Saudi Arabia is stepping up its support for Libyan National Army chieftain Khalifa Hifter and its role as a potential power broker in a political settlement in Libya. The kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are both concerned about Turkey’s growing engagement in Libya, which includes the deployment of Syrian mercenaries to prop up the UN-recognized Government of National Accord.
Saudi Arabia’s growing involvement in Libya is evident in both the diplomatic and military spheres. On Jan. 13, Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum traveled to Riyadh to discuss Libya’s peace process, and Libya’s UN Ambassador Taher el-Sonni met with Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Muallami, Jan. 18 to discuss the conflict resolution process. On Jan. 24, the French newspaper Le Monde reported that Saudi Arabia provided financial assistance to the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization that deploys mercenaries to support Hifter’s forces.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry has not directly addressed the Le Monde allegations, but its official statements have emphasized that Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Libya is focused on achieving a political solution. Saudi officials have regularly asserted that Riyadh “stands at equal distance from all Libyan parties,” which aligns with its broader adherence to “restraint, calm and dialogue” in regional conflicts. Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir also noted that Riyadh is in communication with both Hifter and Government of National Accord Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj on the importance of a peace settlement in Libya.
Saudi Arabia’s growing involvement in Libya deviates markedly from its prior cautious support for Hifter and disengaged attitude toward the diplomatic process. Since the start of Hifter’s Tripoli campaign, the UAE has supplied military equipment to the Libyan National Army and regularly participated in diplomatic negotiations on ending Libya’s protracted conflict. Saudi Arabia assumed a less visible role in Libya than the UAE, but reportedly pledged tens of millions of dollars in financial assistance to the Libyan National Army immediately prior to Hifter’s offensive.