The Arab revolts have begotten a surprising offspring. A decade after 9/11, Western leaders – US President Barack Obama, joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan – are adjusting with astonishing facility to men hunted in the past as Al Qaeda operatives as well as radical Salafi and Wahhabi Islamists moving into the newly vacant presidential palaces.
The newcomers are a far cry from the liberal, transformational pro-democracy forces who spoke so eloquently to the Western media while sweeping the autocratic rulers out of power. They have since been elbowed out of the way by the "new" Islamists, introduced as "ex-al Qaeda converted to democracy." These "moderate" Muslims promise to establish democratic regimes in their countries while also ruling "according to Sharia law."
The inherent contradiction between the values of democracy and the imperatives of Sharia appear to offer their Western godfathers no disincentive. They are perfectly reconciled to the new facts of life. After all it is the only way for Western powers to hold on to strategic positions of influence in the Middle East and control its oil.
The Islamist fist in the NTC's glove
The NATO governments involved in Libya were not bowled over by the emergence of the new Islamic ruling class. They left the door open. When the Western powers jumped in with military support for the revolt against Muammar Qaddafi's rule in March 2011, they ignored the presence of the radical core-element fighting in the Libyan rebel Transitional National Council, namely, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group-LIFG closely allied with al Qaeda.
After leading the conquest of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, on Aug. 21, British, French, Qatari and Jordanian special forces handed the city directly over to Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, 45, head of the LIFG and a former Al Qaeda operative.
On Sept. 1, NTC head Mahmoud Jibril appeared before Friends of Libya meeting in Paris as the respectable façade of the Libyan rebel movement. Meanwhile, back in Tripoli, high-ranking Western intelligence officers from the CIA, MI6, and France’s DGSE foreign intelligence service were busy repackaging Belhaj for world consumption as the overall leader of the revolt which ousted Qaddafi.
Then, on Sept. 5, intelligence documents "found" at the Libyan security agency building in Tripoli provided details of the close cooperation in the war on al Qaeda the countries facing terror threat maintained with Qaddafi's intelligence.
The CIA and MI6 won Qaddafi's cooperation in apprehending and jailing suspected terrorists, among them members of the Libyan rebel movement helped by the United States and NATO to force that same ruler from power.
"Rendition" documents consolidate radical Islamist in the Libyan saddle
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources monitoring the situation in Tripoli from up close confirm that finding this trove was not fortuitous. Even Wikileaks, much less media reporters or Human Rights activists, rarely stumble upon this sort of information by chance.
Two documents from March 2004 in particular single out the case of Tripoli's new commander.
After Washington and London wrangled for a while about the relative culpability of their undercover agencies, one key document from 2004 revealed that after British intelligence officers provided information on his movements, Abdel Hakim Belhaj was put on a CIA “rendition” flight to Tripoli, where he said he was repeatedly tortured.
Recorded too is American correspondence with Libyan officials for arranging Belhaj's rendition.
Today, the ex-Al Qaeda fighter argues he has grounds for demanding apologies from the US and Britain for handing him over to Qaddafi. And our Washington and London sources say he is likely to get what he wants – although not immediately. The "incriminating" documents were allowed to see the light of day to create this very situation, but Washington and London will hold this gesture back depending on how well Belhaj cooperates with Western interests.
Therefore, the release of the incriminating "rendition" evidence had six objects:
1. To help build a solid power base for the "reformed" Belhaj to rule under the auspices of the US, Britain, France and Qatar.
Belhaj in power vindicates Obama's dialogue-with-radicals doctrine
2. To pave the way for additional radical Islamic leaders to join Belhaj’s “pro-Western” camp. When he is seen to be in control of power and the weapons and funds flowing into post-Qaddafi Libya, they will prefer to join rather than fight him – at least in the first precarious stages of government-building.
3. To vindicate President Obama's stubborn six-year campaign against the controversial rendition policy pursued by President George W. Bush, his Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA.
It will also be useful fodder in his campaign for reelection against the Republicans and give him a chance to defend his fundamental belief that Islamic terror must not be fought by force of arms, as did his predecessors, but by continuous dialogue. In the end, he believes, even the most radical Muslims will be won over to the path of moderation and accept some form of cooperation and coexistence with the West.
4. The “rendition” document also serves Cameron on similar grounds.
On the one hand, he is using it as a stick for beating his political foe, the opposition Labor party, and showing the last two Labor prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, to have been overly “credulous” in putting Qaddafi's enemies in his power, knowing they would be tortured.
Top Labor ex-ministers, such as Jack Straw who was then foreign secretary, made haste to deny knowledge of the Belhaj episode and pointed an accusing figure at the MI6 spy agency. “No foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing," he said.
No sooner had he spoken when MI6 came back with a leaked claim of ministerial authorization for its action in rendering a Libyan dissident into the hands of Muammar Qaddafi.
The prime minister is brandishing the Tripoli intelligence archive to demonstrate the contrast between his predecessors, who groveled to the Libyan ruler and himself, who toppled him and is building a bridge to moderate Islam that will strengthen Britain’s hand on Libyan oil.
Libya as the model for transition to moderate Muslim rule in Arab capitals
5. If this bridge-building strategy works in Libya, the US and Britain will use it as a model for promoting "moderate" Islamic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other Arab Spring or Arab Revolt arenas in the coming months. American and British intelligence updates predict several Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, falling prey to such uprisings, as well as Algeria, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
6. A very important move on this chessboard is the repositioning of the Kurdish pawn – as shall be seen in a separate item in this issue – which has incidentally served to rescue Syrian President Bashar Assad from near-certain undoing.
As the Saudis and the Persian Gulf emirates strive to build a pro-Sunni Muslim alignment to combat Shiite Iran and its nuclear program, the US is leading Western powers into shaping a far more inclusive Middle East formation as a bridge between the rival Muslim denominations and an attraction for the Shiite powers too.