By: Ahmed Mesbah
Ben Ghalbon: Hefter is effectively on the terrorists list
The chaotic conditions in Libya and the consequent effect on the flow of illegal immigrants to Europe in addition to the unchecked continuous founding of the Islamic State (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) terrorist groups in the country, would be more than convincing reasons for a much more pro-active role for the EU in resolving the Libyan crisis. The flow of desperate illegal immigrants from the shores of Libya to southern European coastline is turning into a serious security matter as well as an unacceptable human tragedy where masses of desperate people including children and infants perish when flimsy over crowded boats frequently capsize in the Mediterranean.
Illegal immigrants will one day (if not already happened) include ISIL members with missions in European cities. It is inconceivable that these possibilities have not been considered by the EU decision and policy makers. Yet, while we see expression of concern about the situation in Libya and the recent increase in surveillance in the Mediterranean to detect immigrant boats, it is hard to see how these measures alone will challenge the immediate fundamental problems on the ground. Fundamental matters such as improving the security infrastructures in Libya, improving border security, building a better dialogue with the Libyan authorities and enabling an effective strategy to face the threat of ISIL are in need of urgent attention. This obvious conclusion will not have been missed by EU decision makers. Delays in resolving the internal disputes and disarray in fighting ISIL can only provide more opportunities for terrorist groups to spread and enforce their positions to carry out more atrocities not only in Libya but also in accessible areas.
The recent massacre in Sousa (Tunisia) could not have happened without terrorist groups present in next door Libya.
This essentially means that the EU and North African countries now have a shared interest in putting their joint weight to advance proper and urgent resolutions to the complex Libyan case. At present, we see frequent expression of concern but not a serious drive to take alternative effective routes to the stumbling UN-led initiatives. There are obvious questions that need answers. For example the troubled rapport between Europe and the Libyan authorities is crippling all possibilities of effective cooperation at a time when one would expect straight forward collaboration and much higher levels of help in dealing with the illegal immigration issue and dangers from ISIL. The absence of a ground of understanding between Libyan authorities and EU countries is damaging to the interests of both parties and it is a highly time-sensitive issue which is allowing matters to worsen rapidly.
In a recent get together with my long-time friend Mr Mohammed Ben Ghalbon, the Chairman of the Libyan Constitutional Union, I put the above questions to him to see his views on the problem of the troubled EU-Libyan relationship. I asked Ben Ghalbon what were the real reasons in his view behind the reluctance of the EU countries to change their position from passive observers to active participants in resolving the Libyan political case and in dealing with other issues of mutual interests and whether he thought the expression of concern by the EU regarding the spread of ISIL in Libya matched the response from individual European countries and from the EU commission.
Ben Ghalbon is a veteran of Libyan politics and established the Libyan Constitutional Union in 1981 to oppose the Gaddafi regime. He has written many landmark pieces on Libyan politics and accurately predicted many of the course changing developments long before they happened. His insight in Libyan political and societal trends has been refreshingly unique and revealing.
Mr Ben Ghalbon decided to move out of the contemporary Libyan political arena the day the National Transitional Council abandoned our 1951 Constitution and announced the interim constitutional declaration in August 2011. Ben Ghalbon was certain then that the moving away from the 1951 constitution and the declaration by the NTC was to lead the country to endless series of disasters with grave consequences. He remained uninvolved since because he refuses to be part of cohorts irresponsibly steering the country into chaos and certain anarchy. Sadly most if not all of his fears are materialising.
Here is the response by Mr Ben Ghalbon to the above questions:
The Libyan elected parliament appointed General Hefter as the head of the army thinking that the army ranks (remnants of Gaddafi’s army) will respect Hefter’s high rank and fall into a disciplined national army. The parliamentary leaders who made this contentious appointment were unable to see the heavy baggage Hefter carries in the eyes of the international community. Hefter is effectively on the terrorists list by the Libyan society and also by the Chadian nation due to the atrocious war he led in Chad on behalf of Gaddafi. Thousands of Libyan boys and Chadian soldiers perished in that futile war. This is a legacy of Hefter’s contribution to the Gaddafi regime that is still vivid in the minds of all Libyans and Chadians. Hefter’s appointment by the Libyan authorities (leaders of parliament) as the head of the national army dismissed the concerns of the Libyans, but also gravely failed to see that Hefter is an untouchable toxic individual in the eyes of the outside world. Hefter has no credentials to qualify him for such a high profile position. The appointment is especially wearisome because the Libyan authorities are fighting on many controversial fronts and the questions of acceptability and credibility are always present. Hefter’s CV as a soldier does not make a happy reading. The military humiliation in Chad in a senseless war cannot be forgotten. But the failed soldier does have a history of a particular category since he was taken prisoner in Chad. He was plucked out of Chadian jails by the CIA and taken to be stationed in Virginia till 2011. His contacts in the CIA would have been a useful card in securing a position in the anti-Gaddafi military ranks after Feb 2011 despite his old past. The CIA contacts were the clincher credentials that made Hefter irresistible to the parliamentary leaders. Hefter must have demonstrated to the Libyan parliamentarians his access to CIA officers and the tacit support he enjoyed from the agency. On the other side of the equation, the American operatives would certainly have invented opportunities in meetings and informal chats with the Libyan parliamentary leaders to register their implicit (but definite) approval of Hefter. To the Libyan leadership, approval by the CIA of their most senior army officer is tantamount to being handed a voucher to permanent power in the country and a certain victory over their rivals The parading of Hefter on the international stage a few months ago by facilitating state visits to Jordan and UAE perhaps lacked subtlety but it did convey the message from the CIA to the unquestioning reliable allies in the area: “this man is ours”. Broadcasting implicit but assertive endorsement of “friendly” Libyan persons and parties is an established old tradition in the CIA’s policy for Libya. In the 1980s they went far in making their allies in the Arab World clearly understand their support of a particular Libyan opposition party. The opposite was also practiced in a crusade-like action to exclude from the arena other opposition groups the CIA disapproved of. The carefully planned manipulation and preparations by the CIA throughout the period up to 2011 intended to prepare human resources and opportunity options to install “friendly” Libyan faces into positions of power and exclude “unhelpful” parties.
The real motive behind the CIA’s tacit support of Hefter’s appointment was to lure the Libyan government into a perfect trap. While making the Libyan leaders understand that Hefter has their support, the CIA knew full well that the international community (especially the Europeans) and the UN Security Council cannot be seen to be arming an army headed by an alleged “terrorist” and a man of this colourful history. This is a no brainer. But the Libyan officials for various reasons could not see this. All they were led to see was the CIA’s endorsement of Hefter. The Libyans have repeatedly vigorously defended the decision. The excessive decorations of the old soldier meant to acclaim the appointment officially and publicly. The commitment by the government to Hefter has gone over the top in so many respects. They will find it very difficult to retreat from this position. The Libyan authorities were effectively steered into a trap with serious consequences.
The communications between the Europeans and the Libyan government representatives is probably fraught with compound misunderstandings which developed into problems that stopped vital cooperation essential for resolving mutually important and time-sensitive matters. For example the Europeans cannot believe that the Libyans are not aware of the burden of toxic Hefter. They may think that the Libyans appointed Hefter at this high profile position was deliberately made in defiance. The Europeans are likely to be thinking that the insistence of the Libyan government on keeping Hefter in his position is merely due to pointless defiance and intransigence. On the other hand, the Libyans might be wondering why the (imperialist) Europeans refuse to supply them with arms and help them deal with matters of mutual importance.
The inability of the Libyan officials to see Hefter as a problem is symptomatic of the legacy after 42-years of Gaddadism. The Libyans have been left with a deep lack of insight politically and to some degree socially. This inability to distinguish between appropriate and otherwise and the incompetence to overcome personal inclinations in favour of the nation’s needs are tragically prevalent among the vast majority of decision makers in power. This legacy is not just damaging to the prospects of ever having a pragmatic governing system in the country, it also provides a fertile ground for outside meddling in the country’s affairs. There is a common culture of un-understanding of the issues. It is as if rationality has given way to irrationality in an epidemic sort of way.
Ben Ghalbon firmly believes that the EU representatives have to take the above personal “difficulties” into account when talking to the Libyan officials. The fine line between advising and interfering is often missed by the Libyans. The EU officials should be mindful of being “firm” but “sensitive” at the same time in their dialogue. Some sort of partnership is required to help the Libyan government reduce the flow of potential African illegal immigrants at several points along the route including upstream in the Southern borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger.An effective partnership can only be built if the trouble rapport is radically improved.
Defeating ISIL can only be achieved if the EU and the Libyan government become “one party” in purpose and free of the CIA shackles which have so much muddied the waters in all aspects of the Libyan case. Enabling (aiding) the Libyan authorities to defeat ISIL, does not just require weapons; it also requires building basic security infrastructure, satellite surveillance capabilities, intelligence and planning. The Libyan authorities have none of these necessities and what little they have is completely corrupt. The EU decision makers must now see that leaving the Libyan case to the CIA is no longer an option and have to realise that the “perfect trap” will remain in place for as long as it can last. The dangers from illegal immigration and from Islamic State (and combined) are risks to the Libyans and Europeans. Evidently, neither is a priority to anyone else.
To the question regarding the wholly destructive CIA policy for Libya in its extremely vulnerable phases in post-Gaddafi era and the obvious endless lurching from one disaster to another, Ben Ghalbon said a chaotic and destroyed Libya as a state will offer the CIA several valuable bargaining chips to gain long lasting influence and dominance in the area. This is a “project Libya” that has been in the making by the CIA for years. At present the country is effectively a failed state, divided by warring authorities, powerless to fight terrorist groups, the dysfunctional infrastructure from Gaddafi has disintegrated, the police force and the national army exist only in name and generally conditions are worsening by the day. By the help of many “reliable friends” among the cohorts in power, the CIA will hold the country in this deteriorating condition until it becomes an accepted fact (regionally and internationally) that there is no return and radical measures will no longer appear objectionable. The country will be in such a dreadful condition that drastic damage control measures for the country might even become desirable. This point is being achieved by allowing several factors to operate including allowing terrorist groups to control more territories, armed militia to become bolder in exercising power, conflicts between factions become more diffuse and irresolvable. However, the most important tool of all will be to continue to enable more “reliable friends” to reach power and decision making positions. This is certain to emphasise the reality that the country is not just wrecked; it is also politically hopeless for a long time.
The opportunities to exploit the country’s geographic position and its wealth will be easier to realise if the country continues to dismantle as a state and becomes separated regions under the control of local weak authorities unable to defend their areas and continuously under threat from neighbours. The oil reserves are a huge asset that will be ripe for exploitation by the CIA whether it is under the control of regional weak authorities or ISIL. Oil from Libyan ports cannot be exported or sold in the international market without American consent. Areas with oil reserves and mineral ores in the Southern West regions along the border with Algeria will be valuable bargaining chips for securing concessions and support by CIA from Algeria to secure bigger international influence both in the region and farther a field. Blatant land annexation cannot be justified under any circumstance but virtual occupation and administration by Algerian authorities “temporarily” under the pretext of security concerns will be sufficient to control a territory rich in oil reserves. This will be hard to resist by Algeria. The control of the oil-rich territory will naturally be ostensibly temporarily to help Libya recover from chaos and restore its state security infrastructure. The period of Libyan recovery (in the hands of the CIA) can be stretched for years and in the meantime Libyan oil is bumped into Algerian storage tanks.
The Eastern regions (Cyrenaica) will be the bargaining chip for Egyptian support to CIA adventures in the region and further a field. Egypt is bursting at the seams with exploding numbers in the population and decreasing resources to feed and manage these masses of jobless people. The idea of repatriation of several millions of Egyptians of Libyan origin back to Cyrenaica will be irresistible to Egyptian authorities. Some of these significant numbers (famous tribes) fled famine to Egypt, but the majority were in fact driven out from their homeland by other Cyrenaica tribes after losing civil wars over a century ago. The tribes now living in Western regions of Egypt still maintain many Libyan traditions and dream of going back “home” one day. In order to relief the population and economic pressures, there will be nothing the Egyptians will not do for the CIA, when given the opportunity to shed a few millions of people into Cyrenaica. The Cyrenaica authorities, whatever shape they will be in at the time, will be weak and effectively separated from the rest of the country and will have little say in the matter. This repatriation of several million to the Eastern parts of Libya will effectively evolve control of this oil-rich region to Egyptian authorities. The numbers and technical skills of the repatriated masses will dwarf the locals into insignificance. The region will be administered by Libyans with Egyptians hearts and ears firmly tuned to officials in Cairo. Cyrenaica will appear much as it had been except that it has much improved security (a welcomed feature by international institutions) and effectively a semi-detached province of Egypt. Many of the repatriated population will be in charge of infrastructure, economy and security and slowly the present border with Egypt will become a mere line on the map. One of the tragic aspects of this part of the CIA policy for Libya is that, most if not all of the international power centres will “welcome” the economic relief for Egypt because it is seen now as “a problem” without a solution.
The spread of Islamic terrorist groups in Libya, particularly ISIL, has made the “project Libya” an easier objective to realise. The ISIL phenomenon together with the internal wars between authorities in the East and West, have made the project realisable with relative ease. The many Libyan “helpful” friends of the CIA in their complete unawareness of a treacherous scheme (or willingness to go along regardless) are the critical delivery vehicles of the project. The project Libya cannot be achieved without the many willing folks.
The CIA plan is not politics to enrich a favourite culture in a developing country; it is a long standing strategy to deliberately degrade a country in order to trade its assets for international leverage. A manual may include: destabilise, destroy infrastructure, encourage divisive policies and tribal zeal, demote values of national accord, eliminate links to unity and steer the country toward partitioning. Stealth permitting of armed militia to flourish and design of power vacuum for terrorist groups to become ambitious will create conditions in the country where a new reality becomes a tolerated prospect and gradually develops into an only solution that is in the best interest of the country and regional peace.
The country will be degraded (undone as a state) to strip its assets and trade them for supremacy while the world watches unaware. This is the model of project Libya, an asset stripping project drawn by the boys in Langley offices. The stakes for the CIA are unimaginably high. It has invested in this project since late 60s and they are in no doubt that they can achieve their objective. Libya’s assets are enormous and the country is in the hands of easily deceived leadership. The country is sparsely populated and it is in the right place. The CIA is confident that it can exploit chunks of Libya as tradable assets to secure loyalty from significant regional players for years to come to support American policies and CIA adventures locally and around the world. It will take relentless pressure and a string of miracles to dissuade the CIA from carrying on with this policy. This is if anyone with persuading powers is prepared to look beyond the cover and recognise the perils of the above analysis. The cover for the scheme is breathtakingly simple; no one would believe that the CIA would engineer such a devastating policy for Libya. It is too fantastic. And to the casual observer: why? The assumption by the CIA is that no one is likely to see through the series of events apparently the result of policies by Libyans in charge or at least no one will realise the truth until it is too late to reverse the process. In any case, if all goes according to plan and with the help of Libyan friends, the country might not look all that different from the average third world state unable to overcome the perils and complexities of modern fundamentalism and natives battling for power.
Encounters with American officials over a period of time several years ago left Ben Ghalbon in no doubt that the CIA plans for Libya had been set to undo the country years earlier, but the plans were not necessarily shared with the White House or with The US Department of State. He suspects that politicians in either institution would find it difficult to approve such plans. For one reason, the shocking plans are impossible to justify to a discerning public. CIA games and adventures in Libya if fully exposed would be found to be in breach of international laws and conventions, and most certainly would not in line with the declared US policies. However, the CIA is quite rightly confident that when the plan is completed and the plum fruits are delivered, politicians of any colour will find it irresistible to accept a new reality.
No one knows what greater disasters will ensue following the degradation of Libya into chaotic regions ready to trade off. The flourishing of ISIL and trade in illegal immigration to Europe are examples of unexpected consequences of deteriorated Libya. It remains to be seen when the European countries will recognize the true intentions of CIA policy for Libya and whether that will be sufficiently strong cause to change their present submission to the American dominance to independent action.
In addition to acknowledging the true intentions behind the American exclusive dominance in the Libyan case and the dismissal of real and present security risks to Europe from a dismantled Libya, the Europeans will have to adopt a wholly independent new approach to the case in which the goals are redefined and a better understanding with the Libyan authorities is carved.