Huge quantities of heavy weapons were unloaded at Tripoli port and its international airport at the very moment that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Cairo discussing permission for US planes to use Egyptian air bases for enforcing a fly-zone over Libya with the head of the Supreme Military Council, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi Wednesday, March 16.
She also broached the possibility of US strikes against Muammar Qaddafi's military targets over and above the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. (See details in debkafile of March 17).
(Late Thursday, March 17, Clinton received a negative response to the American request from Cairo.)
In the meantime, 6 warships, three from Syria, were unloaded at Tripoli port and two airplanes – an Ilyushin-76 with a 40-ton cargo from Baranovitji military base in Belarus and a second plane from Croatia – discharged their freight at Tripoli international airport.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources, vast quantities of weapons have been reaching Libya's naval and air ports almost every other day since Feb. 20, five days after the uprising against the Qaddafi regime began. He is estimated as having bought arms and military equipment worth some $1.2 billion.
Their purchase and delivery is managed by five Libyan generals who have been using Qaddafi's private air fleet of French-build Dassault Falcons to flit between European and Middle Eastern capitals and negotiate purchases with government officials in charge of arms exports, but mostly with black market arms merchants.
Qaddafi's shopping spree between Damascus and Dubrovnik
Such deals are often contracted in cash. So after each handshake for a given transaction, the general flies home to Tripoli, gets the Libyan ruler's approval and carries the money back to the vendor.
Most of these deals are struck, according to our intelligence sources, in Damascus, Dubai, Khartoum, Minsk, Montenegro, Dubrovnik, Sicily and Piraeus in Greece. However, Qaddafi has also set up alternative supply routes to bypass a potential no-fly zone and sea blockade should they be imposed on his country.
Some of the transactions are conducted for barter instead of cash.
In these cases, the arms dealers hand the Libyan generals lists of the military hardware and weapons systems they are interested in obtaining from Libyan arsenals. If Qaddafi approves, those items are flown to the vendors who then load the same planes up with the newly-acquired items for the Libyan army which are carried back on the return flight.
Western intelligence sources monitoring this traffic say its volume is unheard of. None remembers air and sea transport of weapons moving back and forth on this vast scale, especially as it is taking place smoothly without a single known glitch.
Those sources also explain that Qaddafi is being kept fully equipped with all the ammunition and replacement parts he needs, thanks to Moscow's reluctance to forfeit the huge arms transactions worth some $4.5 billion Russian military industry signed with Libya before the uprising.
Moscow has quietly asked Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko to take care of shipments on its behalf, so that the merchandize purchased by the Libyan ruler is now channeled through Minsk. The need to coordinate this route brought Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the Belarus capital this week for a conference with Lukashenko.
Chemical weapons en route from Benghazi to Beirut and Gaza
The Libyan war has become the global arms market's richest event in five years.
Qaddafi may be its primary engine, but Libyan rebels have not been amiss to dipping their hands in this lucrative market on their own behalf, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources disclose.
Indeed more than one party has been attracted by Libya's weapons trove, notably Iran, Hizballah and Hamas.
Tehran was drawn into backing Libya's rebels by the discovery that the military stores they captured in Benghazi offered a one-time opportunity to acquire unconventional systems, especially chemical weapons, for its surrogates, the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas.
In the third week of February, Iranian representatives arrived in Benghazi on a shopping trip. They sat down with "senior officers" of Libya's rebel forces, including former members of Qaddafi's army.
In the first week of March, secret delegations arrived from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to confirm prices and arrange for the chemical weapons, as well as missiles of various types, especially anti-aircraft missiles purchased in the same batch, to be smuggled out of Libya and transported to their buyers.
Our intelligence sources report that the chemical weapons sold to Hizballah and Hamas were spirited out of Libya in the past week to Sudan in convoys of tightly-secured refrigerator trucks. The consignment also included short-range, surface-to-surface missiles, artillery shells and mortars armed with chemical substances.
From there, the WMD will make its way to Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.