The internationally-recognised Libyan government’s loss of key oil facilities to forces loyal to the eastern administration and General Kalifa Haftar is a potentially serious blow that could starve Tripoli of funds.
It represents the door being knocked down on Libya’s oil crescent of refineries through which half of the country’s crude passes for export.
Now the rest of the region’s refining capacity could fall into rebel hands.
General Haftar, a former Khadafi regime officer, leads the Libyan National Army. He formerly had backing from the international community, but now leads the rebel government in Tobruk and refuses to recognise the authority of the president in Tripoli.
Haftar’s forces control the east of the country where until now they have mostly been fighting hard against ISIL. In the west the Government of National Unity holds power with the UN and some western nations recognising President Fayez al-Sarraj.
In the Libyan south-west the Tuaregs run the show. But Libya’s fragmentation goes well beyond these political divides.
Factions contest every zone; in Haftar’s his National Army is pressed by the Toubou tribe.
In the west the government’s Farj Libya fighters face the Tuaregs, and in the north ISIL lurks.
Fayez al-Sarraj, who is also Prime Minister, now faces threats on two fronts. He is fighting to stop ISIL progressing beyond their Sirte stronghold, and now Haftar’s army which, if it gains control of Libya’s oil resources, can call all the shots.
The government could fall. In March 2016 Sarraj took the leadership role on after exile in Tunisia. But despite his international backing, parliament has never given him a vote of confidence.
It is a far cry from last December when hopes were high following a UN-brokered deal between the Tripoli-Tobruk rivals. An end to civil war appeared possible. But the deal needed both parliament’s ratifications, and Tobruk refused to sign.
Haftar, while refusing to recognise the government has waged his own war on ISIL, but by turning his guns on the army he may compromise both camps in their fight against the Islamist extremists.