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Full text of email from UN Libya envoy Bernardino Leon to UAE foreign minister

Middle East Eye publishes the full text of an email sent by Bernardino Leon to UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed
UN envoy Bernardino Leon speaks during a press conference on October 21, 2015 in Tunis (AFP)

This is the full email sent by UN Special Representative in Libya Bernardino Leon to UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan on 31 December 2014.

Middle East Eye has seen the email and reproduced it in full here, with email addresses removed.

From: Dr. Sultan Ahmed Aljaber

Sent: 12/31/2014 12:47PM

Subject: FW: The note (using a more secure address)

To: Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

CC: Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khaja

From: Bernardino Leon Gross

Sent: 31 December 2014 02:50

To: Sultan Al Jaber (Mubadala)

Subject: The note (using a more secure address)

Your Highness, dear Abdala,

Libya is in my opinion entering in a new stage of the civil war, more generalised and aggressive. As I told you in Amman, Tripoli-Misrata attack against Ras Lanuf is the starting point of this escalation, and, unfortunately, Haftar response bombing Misrata is the other side of the coin. All combined may have the following effects:

-          Going beyond the West-East line may provoke a tribal reaction all over Libya, although this probably will be a more qualitative than quantitative phenomenon, since will force the Misratans and their allies to fight all over Libya, although it is not clear to most analysts how alliances will unfold in the future. Haftar is probably relying on this tribal alliance against Misrata. This makes sense in a traditional Libyan perspective, but some analysts think that Misratans have also made strong alliances with some tribes, especially in the south, and that very probably these alliances will help them to have more military power on the ground. Their land forces are likely to be bigger than Zintan or Haftar’s land forces, at least in the short term.

-          Haftar’s attack might be intended to deter Misratans, but I have the impression it will produce the opposite result, reinforcing the radicals who wish an all-out civil war under a radicalised leadership close to the most extreme elements of MB and other organisations.

-          I have asked the parties to declare a unilateral ceasefire to allow international support to extinguish the fire and send experts to inspect the tanks and assess the danger of environmental damage. Tobruk has declared a kind of ceasefire giving three days to the other side to leave. Tripoli has asked me today that the request about Ras Lanuf ceasefire comes from the National Oil Company. Since it can very well be a way to procrastinate, I have sent an official letter asking them to do so, but I am not very optimistic.

-          With this situation, prospects for a political settlement are fading. Only a huge international pressure could allow such result, but I understood from our last conversation that in your opinion Haftar’s main support is unlikely to push for the political settlement.

-          If the political gathering is not possible some international actors (mainly US and EU) have been asking in the last days to go to the ‘Plan B’ i.e. a classical peace conference with the fighting actors, against the backdrop of a UN multinational force. This is, in my opinion, a worse option that a political dialogue: first of all, as you have very rightly pointed out, because it will treat both sides as equal actors and will bypass legitimate institutions. Also, because it will sit around the table, to discuss an overall solution that will include political elements, the militias, and this might include some radical ones or their allies. So, I guess the country we mentioned in our last conversation won’t be willing to support such possibility, although if the civil war is a long conflict the pressure on them will be strong to agree on a peace conference.


I have been working in Libya with three main goals:

1.       Having one government in Tripoli which is supported by a majority of Libyans and friendly towards HOR that could restore order in the economy and start building security. Eliminating Hassi’s illegitimate government taking militias out of the cities is crucial.

The roadmap should include:

-          Unity government.

-          Stabilization (ceasefire/international monitoring/militias withdrawal).

-          Constitutional process.

2.       Promoting a political agreement between moderates that will facilitate the presence in the country of international monitors from the EU (and maybe US). Europeans are ready to do it soon if there is agreement while a chapter VII UN force will probably take a longer time that might be enough to have a difficult to control escalation.

3.       To break the alliance between mainstream Misratans and the most radical Islamists. This alliance is not related to political or religious causes, is purely based on power and opportunity criteria, getting enough support in a war of power between different groups with an important – but not exclusive – link with tribes and cities. Misrata is a business oriented society with no more radical Islamists that other cities.

4.       To work on the support of a group of influential countries that can make this strategy possible and reduce the marge of maneuver of those supporting Tripoli/Misrata.

5.       To reinforce HOR.

Note: all my movements and proposals have been consulted with (and in many cases designed by) the HOR and Aref Nayed and Mahmud Jibril (with whom I speak on a daily basis) following Your request.

The reasons why I think this agreement is important

1.       It’s an agreement that intends to reinforce the moderate forces in Libya breaking a very dangerous alliance between radical Islamists/MB and Misratans. It goes without saying that another goal is to destroy Libyan ISIS and Al Qaeda linked groups (after including them in the international lists of terrorist organisations). Therefore I have asked moderate Misratans to think strategically of their fight against AAS to test them. Actually, in the context of current chaos, AAS is increasing its activity to make sure that there’s no dialogue. I think their strategic goal is to foster conflict and chaos as a way to keep their radical allies and have a situation in which they can grow. I wouldn’t be surprised if these were the instructions from ISIS. Yesterday they attacked the diplomatic police in Tripoli (a clear message to discourage foreigners to be in Libya) and today against the HOR in Tobruk, probably to make sure that the ones against dialogue become stronger.

2.       Both sides are divided and fragmented. This fragmentation implies that whoever intervenes in Libya should seek a certain critical mass of support, or assume that it will be a long and painful intervention. So, the agreement intends to help the Libyans to articulate a basis for a viable and integrated state.

3.       It seems the only way to prevent regional spillover. The situation may become very quickly extremely difficult for the regional actors, starting with Egypt and Italy. It is possible that in a chaotic situation terrorist groups grow and attack both countries, and also it’s very likely that in this context illegal migration increases creating important political problems in Italy, which is the country more active in support of a settlement in Libya.

It would be a paradox that these yihadist groups grow in Libya, since both fighting groups (Haftar and Misratans) should be their natural enemies. Haftar because he represents the dignity and order promoted from ‘Army and Police’, and Misratans because as a business and trade oriented city, they should want order and security (Misrata city council has endorsed UN resolution declaring Ansar Al Sharia a terrorist organisation and some Misrata militias were fighting AAS in Sirte recently).


1.       HOR The international community has been very clear about its recognition. This works against GNC. I have an strategy, which I am pretty sure should work, to completely delegitimise GNC. However, once this happens, the problem will be how the HOR is going to be reconstructed. Democratically the challenge is that the minority (about 60 members) refuses for the moment to integrate this parliament. If this becomes a stable situation the democratic strength of HOR will be weaken vis a vis the international community. If they are tempted to replace these members with mps from other political trends the i.c. will equally question HOR. Ghademes I was intended to integrate members of HOR and we were very close to do it. Now this is another work I’m doing to try to get an agreement between all members of HOR.

2.       Thini: he is getting in a difficult position because of his mistakes. First of all, he seems to have forgotten that he has been appointed by the HOR and when he criticises HOR for asking a political solution that includes a Unity Government voted by HOR he is criticising the very essence of the system, which is that the Parliament appoints the government. He is also having problems with Haftar and even with some members of his own government. Foreign actors have the impression that he is changing his position in a erratic way, and this undermines his credibility.

My point of view is that we have more chances to build something sound if we work with HOR and some members of the government (like Mohamend Dayn) than if we rely on Thini. Working with HOR is difficult and the two groups (hardliners led by Buera and moderates led by Shoieb) are fighting permanently. There was a majority in favor of dialogue, but the last days this has changed and today the mood is terrible after the bomb against HOR.

For the moment HOR has refused to endorse Haftar. Except a small group of around ten mps, the majority considered him not popular, not respectful of the Parliament and a factor reinforcing the radicals at the other side. Is this going to change after today’s bombing? Initially yes, but after some time may increase the desperation of those who feel isolated in Tobruk, far from their cities and families (mainly Western ones), and turn them either more active to support dialogue or maybe willing to also abandon the Parliament.


1.       Pros and cons of a political process must be weighed. Without their support, the political process is very unlikely to succeed. If it fails but Haftar cannot manage to prevail soon, the international pressure will be huge to go for the so called ‘Plan B’, the peace conference with the fighting actors. In my opinion, this will be worse in terms of the role of the most radical elements of MB and for the legitimate institutions.

2.       Libyan history shows (even in the case of Qadafi) that only big social majorities can rule the country. Even if Haftar was able to win militarily, he would need this social majority to stabilize the situation and avoid a circle of revolutions like the one against the previous regime.

3.       I can help and control the process while I am there. However, as you know I am not planning to stay for a long time. I am critizised for having been too tough on the zero recognition to Tripoli strategy and I am seen as biased in favor of HOR. UN is not today a problem for the interests of the country we discussed, but obviously I don’t know what can happen in the future.

4.       I am encouraging since my first day to work on ‘Plan T’ (for Terrorism). I advised US, UK and France to work with you. Whatever the scenario in Libya, possible actions should be considered. It is difficult to imagine that Haftar will be able to do in Darna what Qadafi was not able to do, with bigger force, less international attention, and less people involved at the other side. Without a lot of international support I have the impression it is going to be very difficult.

5.       I am not working on a political plan that will include everybody. The idea is the stretch their support as much as possible. My impression is that Tripoli can be forced to participate in the talks, but probably they will not accept the agreement. But this is a test we probably need: first of all, to assess whether moderate Misratan politicians and militias are able to have a different position (as they are announcing privately). The government should be very neutral, GNC should disappear and HOR be reinforced through an internal agreement. But if Tobruk and Haftar don’t cooperate, it won’t be possible to push Tripoli to accept the dialogue (they had accepted on December 24 and today have again rejected with the excuse of Misrata airstrikes).

6.       I think today it will be very difficult to convince international actors to provide a huge military support to Haftar because the impression of most of them is that no one can prevail in Libya, so sending weapons can only make the war longer but not easier and shrink the interest on a political settlement. This is what most analysts and experts believe.

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