'General Haftar, whose forces are on the move towards Tripoli, is the right man for the West to feed their oil appetites – but he is also the one who can switch sides quickly, experts told RT.
Forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar are steadily advancing towards Tripoli, where the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) calls for help and hastily prepares to defend the troubled Libyan capital. But Western powers, who established formal ties to GNA, are also keeping touch with their arch-rival – just because he controls an asset that decides almost everything in the war-torn country.
"Securing access to oil and protection of oil – that's what Haftar purports to do," Alessandro Bruno, an independent political analyst and Libya expert, told RT.
He explained that this oil is generally high quality, and it is mainly processed at refineries in Italy and France – the two NATO countries heavily involved in the Libyan turmoil since they helped topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi back in 2011.
Oil is everything in Libya, it has little else.
Nevertheless, he doesn't control Libya's finances and the national oil company, which has a HQ in Tripoli, explained Grigory Lukyanov, senior lecturer at Moscow-based Higher School of Economics.
"All money transfers relating to Libyan oil – even the oil that is drilled in Haftar-controlled parts of Libya – go through Tripoli," which make it extremely challenging to cash in on it.
Unsurprisingly, natural resources dominate much of the discussions between Haftar and major powers. This week, President Donald Trump hailed the Libyan strongman's "significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources" in a phone call.
The move seems to signal that the US is swinging its weight in favor of Haftar, Bruno believes.
"It certainly suggests that Trump will not be obstructing Haftar's push into Tripoli as [GNA's] Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj was hoping," he said. Sarraj is seen as weak, "and Trump does not like the weak ... also he is backed by UN, and Trump doesn't like the UN."
Meanwhile, France, which has long-standing interests in former African colonies, wants him to become the one who may influence things in Tripoli.
On Thursday the GNA accused Paris of throwing its weight behind Haftar, saying it has severed any "bilateral security agreements" as a result. While France has denied allegations of "relentless backing" for the General, it still does its utmost to make him a legitimate political player, Lukyanov added.
Politics aside, France has also been aiding Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). Likewise, Paris hopes that Haftar will advance French interests in the region, be it arms sales or drilling for oil.
French military advisers helped run the LNA staff, provided it with intelligence and trained its troops inside Libya.
But while the West sets its hopes for Haftar, there are a number of setbacks. The general "is 75 years old, he's not in complete health," Bruno noted. Age aside, his reliability as a partner can also be an issue. "How reliable is Haftar? That's a big question," the expert wondered.'
Read more: 'Oil is everything': Why Western allies like US & France swing weight in favor of Libya's Haftar
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