
Curiously, neither Egypt nor the United Arab Emirates informed the United States of their plans, despite them being close military partners. The Obama Administration was simply left on the sidelines. In fact, Egyptian officials outright denied their involvement in the operation to American diplomats.
Such decisions on Egypt’s part could prove to be a new blow in the already shaky relations between Cairo and Washington.
The airstrikes in Tripoli are new outbursts in the power struggle between Arab autocrats and Islamist militants seeking to overturn the old order.
The new Egyptian government and its supporters in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been campaigning in the region since the overthrow of the Islamist president in Egypt in 2013. From news media to politics and diplomacy or even by arming local proxies, they are trying to roll back what they perceive as a threat to their authority.
Turkey and Qatar, on the other hand, are supporting the Islamists.
According to U.S. officials, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have already teamed up in the past against Islamist targets within the territory of Libya.
In the last months, special operatives stationed outside of Egypt and possibly comprised of Emiratis, had successfully destroyed Islamist camps near the city of Derna, a stronghold for the Islamist extremists in eastern Libya.
The United States didn’t receive the news of renewed airstrikes with joy, as they, the United Nations and Western powers all desire to broker a peaceful resolution in the region. US officials noted that the Islamist forces had already received support from Qatar in form of weapons and consequently, the new airstrikes could represent the shift needed from being a battle of proxies to direct involvement. They also fear that it could represent the pretext for setting off an arms race.
Additionally, the airstrikes proved to be counterproductive, as Islamist-aligned fighters managed to successfully take control of the main airport in Tripoli just hours after the second round of strikes hit.
Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that in all situations of war where the polarization was present between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the one side and Turkey together with Qatar on the other (conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza or Libya), international peace effort were greatly hindered.