The UAE's ambitious foreign policy goals has slowly overshadowed Saudi Arabia's standing in the Middle East, according to regional experts.

In early April, Saudi Arabia promised support to Khalifa Haftar at a time when the Libyan warlord had launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli and dislodge the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

But for regional experts, Saudi is fighting the UAE's war in Libya and Abu Dhabi's divisive role in the Middle East is fast diminishing Riyadh's efforts to wield influence across the region. 

"Despite Saudi Arabia paying Haftar to launch his offensive on Tripoli, the UAE has overtaken Riyadh as Haftar's leading patron," argues the Middle East expert Jon Fenton-Harvey. 

"Saudi Arabia most likely holds secret resentment towards the UAE's more assertive and increasingly independent stance, particularly in Yemen."

Since foreign interventions in various conflicts have almost always resulted in competition for who would benefit the most from post-war construction, in Libya's case it means the stimulation of billions of dollars of economic activity. And the UAE, according to war observers, aims to be the first to amass a vast fortune from rebuilding the conflict-torn country and cultivate a strong influence to crush democratic forces in the region. 

"There is a possibility that if Haftar secures control over eastern and southern Libya, and the war ends that Saudi Arabia and the UAE could compete for reconstruction contracts," Samuel Ramani, an expert on conflicts in Syria and Libya, told TRT World.  

One thing that unites Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Libya, however, is Turkey's role in assisting the internationally-recognised GNA to reunite the country and end the war. 

"In the economic sphere," Ramani said. "They [the UAE and Saudi] will likely stand together to dilute the impact of Turkey's economic deals."

So what are the advantages of paying Haftar to Saudi Arabia?

Ramani said unlike Yemen, where Saudi and the UAE are on a diversion and most likely willing to divide the country amongst themselves, the two Gulf allies are yet to discuss what "kind of partition" Libya should undergo in order to suit their interests. 

For now, Ramani said the two countries want to "frame Haftar's offensive as a counterterrorism operation, rather than a coup d'etat or illegal offensive". 

"This exaggeration resembles the existential threats that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have claimed stem from the Houthis gaining a sphere of influence in Yemen: it was chiefly Saudi airstrikes, which made the Houthis target Saudi territory," Ramani added. 

Can they convince the world?

The UAE's consistent interventions in the Middle East and North Africa aren't going unnoticed. The international community is taking note of its actions, as the country was placed under a year-long observation by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In a blistering statement, the FATF said: "The United Arab Emirates recently strengthened its legal framework to fight money laundering and terrorist financing but, as a major global financial centre and trading hub, it must take urgent action to effectively stop the criminal financial flows that it attracts."

Similarly, the shadow of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi's murder continues to haunt Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), along with the reports of Saudi Arabia committing and aiding crimes against humanity in Yemen. 

Both Saudi and the UAE have spent millions of dollars on image building in the West. While MBS is accused of using sports diplomacy to "whitewash his crimes", the UAE has pumped in $20 million in 2018 to influence US legislators, non-profits, media outlets and think tanks. 

Abu Dhabi has even gone a step further. It also finances "an extensive disinformation network" in the Middle East and the West, which crosses all the barriers of ethics and moral code of conduct. 

The tiny Gulf country's aim is to counter democratic movements and project economic growth as evidence of "authoritarian stability," while completely ignoring basic human rights. 

To achieve its goals in Libya, according to regional expert Samuel Ramani,  the UAE will have to lobby hard in the West.

"I think that the UAE certainly views hegemony in Libya, if it consolidates under Haftar's rule, and the Red Sea access as beneficial for its economy. DP World, its port company wants to expand in both the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea, so having access to Aden and Benghazi would be a boost for that critical Dubai-based company," Ramani said, adding that the UAE also sees an opportunity "to invest in Libya's vast oil reserves and secure refinery deals at a discounted price, due to Libya's state of war". 

He added: "But in practice, the UAE knows that Haftar cannot reunite Libya and that the LNA will have to be content with securing legalised hegemony over eastern and southern Libya through a partition or federalism agreement. UAE military activity in Libya is aimed at making that objective a reality, and hopes that it will be able to lobby the US, France and other European countries to accept sanctions relief on LNA-held territories, which will make Emirati investments more profitable."