Libyan rebel “gains” smokescreen for talks in Tunisia to end war
The rush of military advances claimed by the Libyan rebels and the rumors of the near collapse of Muammar Qaddafi's army and his imminent flight are designed, debkafile's military and intelligence sources report, as a smokescreen for three current occurrences:
1. Libyan Government ministers and Benghazi-based Transitional National Council, TNC, representatives, have been meeting in semi-secrecy on the Tunisian island of Djerba from Saturday, Aug. 15 – although both sides swore never to sit down and talk.
Significant progress brought the dialogue's sponsor, the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon's Special Envoy, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ila al-Khatib, to the island on Monday, Aug. 15.
For three weeks, debkafile has been alone in reporting the Libyan war was tailing off and morphing into direct talks between the two foes. Saturday, the UN Secretary finally confirmed that, "A ceasefire that is linked to a political process which would meet the aspirations of the Libyan people is the only viable means to achieve peace and security in Libya."
On the table, according to our sources, is a step-by-step process (first revealed on this site), whereby Muammar Qaddafi will relinquish power in stages synchronized with the steps for the transfer of power to a new Libyan government, which must have room at the top for his sons. They would share power with his close loyalists, the tribes supporting his regime and rebel groups.
Under the deal, Qaddafi would not have to leave Libya and would receive guarantees for his personal safety.
White House spokesman Jay Carney's assertion Monday that Qaddafi's days are numbered fits the incremental nature of his departure from rule. It is clear to all the parties concerned that the Libyan ruler will finally step down only when the political process is completed to his satisfaction.
His representatives at the Dherba meeting are Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi, Health Minister Ahmed HIjazi and Social Affairs Minister Ibrahim Cherif.
The identities of the rebel side are undisclosed. But they are definitely present – witness the two Qatari Air Force military helicopters which flew in from Benqhazi via Malta. They parked on the island runway alongside a South African airline plane, attesting to the presence of a senior representative of President Jacob Zuma, chairman of the African Union. Sources close to the talks also report that President Vladimir Putin's personal envoy Mikhail Margelov and an emissary of the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez have also arrived.
2. The rebels are not only cagy about their representatives but deny that any talks at all are taking place; their leadership is being torn apart by infighting which has worsened since the assassination of their military chief Gen. Abdel Younis on July 27.
One of the reasons he was done away with was his quiet initiation of the preliminary contacts with certain rebel officers which have since culminated in the Djerba meeting. The 30-member rebel council is still apparently deeply divided for and against negotiating with Qaddafi and his followers, with a majority apparently against.
By broadcasting false reports of victories, such as the conquest of the town of Brega and success in cutting off Qaddafi's supply lines to the capital Tripoli, the rebels hope to cover up their internal disputes and inability to win the war while at the same time building up bargaining chips for the negotiations..
3. The only real military gains the rebels can boast, such as advancing up to Al-Zawiya 53 kilometers west of Tripoli, have occurred in the west and are credited mainly to the Berber tribes who reject any ties whatsoever with the Benghazi factions.
Qaddafi has not tried too hard to slow their advance because he is reluctant at this stage of the war to expose his forces to NATO air strikes. He seems to be counting on the Djerba talks producing a quick ceasefire. Western Alliance operations would then cease before his troops are harmed.
But if the talks fail and the war goes on, the Libyan ruler may decide to escalate the conflict by bringing out of his arsenal weapons still unused in the six-month war, such as anti-air Scud missiles which could be fired against NATO warplanes. He hinted as much Tuesday, Aug. 16, when for the first time in the conflict, his army fired a single Scud ground-to-ground missiles from the town of Sirte at rebels forces fighting to capture Brega.