Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi continues to witness his regime moving further and further into the international wilderness, whilst Libya’s internal situation continues to deteriorate. However in spite of all this, the Gaddafi regime seem to be well prepared for a long battle against the Libyan rebels and foreign opponents. The Libyan regime continues to fight despite the pro-Gaddafi forces being subject to ongoing intensive bombardment, with the most recent developments seeing NATO warplanes targeting Gaddafi’s own stronghold, the Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli.
Intelligence reports indicate that Colonel Gaddafi has recently received new unspecified quantities of military equipments and ammunition, whilst sources within the rebel Libyan National Transitional Council that is based in Benghazi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “Free Libyan army” had also received modern military equipment to confront Gaddafi forces. The Libyan rebel sources, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that the rebel army had received a shipment of rocket propelled grenades [RPG] and other weaponry capable of deterring any advance made by the Gaddafi forces.
The pro- Gaddafi forces moved a number of Scud missile launchers – which have a range of 150 – 200 km – from Al-Jafrah in southern Libya to Sirte. Gaddafi’s attempt to target the rebels in Misrata and Ajdabiya utilizing Scud missiles appears to have failed. Colonel Gaddafi reportedly withdrew his army from around Misrata on Saturday, and began a campaign of aerial bombardment against the city. However this campaign has been largely unsuccessful, with one Libyan source telling Asharq Al-Awsat that “this [campaign] represents a desperate attempt that demonstrates the Gaddafi regime’s weak military capabilities. He [Gaddafi] is using long-range missiles, and this appears to be the last card that he is holding.”
It appears that there are no political solutions on the horizon capable of persuading Colonel Gaddafi of voluntarily stepping down from power. National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who previously served as Libyan Minister of Justice under Gaddafi, has called on the Libyan leader to step down from power and – along with the entire Gaddafi family – leave the country in return for immunity from prosecution. Such proposals were previously comprehensively rejected by the Gaddafi regime. However last week, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi spoke about the possibility of initiating dialogue with the Libyan rebels about Gaddafi’s future, which sources within the National Transitional Council said demonstrates that the Libyan regime is on the verge of collapse.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdul-Monem al-Houni, the rebel National Transitional Council’s representative to the Arab League, said that “Abdul Ati al-Obeidi would not have dared to propose such an initiative and speak publicly about Gaddafi’s future had he not received a green light from Gaddafi or consulted with him on this issue.” He added: “He [Gaddafi] is looking for a way out; he realizes that time is not in his favour and that he is losing officials and military commanders who continue to defect from his regime every day. In the end, he will find out that he is fighting alone.”
In a gesture signalling an attempt at reform, which opponents consider too little too late, Gaddafi met with Libya’s so-called “second leader” General Coordinator for the Popular Social Leadership Muhammad az-Zanati, last week. Whilst the Libyan parliament met as normal, with leaks and rumours abounding that the parliament is set to meet again this month to pass the new draft constitution, which was previously announced by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, a Libyan rebel spokesman described the above measures as being “tricks that will not deceive anybody. This regime must go; we will not hold dialogue with it, and we will not accept the presence of Colonel Gaddafi or any member of his family. We want to see a Libya without Gaddafi, and he must understand this!”
Since the popular uprising against Colonel Gaddafi erupted in Libya on 17 February 2011, the Libyan leader has displayed an unexpected steadfastness in contrast to the regime of his former ally, the former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali which collapsed within days. This is not to mention the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt, which lasted for 18 days in the face of escalating protests, before former president Mubarak announced his resignation. The entire world is speculating about the reason that Gaddafi has been able to cling to power in this unexpected manner, despite the fierce civil war that is ravaging the country and the huge numbers of people who have been killed and injured in the violence.
Abdul Monem al-Houni, who was a member of the Libyan Revolutionary Command Council that governed Libya following the 1969 revolution, believes that Gaddafi has been preparing for this day since he staged the military coup against the late King of Libya, Idris al-Senussi. Abdul Monem al-Houni led the Libyan opposition for 25 years, before reconciling with Colonel Gaddafi via Egyptian mediation, only to recently defect from the Libyan regime when the popular revolution erupted. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there have been many signs that this man (Gaddafi) is not prepared to give up power. Throughout the four decades of his rule he got rid of all his opponents either by killing them or imprisoning them. He also aggressively pursued his [political] opponents throughout the world.”
From inside his fortified Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, Gaddafi is managing his final political and military battle against his opponents, who this time are backed by NATO war planes as well as the majority of western governments.
High-level Libyan sources have revealed that Gaddafi is surrounded by a small group of advisers who help him to manage the ongoing crisis in Libya on the political, military, intelligence, and security levels. The sources stressed that Colonel Gaddafi is assisted by a small and trusted group of aides, comprising around 20 prominent military and security officials, as well as his own sons Muhammad, Saif al-Islam, Saadi, and Muatassim. Colonel Gaddafi also enjoys the loyalty of other relatives like his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, as well as Abdullah Mansur, in running his security operation and ensuring his personal security. Another of Colonel Gaddafi’s relative, Ahmed Ibrahim, is in charge of political propaganda.
In addition to the political aides mentioned above, Gaddafi is also assisted by other advisers who previously held military and security positions within the country and who are keen to keep out of the spotlight. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, an Arab diplomat in Tripoli acknowledged that “this may be Gaddafi’s last military battle.” He stressed that “I sincerely do not think that he [Gaddafi] will surrender. Just look at the speeches and statements he is making; this man will die in his place, rather than flee. He [previously] succeeded in emerging victorious from all the regional and international crises he faced, all the world leaders have met with him in his famous Bedouin tent, asking for his friendship and agreement on huge economic deals.”
However it seems that the noose is tightening around Gaddafi, the Libyan rebels are growing stronger, and have NATO warplanes and firepower on their side. More important than this, the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council which is based in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi enjoys a good measure of popularity and sympathy throughout Libya.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat from Tripoli on the condition of anonymity, one Libyan official said that “the options [in front of Gaddafi] are extremely limited. Gaddafi will stay put, he will not leave; he will fight to the end.” Whilst a Western diplomat in Tripoli told Asharq Al-Awsat that “naturally, Gaddafi will not allow himself to be arrested or tried” adding that “his fate is unknown, I don’t think anybody has the least idea about what will happen.”
Asharq Al-Awsat also met with an African diplomat who had just returned from Libya in Cairo last week. The African diplomat said “throughout his rule, Gaddafi has been extremely clear on this issue [of remaining in power]. Do not forget that he advised the people of Africa to extend the terms in office of their dictatorial rulers. So he will not leave Libya alive.”
He added “It seems that the talk of providing a safe departure for Gaddafi and his family from Libya, in return for legal immunity, has been overtaken by events on the ground. My personal belief is that he will fight until the death.”
The Libyan rebels and opposition believe that it is not out of the question that Gaddafi could face an internal coup or even assassination at the hands of one of his guards of close aides; however this reflects wishful thinking rather than tangible facts. Gaddafi may have clung onto power far longer than anyone could reasonably have expected to, but at the age of 69 the Libyan leader is not only racing against time to avoid the fate of [former Tunisian president] Ben Ali, and [former Egyptian president] Mubarak, but also that of late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.