Amid rumors of a 1,000-strong UK deployment, Libya’s new leader Fayez al-Sarraj has called on the UN, which brokered his premiership, to drop the arms embargo and asset freeze on the North African state.
Al-Sarraj used a speech at the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday to argue: “It doesn’t make sense that the international community supports our war against terrorism, and forbids us from arming ourselves.”
A UN ban forbids the sale of weapons to Libya and an array of fund-freezing rules. Al-Sarraj’s call to have the ban lifted was backed by Egypt’s strongman president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
After the lifting of the Gaddafi-era embargo in 2004 – following the dictator’s famous desert meeting with then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair – British arms flowed freely.
In 2010, a year before the US-led war removed Gaddafi, the UK reportedly granted over £34 million in arms export licenses to Libya.
The embargo was re-adopted for a further four years in 2015 by the UN Security Council amid fears that arms could fall into the wrong hands.
The destruction of the Gaddafi regime in 2011 saw the country’s armories broken open and the region flooded with weapons.
Some reports indicate these fell into the hands of jihadist groups and destabilized countries as far away as Mali.
Another result of the 2011 war was the civil war that exploded in Libya between rival militias. The unrest led to calls for a 6,000 to 10,000-strong Italian-led military brigade deploy to the country to shore up security.
The brigade is projected to include 1,000 British troops, a plan which has met with wide resistance within the UK.
Last Monday, Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood told the Commons no vote on the deployment would be required.
“It is training and mentoring. It is not an operational initiative so there is no requirement for a vote in parliament. Please do not expect one on the issue,” he argued.
If the lobbying is successful and the embargo is dropped the re-opened Libyan market is likely to see arms companies fighting to sell their wares in the country – with British firms in the vanguard of a potential military equipment gold rush.