These divisions had threatened to destabilize and weaken Misrata, with tensions spilling over into Tripoli, yet the LNA’s advance over the past two weeks appears to have reunified the city against Hifter, at least for now.
On Jan. 3, an LNA airstrike against Jufra air base killed one civilian and injured the head of Misrata’s Military Council. The following day, Misrata’s Municipal Council, which represents the more moderate faction within Misrata, issued a statement denouncing Hifter as a war criminal, holding him responsible for destabilizing southern Libya and calling on all fighters to be ready to mobilize against any possible offensive by the LNA.
It remains unclear whether such a mobilization will take place, but if it does, and if it happens soon, then the balance of power is likely to be in Misrata’s favor as Hifter’s action would bring most of western Libya rallying to its side. Moreover, the Misratan fighters are battle-hardened from months fighting IS in Sirte and have more to lose if Hifter succeeds in taking territory on their doorstep, while the LNA would struggle to mobilize more forces from eastern Libya without risking the gains it has made against jihadis in Benghazi or against the Federalists in the oil crescent.
De-escalation and new political bargain
No matter which party is victorious in southwest Libya, if Misrata and Hifter begin a full-scale battle for control, then there is little doubt that the whole southern region will be destabilized. There have been calls for calm from a variety of local and international actors, and there is some hope that the rapprochement efforts that have been going on in the background between rival factions may provide channels of communication to de-escalate the conflict.