Sergei SHASHKOV – Independent analyst and researcher
"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?
Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."
– Abraham Lincoln
A conference on Libya convened in London on March 29 and was attended by representatives from 40 countries which had voted for UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The panel included such dignitaries as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, his Libya envoy Abdul Ilah Khatib, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, US Secretary of State H. Clinton, French foreign minister Alain Juppé, etc. An address was delivered by somebody Guma El-Gamaty, British coordinator for the rebel Interim National Council of Libya who vividly described the opposition’s hunger for weapons, complained about the lack of armored vehicles, and said that were it not for the problem Gadhafi would have been deposed in a matter of days. In response, H. Clinton expressed a view that the UN Security Council’s resolutions actually authorized a legitimate transfer of weapons, and the gathering pledged that the coalition offensive in Libya would continue until its leader does what the Resolutions urge him to. Italian diplomacy chief Franco Frattini said consensus was reached that Gadhafi must leave the country.
Serious humanitarian missions tend to be costly, but in Libya’s case one gets an impression that somehow reservations or any accompanying moral regards concerning the plan are nonexistent. Germany’s Federal Minister of Economics and Technology Rainer Bruederle, for example, called for a confiscation of Libya’s assets across the EU and for a transfer of the funds to a special UN account to be used to cover the mission costs. A day earlier US Secretary of State H. Clinton similarly suggested passing to Libya’s people the money currently frozen on the accounts of Gadhafi and his cabinet members. Interestingly, while Bruederle mentioned a modest $6b, H. Clinton voiced a more ambitious agenda adding up to $90b (she said $30b were frozen in the US and $60b – in the EU). In other words, a flag for the mission will be borrowed from the UN, the troops will be contributed by the EU, the leadership will be left to Washington, and Libyans will pick up the bill.
Gadhafi, in the meantime, sent a deeply personal letter to Obama and a series of messages to the UN Security Council asking to have the situation in Libya examined at a special UN Security Council’s meeting and to stop bombings which lead to civilian fatalities. He also recurrently invited rebels to negotiate, but, of course, to no avail.
A conference of Libya’s tribes was held in Tripoli on May 6-7. It drew over 2,000 delegates including leaders or representatives from slightly under 400 tribes accounting for 85% of Libya’s population and passed 18 resolutions calling for peace, dialog, and sweeping reforms. A ceasefire and an amnesty should become the starting points of the process. The conference also condemned as traitors those who would continue pushing for the country’s disintegration. So, who are Libya’s revolutionaries currently commanding nearly undivided respect across the world?
On February 26, Libya’s former Minister of Justice Mustafa Abdul Jalil became the first to announce the establishment of a “transitional government” in Libya. He broke the news in Al Bayda days after fleeing from Tripoli and shortly thereafter headed a Transitional National Council to which a group of countries promptly granted the exclusive status of Libya’s legitimate administration. Mahmoud Jibril, a Pittsburgh University graduate, emerged as the premier, former Libyan ambassador to India Ali al-Issaoui – as as the foreign minister, and Ali Tarhuni who emigrated to the US in 1973 after having served a jail term in Libya and used to teach at the University of Seattle – as the minister of finance. The post of the rebel “armed forces” commander was given to Omar Mokhtar El-Hariri known to have taken part in the toppling of King Idris jointly with Gadhafi and to have started conspiring against the Libyan leader several years later. The activity earned El-Hariri a death sentence, but the punishment was softened to 15 years in jail plus 20 years under home arrest. Libya’s renegade policemaster Gen. Abd Al-Fattah Yunis was appointed as the chief of staff of the rebel forces. Abdel-Hafiz Guga, a civil rights activist from Benghazi and 24 completely obscure individuals also sit on the board.
The crew rolled out a plan to displace Gadhafi, rejoiced over UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, and created LOC – Libyan Oil Company – which the London conference readily recognized as the only legitimate Libyan oil producer and supplier. So far Qatar where a coalition contact group settled down on a permanent basis is dealing the oil allegedly produced by LOC.
Initially the rebels boiled with enthusiasm about the slapping of a no-fly zone on Libya and the NATO air raids, but the tonality began to slide fairly soon. On April 5, the rebel leaders subjected the NATO operation to biting criticism over the fact that while, according to Yunis, the information on the locations of pro-government forces was continuously fed to the coalition, its response was sluggish and the Gadhafi loyalists were able to enter urban areas out of which it was virtually impossible to muscle them. Yunis even threatened to complain to the UN Security Council about the NATO inaction. As a result, NATO took to indiscriminately pounding the country, killing tens of civilians, and on April 19 Giampaolo Di Paolo, Chairman of the Military Committee to NATO, admitted that stopping Gadhafi forces without killing too many civilians was a huge problem.
When the drama was in the opening phase, rebels claimed they had no intentions to attract foreign forces to Libya. That changed on April 19 when Nouri Abdul Ati, a member of the 17-member ruling body in Misurata, begged for an overland NATO offensive, saying that it was a matter of life or death and therefore was unrelated to occupation or colonialism. The Benghazi transitional body subscribed to the view a day later, the motivation being that an overland offensive aimed at protecting civilians would do no harm. By the way, on April 18 C. Ashton declared that the EU approved a concept for the coming humanitarian mission in Misurata, of course including a part concerning the operation’s military backing. She stressed that what was on the table was only a concept but warned that its conversion into a practical plan would take little time if the UN sends a signal.
On April 21, STRATFOR, and intelligence-connected US think-tank, reported that boats charted by the UN and international humanitarian organizations were delivering necessities which, on top of food and medications, apparently included armaments, to Misurata. Part of the cargo was coming directly from France, Qatar, and other countries, and part – via Benghazi. The Western media rather clumsily dubbed Misurata Libya's Sarajevo.
What caused the spotlight to shift to Misurata? The place is Libya’s third largest city (with the population of 250,000), a deep-water seaport, and, at the moment, the only significant area fully in the hands of the rebels, though the latter circumstance can be fully credited to the Western coalition’s support. From the strategic standpoint, Misurata with its developed infrastructures, located at a distance of just 200 km away from Tripoli, is the optimal entry point for an overland intervention.The longer the rebels retain the grip on Misurata, the louder the calls for an allegedly humanitarian overland mission in Libya are going to be. NATO has already made it clear to Gadhafi that his attempts to regain the city would be immediately suppressed, and it seems that he accepted the loss. The configuration amounts to an unsolvable situation unless a ceasefire is negotiated, but the rebels are sure to reject the option. Misurata is the rebels’ key asset and talking to Gadhafi would be a fiasco suffered by the opposition and its Western patrons.
There is information that the NATO navy maintaining a marine blockade of Libya not only debars freight ships from moving towards Tripoli but also redirects them to Benghazi. Having failed to crush Libya’s regime in a snap offensive, the West is tightening the economic blockade of the country where fuel shortages are already visible and available food reserves can last for at most a couple of months. What the future holds – a military offensive in the guise of a humanitarian mission, a new potentially notorious oil-for-food program, a partition of Libya, a combination of the above, or some other outcome – is an open question to be answered shortly.