Throughout the past week, the theme of Gadhafi’s options for counterstrikes in response to the Western coalition’s air raids against Libya and of the instigation of the insurgency in the country has been constantly popping up in the media headlines.The British intelligence agencies, British ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer and other competent sources are warning that Great Britain is likely to face considerable risks in connection with the Libyan campaign, and MI5 officially notified NATO countries of a heightened threat of terrorist attacks.The media in Latin America rolled out particularly alarmist forecasts including scenarios like Libyan kamikaze attacks against French and British nuclear installations. How realistic are the expectations and, generally, what response options are open to Gadhafi at the moment?
No doubt, M. Gadhafi who saw a lot of hostility, treason, and insincerity has grown into an extremely experienced statesman over more than four decades since the 1969 revolution in Libya propelled him to power. These days, Libya – the Libyan Jamahiriya, in the country’s official language – is under unprecedented attack while still facing the UN-imposed sanctions. It is an open secret that the rebels opposing Tripoli rely heavily on foreign military and other assistance and that overthrowing Gadhafi virtually tops the international community’s agenda. It is also clear that the original blueprint for the uprising failed to materialize, though, of course, Gadhafi’s standing has been severely damaged, and that in this way or another he will certainly have to strike back.
The notorious case of the Lockerbie bombing – the December 21, 1988 attack which destroyed PanAm Boeing 747 en route from London Heathrow Airport to the JFK International Airport in New York, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members – exemplifies Gadhafi’s readiness to go all the way in defending his positions. The Lockerbie bombing is cited almost whenever the opponents of the Libyan regime bring up terrorism charges against Gadhafi.
Initially the Lockerbie bombing was blamed on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Somewhat later, suspicion was switched to Tehran considering that in July, 1988 the US knocked down an Iranian liner in the Gulf area’s neutral zone, killing 298 people. Eventually, Scotch attorney general accepted a different version of the incident and pressed the bombing charges against two Libyans – Abdel Basset ali Mohmed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah. The Lockerbie terrorist act was believed to have been Gadhafi’s response to the 1985 US-British air raids against Libya. Washington immediately slapped on the country an embargo which was followed by a round of the UN Security Council’s sanctions in 1992-1993.
For years, the Libyan government denied involvement in the Lockerbie incident, while the UN economic sanctions continued to erode the country’ economy. By the end of the 1990ies the total damage on Tripoli’s balance sheet reached threatening proportions – Libya’s losses over 1992-1999 measured around $29b. Both suspects – Megrahi and Fhimah – were deported to Scotland to face justice in 1999 in a deal which was supposed to earn Libya a softening of the sanctions regime. After months of hearings, in 2001 a Netherlands court with a Scotch lawyer at the helm fully acquitted Fhimah but handed out a life sentence to Megrahi.
Contrary to Tripoli’s hopes, Libya faced an even greater pressure after Megrahi was found guilty and, worse than that, identified as Libya’s intelligence officer during the hearings, but unannounced trilateral talks between the US, Great Britain, and Libya did open as a parallel process. As a result, an agreement was reached in March, 2003 by which Libya consented to compensations totaling $2.7b ($10m per victim family), with the first $4b to be paid upon the abolition of the UN sanctions, another $4b – upon Washington’s lifting the 1982 US unilateral sanctions, and, finally, $2b – after the US Department of State’s taking Libya off Washington’s list of countries supporting terrorism. Libya notified the UN Security Council in writing of its readiness to pay the first of the above amounts in August, 2003, though in the corresponding letter Tripoli accepted civil liability for the crime while still brushing off the criminal responsibility. In other words, Tripoli admitted formally that its intelligence officer had been involved in the terrorist attack but refused to be responsible for the tragedy as a country.
Parisbecame aware of the secret deal and France intervened in the final phase of the bargaining, threatening to veto the agreement. Paris demanded greater compensations to be issued to the families of the people who died when a blast which destroyed a French liner in Niger in 1989, which was another terrorist attack attributed to Libya. The above dispute seemed settled by 1999 as Libya promised France to pay $33m to the families of the victims (the incident’s death toll was 171): though the attempts to prove Libya’s complicity failed, Gadhafi was keenly interested in normalizing the relations with France and therefore was open to compromise. Tripoli and Paris cut a deal on further compensations on September 11, 2003 and the very next day the UN Security Council voted in favor of London’s resolution draft which officially lifted the sanctions imposed on Libya 11 years earlier in connection with the Lockerbie bombing.
The Lockerbie bombing receded from the public discourse for a period of time, but in July, 2009 Megrahi, diagnosed with incurable cancer, was released from jail due to compassion reasons. He was brought to Libya by Gadhafi’s personal liner, showered with public acclaim, and currently resides at a villa built or acquired for him on the Mediterranean coast. After a short break, Libya launched a political counter-attack over the Lockerbie bombing, citing the serious argument that the international court actually failed to find out how and where – in Malta, in Frankfurt am Main, or in London’s Heathrow Airport – the bomb was delivered to the crushed plane. A lot was written about Matt Berkley, a British citizen whose brother died in the Lockerbie bombing. Berkley rejected the compensation on the grounds that he did not believe Libya had been behind the terrorist attack and expressed a view that Libya was framed to shield the real perpetrators of the terrorist attack. Reports surfaced in October, 2009 that the Lockerbie case was reopened in Scotland, new versions of the incident were coming under scrutiny, and the relatives of the victims heard that all material evidence would be subjected to analysis afresh. It also became known that some of the key witnesses changed their testimonies and that, according to an independent expert, the part of a clock which an FBI laboratory identified as an element of the bomb design and the court counted as the main peace of material evidence had never been nor technically could have been linked to an explosive device.
Gadhafi thus emerged from the drama as a winner: Libya did pay the compensations as pledged but gained a lot more when foreign companies rushed to invest in its energy resources, even prompting Washington to criticize BP over its alleged role in the release of Megrahi. In the meantime, Italy paid Libya a handsome $5b as a compensation for the colonial epoch.
It should be taken into account that Libya faced the charges of supporting international terrorism exactly when, upon seizing power in the country in 1969, Gadhafi formulated a clearly anti-Israeli position and started nourishing the Palestinian resistance. It is also worth noting that, in contrast to the 1970ies, these days emotions do not factor into the Libyan regime’s decision-making. Already a long time ago, Tripoli stopped backing nationalist movements across the world, severed the ties to the IRA, and closed Libya’s network of guerrilla training camps. Moreover, in 1997 Libya suspended all assistance to Islamist groups in Africa and the Middle East.
Libyacondemned the terrorist attacks against the US in September, 2001. Long before that, Tripoli scrapped the country’s missile programs which dated back to the early 1970ies. In 2003, Libya further announced the dismantling of its WMD programs. Currently Libya is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, though the West is calling the credibility of the steps into question and IAEA inspectors frequent the country. According to official reports, in 2005 Libya destroyed 551,350 tons of chemical warfare upon joining the international convention which bans it. Occasionally, one could get an impression that the West’s attitude towards Tripoli was drifting from mistrust to appreciation: for example, on July 19, 2009 British premier G. Brown praised Gadhafi over his 2003 bold decision to terminate Libya’s nuclear program.
Psychologically, Libyans are proud people. They are for the most part loyal friends but do not easily forgive offenses. Based on my experience with Libyans, I am convinced that they will in this way or another hit back in response to the war currently waged against their country. Thus, Washington’s decision to withdraw from the campaign against Libya was a clever move, though it was largely attributable to the understanding that – regardless of the fact that the US had been instrumental in arranging for the uprising in Libya – now that the plan is going awry it is beneficial for the US to let NATO and the EU shoulder the whole burden. In any case, Pentagon chief R. Gates said recently: “My view is that the future of Libya – the U.S. ought not take responsibility for that, frankly”.
By the way, Libya boasts a decent education level across its population and a life expectancy currently unattainable even in some of the industrialized countries. Desperate attempts to fight back and kamikaze outbreaks are not in line with the Libyan style, and – even after years of the international campaigning energized by allegations of Libya’s flirt with the international terrorism – documentary evidence to the effect is completely missing. Even the 1984 London incident which provoked the disruption of diplomatic relations between Great Britain and Libya affords interpretations different from that adopted across the West. That year, an armed group seized the Libyan embassy in London while the British authorities, being tipped off about the coming attack, did nothing to prevent it. The shooting which erupted in the process left 11 Libyans injured and a British policewoman Yvonne Joyce Fletcher – shot dead by a stray bullet. Libya was charged with terrorism in the aftermath of the incident, and the case remains open up to date, though the presence of armed guards in the Libyan embassy cannot be regarded as a departure from the standard international practice. In comparison, US embassies are secured by private contractors from the outside, US marines within, and security officers inside.
Gadhafi – no matter how outraged he may be in today’s settings – will not consider launching terrorist attacks anywhere in the world as he is fully aware that his foes cannot possibly dream of a better present. At the moment he is likely probing into various options, and he or his followers will surely find a way and the resources to give the architects of the conspiracy against Libya severe headaches.
Judging by the fact that over the past decade Libya’s intelligence services have had no serious failures on their record, they were making steady progress over the time Gadhafi was in office and finally became fairly professional and powerful. Libya has a network of agents spanning a number of parts of the world and, in contrast to their colleagues from quite a few countries, the people combine ideological motivations with impressive financial resources. Though Switzerland (the country which paid dearly for once detaining Gadhafi’s wife and son for several hours) claims that Libya’s assets are frozen and the new administration with a stronghold in Benghazi established a central bank of Libya of its own making reflect the naivety of the authors of the statements. Libyans are intelligent investors, and these days there is hardly a visible company in Europe on whose balance sheets Libyan-owned assets cannot be found. Libya is known to own stock – and in many cases the controlling stakes – in European energy and aerospace giants. By the way, St. Petersburg’s Palace Hotel in Russia, one of the best joints in the city, is a possession of the largely Libyan-owned Corinthia group.
In 2003 Gadhafi did a big favor to South European countries by tightening the border control in order to prevent Africa’s illegal migration flows from from getting poured into the EU. Gadhafi’s lowering the barrier would expose Europe to an unprecedented tide of immigration, and a solution to the problem would be hard to find. Italy suffered a shock lately when Gadhafi dropped a hint that taking the measure was not ruled out.
Libyan oil reserves, abundant, easily accessible, and containing high-quality crude, also equip the country with considerable leverage. Gadhafi always maintained that honestly oil should never cost below $100 per barrel, and now he can be expected to unveil – with the predictable backing from Venezuela, Iran, and Niger – the threat of sky-rocketing oil prices. Libya’s altogether stopping to export oil under the worst-case scenario is also a possibility. As explained above, Tripoli has the capabilities to offset the resulting losses with the help of sources clearly immune to international sanctions.
It sounds like a reasonable assumption that Libya has documents at its disposal which, if floated across the media, would squash quite a few political careers in the West. The recent indications that the incumbent French president relied on financial infusions from Libya in his elections campaign are unlikely to prove illusory. Indirectly, Libya can exert some influence over election outcomes in several countries. Probably, Libya will avoid reconnecting with the Arab League, considering the entrenched discord between Tripoli and its Arab peers. Staying outside of the alliance’s orbit should give Libya greater freedom of maneuver in punishing the non-Western world’s defectors like Qatar.
Venezuelan commentator Raul Bracho wrote that in fact the CIA can organize terrorist attacks to blame them on Gadhafi. Indeed, the US intelligence community has a reputation for resorting to unethical means, and therefore the key terrorist threat may be emanating from sources other than widely expected.
Foreign Minister of Algeria Mourad Medelci opined that the current developments in Libya open up new opportunities to terrorists. Algeria reinforced its border with Libya to prevent arms traffickers and Al Qaeda agents who managed to borrow new types of weapons from the Libyan rebels from crossing it.
Gadhafi also mentioned quite often Al Qaeda’s role in what is happening in Libya, and at the moment even NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe James G. Stavridis seems to be holding more or less the same, but the plan to train Libyan rebels is nevertheless materializing right away. It must take a great deal of hate to overshadow reason to the point of not realizing how easily the forces now employed as cannon fodder can spin out of control. If they do, it would be absurd to hold Gadhafi responsible for the consequences.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation