Since Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi, 68, picked Moatassem-Billah, son number four, to succeed him upon his retirement in three years, his eldest son, Seif al-Islam, has schemed tirelessly to stay in the limelight and avoid being passed over as future potentate of this oil- and gas-rich nation. Seif's latest dodge, according to debkafile's intelligence sources, is the privately-launched Al-Amal (MV Almathea) for breaking Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Awaited by the Israeli Navy Tuesday or Wednesday, Tripoli has officially disavowed the venture.
His father, still on top of the palace intrigue in Tripoli, tried to put a crimp on Seif's game. Sunday, July 11, he suddenly banned the departure of private and chartered aircraft from Libyan airfields for Egypt, Greece, Crete or Cyprus, to make sure his ambitious son would not be able to join the ship and star in a political and propaganda triumph that would beat out his brother's chances in the succession stakes.
An official spokesman in Tripoli made it clear on Monday, July 12, that Seif al-Islam is on his own: "Libya does not wish to intervene and believes the aid ship to Gaza conceals an adventure and a risk," he said.
That same day, Israel's infrastructure minister Uzi Landau had warned that the Israeli navy was ready for the incoming Libyan vessel, this time not just with paintball guns, like the Turkish Mavi Marmara on May 31.
That the Al-Amal venture is not actuated by Libya's sympathy for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip but part of a domestic intrigue was made quite clear by Tripoli:
1. The official statement criticizing the aid ship as "an adventure and a risk" and the ban on private planes taking off for the aid vessel's likely ports of call have made it clear that the Libyan government and its head want no part in the Al-Amal venture.
2. Its sponsor, the Qaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, is privately financed by Seif al-Islam, an international tycoon, as his personal lobby for promoting his ambitions to succeed his father in 2013.
3. Qaddafi Sr. has told his close intimates that he plans to retire in 2013, aged 71, and wants Moatasem-Billah, head of the Libyan intelligence service and strongman of the armed forces, to succeed him, although he only ranks as a lieutenant colonel.
So low has the eldest son sunk in parental esteem that two years ago, his father ordered him to leave the country and stay in exile for five years. It was understood that he would only return two years after his younger brother was firmly in power.
But Seif disobeyed his father and returned home after eighteen months in August 2009, propelled by a scheme which Muammar could not afford to publicly reject. With help of Russian and British business interests which expected to be rewarded by benefits in Libya's oil and gas industries, Seif managed to engineer the release from a Scottish jail of the former Libyan secret agent Mohamed Al-Megrahi, who was serving a life term for his role in the hijack of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed over the Scottish town village of Lockerbie in December 1988 killing all 250 people aboard and 11 people on the ground.
Seif obtained the Libyan terrorist's release on the pretext that he was terminally ill with only a few months to live. When they landed in Tripoli on August 21, 2009, he and the released bomber joined hands in a victory salute. Muammar Qaddafi like everyone else was fooled by the act.
He was soon to discover that his son had pulled the wool over his eyes for a stunt that gained him worldwide exposure, because Megrahi is still very much alive to this day. One of the British physicians who in 2009 gave him three months to live said last week, on July 12: "He could live another 10 or even 20 years."
Since then, Seif has been building up his power base with the help of the funds he keeps banked in London.
In May this year, his attention was caught by world headlines Turkish prime minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan garnered by his pro-Palestinian flotilla for Gaza. International censure for Israel's bungled naval commando raid which intercepted and stopped the flotilla boosted the story and the two inquiries launched into the episode have kept it on front pages.
The first inquiry, headed by Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, published its findings Monday, July 12. Fault was found with the handling of the interception at the command and intelligence level, while the troops were commended for bravery in the face of armed attacks on the Turkish vessel.
Seif saw his chance of cashing in on the international uproar by staging a stunt for leapfrogging his claim to the succession over that of his brother, one moreover, which the Libyan leader could not publicly thwart or condemn. But Muammar Qaddafi has done what he could to throw a spanner into Seif's plan. Prevented from launching Al Amal from a Libyan port, he had to relocate its point of departure to a Greek port and obstacles place in the path of his joining the expedition.
So when the ship is intercepted by the Israel navy, Muammar and his chosen successor will be quietly celebrating.