America’s secret plan to arm Libya’s rebels

Obama asks Saudis to airlift weapons into Benghazi

By Robert Fisk 

Desperate to avoid US military involvement in Libya in the event of a prolonged struggle between the Gaddafi regime and its opponents, the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. The Saudi Kingdom, already facing a “day of rage” from its 10 per cent Shia Muslim community on Friday, with a ban on all demonstrations, has so far failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request, although King Abdullah personally loathes the Libyan leader, who tried to assassinate him just over a year ago.

Washington’s request is in line with other US military co-operation with the Saudis. The royal family in Jeddah, which was deeply involved in the Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, gave immediate support to American efforts to arm guerrillas fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in 1980 and later – to America’s chagrin – also funded and armed the Taliban.

But the Saudis remain the only US Arab ally strategically placed and capable of furnishing weapons to the guerrillas of Libya. Their assistance would allow Washington to disclaim any military involvement in the supply chain – even though the arms would be American and paid for by the Saudis.

The Saudis have been told that opponents of Gaddafi need anti-tank rockets and mortars as a first priority to hold off attacks by Gaddafi’s armour, and ground-to-air missiles to shoot down his fighter-bombers.

Supplies could reach Benghazi within 48 hours but they would need to be delivered to air bases in Libya or to Benghazi airport. If the guerrillas can then go on to the offensive and assault Gaddafi’s strongholds in western Libya, the political pressure on America and Nato – not least from Republican members of Congress – to establish a no-fly zone would be reduced.

US military planners have already made it clear that a zone of this kind would necessitate US air attacks on Libya’s functioning, if seriously depleted, anti-aircraft missile bases, thus bringing Washington directly into the war on the side of Gaddafi’s opponents.

For several days now, US Awacs surveillance aircraft have been flying around Libya, making constant contact with Malta air traffic control and requesting details of Libyan flight patterns, including journeys made in the past 48 hours by Gaddafi’s private jet which flew to Jordan and back to Libya just before the weekend.

Officially, Nato will only describe the presence of American Awacs planes as part of its post-9/11 Operation Active Endeavour, which has broad reach to undertake aerial counter-terrorism measures in the Middle East region.

The data from the Awacs is streamed to all Nato countries under the mission’s existing mandate. Now that Gaddafi has been reinstated as a super-terrorist in the West’s lexicon, however, the Nato mission can easily be used to search for targets of opportunity in Libya if active military operations are undertaken.

Al Jazeera English television channel last night broadcast recordings made by American aircraft to Maltese air traffic control, requesting information about Libyan flights, especially that of Gaddafi’s jet.

An American Awacs aircraft, tail number LX-N90442 could be heard contacting the Malta control tower on Saturday for information about a Libyan Dassault-Falcon 900 jet 5A-DCN on its way from Amman to Mitiga, Gaddafi’s own VIP airport.

Nato Awacs 07 is heard to say: “Do you have information on an aircraft with the Squawk 2017 position about 85 miles east of our [sic]?”

Malta air traffic control replies: “Seven, that sounds to be Falcon 900- at flight level 340, with a destination Mitiga, according to flight plan.”

But Saudi Arabia is already facing dangers from a co-ordinated day of protest by its own Shia Muslim citizens who, emboldened by the Shia uprising in the neighbouring island of Bahrain, have called for street protests against the ruling family of al-Saud on Friday.

After pouring troops and security police into the province of Qatif last week, the Saudis announced a nationwide ban on all public demonstrations.

Shia organisers claim that up to 20,000 protesters plan to demonstrate with women in the front rows to prevent the Saudi army from opening fire.

If the Saudi government accedes to America’s request to send guns and missiles to Libyan rebels, however, it would be almost impossible for President Barack Obama to condemn the kingdom for any violence against the Shias of the north-east provinces.

Thus has the Arab awakening, the demand for democracy in North Africa, the Shia revolt and the rising against Gaddafi become entangled in the space of just a few hours with US military priorities in the region.

(Robert Frisk is a world renowned writer and political analyst.He is Middle East Corrospondent of The Independent , UK)
NOTE:This is a cross post from The Independent, UK.
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Comments

  • Masud  On March 7, 2011 at 8:33 am

    The mobs in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have not raised any anti American slogan. In Egypt, the main anti US opposition party, Ikhwan ul Muslimin was kept out of the struggle. It wanted to join in by saying that they will not contest the next elections but were still not allowed. Their leaders used mosques for anti Mubarak speeches. I think the Americans realized that Mubarak had outlived his utility and his son was not up to the mark so this was the only way out. In Yemen and Bahrain also the mobs are not anti American. It reminds me of PNA agitation against Bhutto.

    Masud

  • Khurshid Khan  On March 7, 2011 at 8:34 am

    The US administration is not keeping any secret of the fact to help the uprising in “anyway required” by the protestors. Sen. John Kerry has called for no fly zone administration and President Obama has said in no uncertain terms that Gadaffi has to leave.
    So, it is only a matter of detail how to implement the decision…..this is not some top secret project. I think Gaddafi must go, for what he has done to his people over the years and all dictators and depots and Kings and exploiters must leave and listen to their people.

    • SQ  On March 7, 2011 at 8:35 am

      I wonder if you came across this: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MC03Ak03.html.
      SQ

      • Khurshid Khan  On March 7, 2011 at 8:35 am

        Sir, I have read this article and it is an interesting debate, but having lived in Libya for some time, I must confirm a society living in a big jail since 1969. The level of mistrust and insecurity among ordinary Libyans was un-believable. The lavish life style of the Gaddafi clan and associates had no parallel. No constitution, no law, no human rights and no moral values………I dare say anything would be better for Libyans then Gaddafism.

  • Tasneem Hassan  On March 7, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Divided Arabs shall play with the fate of ARABIA and damage the left over reputation as most dumb nation or group of tribes in the whole world history. Arabs are least concerned about development of society or economy of poor people. They are found greedy, cunning and exploiters. Poor nations are serving these tribal lords. Poor nations are treated as third grade human beings.

  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On March 7, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Why does America interfere in the affairs of the Arabs/Muslims? Yes, perhaps Ghaddafi is a tyrant, a dictator, but USA loves to support autocratic rulers. Why the change of heart now? American motives are to secure oil, fight the war for Israel and now, find grounds and allies to attack Iran. And the more internal rebellions in the Muslim world the better the Israelis would feel. USA cannot remain the big ‘Gunda’ of the world. Others are becoming stronger by the day and USA will be challenged in all its nefarious misdeeds. So let the Americans be warned.

  • Naseem Hassan  On March 8, 2011 at 1:12 am

    American army does not want to take over more responsibilities with dwindling resources. The US need to understand that even with their help to the rebels their image will not improve in the Arab masses.

  • TMH  On March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Because they will be unable to justify the returning body bags, in case they
    open up a new front. Therefore, the rebels will do their dirty job for free.
    TMH.

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