Once the Islamic state began fully exerting its control over Sirte in May 2015, the Europeans, the United Nations and other outside players accelerated their plans to strike a deal uniting Libya's two rival governments, the General National Congress in Tripoli and the internationally recognized House of Representatives based in Tobruk. Now that the U.N. deal is in place, the West is planning an intervention to back the unity government and will be looking for local militia groups to partner with against the Islamic State.
The problem for Hifter is that while he is targeting groups aligned with al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Benghazi and Ajdabiya, he is not positioned to defend Ras Lanuf or As Sidra. This means that even though Hifter has been chosen as the military commander for the unity government, Hifter's competitors — including Jadhran's militias — could receive financial assistance and other support as the intervention begins.
Although Hifter and Jadhran are nominally aligned with the Tobruk government, the level of animosity between them cannot be overstated.
Jadhran has established himself as a major player in Libya's energy sector. As the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard in the Oil Crescent, he has used his control over oil export infrastructure for political gain for the past four years. For example, he almost unilaterally shut down exports from the region from August 2013 until May 2014 while he established his own regional council and began exporting oil independently from the then-unified government in Tripoli. He eventually signed a peace agreement with the government that allowed exports to resume.
The terms of the agreement show where Jadhran's views lie. The government agreed to decentralize Libya's most important revenue generator — the National Oil Corp. — and move its main branch from Tripoli to a location in the Gulf of Sidra. This had been a long-standing demand of eastern leaders, whose region had been largely left out of oil revenue and patronage under former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's government, even though the region produced about two-thirds of the country's oil.
Jadhran consistently pushes for a federalist model of government for Libya, with more revenue distributed to regions other than Tripoli.He has found sympathizers in the House of Representatives government, which has a large federalist bloc. Even now, with Libya split into two governments, Jadhran has worked with the House of Representatives to establish a national oil company that rivals Tripoli's and is based in the east. He has used his control of key ports, such as Ras Lanuf, to deny the export of oil without going through the national oil company set up by the House of Representatives government in Tobruk.
Hifter, in contrast with Jadhran, has sought to position himself as a key part of the proposed unity government's military structure. Ever since intervening against Islamist fighters in eastern Libya, Hifter has attempted to strengthen his role as a commander. His vision for Libya is far from the decentralized model Jadhran favors, and he views Jadhran as a thief.
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