Bar the shouting, the war in Libya virtually ended Thursday morning, July 14, when US President Barack Obama called Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to hand Moscow the lead role in negotiations with Muammar Qaddafi for ending the conflict – provided only that the Libyan ruler steps down in favor of a transitional administration.
The US president thus accepted the Russian-Libyan formula for ending the war over the heads of the NATO chiefs who rejected it when they met Russian leaders at the Black Sea resort of Sochi last week.
debkafile's sources note that this same proposal first came from the Libyan ruler himself four months ago: On April 4, just ten days after NATO launched its air operation on behalf of the Libyan rebels, Qaddafi sent emissaries to Athens to propose Greek Prime Minister Georges Papandreou as mediator. The heads of NATO, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, turned him down, certain at the time they were within easy reach of a quick victory to topple him.
By the time Obama had decided to call Medvedev, individual governments which had spearheaded the anti-Qaddafi campaign were quietly melting away.
From Saturday, July 9, debkafile's military sources report, NATO discontinued its air strikes against Libyan pro-government targets in Tripoli and other places. The halt though unannounced was nonetheless an admission that 15,000 flight missions and 6,000 bombardments of Qaddafi targets had failed to achieve their object: Col. Qaddafi, without deploying a single fighter jet, firing an anti-air missile or activating terrorist cells in Europe, had waited for NATO to run out of steam and was still in power.
In an overview of the war to British air force commanders Wednesday, July 13, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox remarked that while no one knows when it will end, British ground corps, naval and air forces do not have the means to continue the war.
He admitted candidly that sustaining the high tempo of air strikes by RAF Tornado and Typhoons, as well as Navy warships and Army Apache attack helicopters, did "increase the pressure on both personnel and equipment as planning assumptions are tested, and it tests the ability of defense companies to support front-line operations."
In early June, debkafile's military sources reported that NATO was short of warplanes for enforcing the no- fly zone over Libyan air space approved by the UN Security Council, its arsenals of smart bombs and missiles were depleted and its stocks of munitions and replacement parts almost down to zero.
This has now been confirmed by the British defense secretary, who added that British and European military industries lack the capacity for supporting a war effort that goes beyond a few weeks.
Our military sources disclose that Italy, a key player in NATO's military effort, last week secretly withdrew its Air Force Garibaldi-551 planes from the campaign – dealing the operation another grave setback.
And in the last 10 days, France has also scaled back the military assets it had invested in the fighting after despairing of the anti-Qaddafi rebels based in Benghazi ever making headway against Qaddafi's forces. First, Paris tried to transfer its backing from Benghazi to the secessionist Berber tribes fighting Qaddafi in Western Libya. On June 30, President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered weapons to be parachuted to the tribal fighters in western Libya, contrary to UN and NATO decisions. But the Berbers preferred to use the French guns for plundering towns and villages instead of fighting government forces.
On Monday, July 11, after that experience, Defense Secretary Gerard Longuet said it was time for talks to begin between Qaddafi and the rebels. Paris, he said, had asked the two sides to begin negotiations.
This was backhanded confirmation of the claim Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam made to the French media that his father was engaged in contacts for ending the war through emissaries who met with President Sarkozy.
While Minister Longuet said the Libyan ruler cannot stay in power, he refrained from demanding his ouster by force or his expulsion from the country. This formula therefore came close to Qaddafi's terms for ending the war.
debkafile's diplomatic sources hail the agreement Presidents Obama and Medvedev reached on terms for negotiating the war's end with Muammar Qaddafi as a major victory for the Libyan ruler and a resounding fiasco for NATO.
It also knocks over the international war crimes tribunal's demand to extradite Qaddafi and his sons as war criminals.
Instead of sitting in the dock of the world court, they will now take their seats at the negotiating table for a deal one of whose objects will be to rescue NATO from the humiliation of defeat at war. But its main purpose will be to agree on the shape of a regime for the transition to democracy and its makeup. Qaddafi, while consenting to step down, will not doubt insist on his sons and loyalists being co-opted with full privileges to the future administration in Tripoli. The rebels will take up the offer for lack of any other options.
Libyan diplomacy is liable to be protracted and exhausting with many ups and downs and perhaps even limited military engagements on the ground.