US officials have claimed the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were behind several air strikes on Islamist militias in Libya last week, in what would be an escalation of a regional power-play between Islamists and opposing governments across the Middle East.
UAE pilots flying out of Egyptian airbases allegedly twice targeted Islamist fighters vying to take control of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, last week, several US officials claimed to the New York Times, and later to the AFP news agency. Speaking to the Guardian, a US official confirmed the reports were plausible.
The air strikes failed to stop Islamist militias from capturing Tripoli later in the week, announcing a new breakaway regime and forcing Libya's elected government to flee to the eastern city of Tobruk.
The strikes' alleged origins suggest a block of Middle Eastern countries led by the UAE are seeking to escalate their opposition to the Islamist movements that have sought to undermine the region's old order since the start of the Arab spring in 2011.
Last summer, Egypt's military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood – a major Islamist group – and has since been cracking down internally on its activities, a tactic pursued for years in the UAE.
If the US allegations are true, both countries now want to expand the campaign beyond their borders, seeking to curb the rise of Brotherhood-affiliated militias threatening to take over Libya. The move could turn Libya into a proxy war between the country's elected government, backed by UAE and Egypt, and Islamists backed by Qatar, another Gulf state.