Who Are the Libyan Rebels, Redux

Film@11 Note: We are very happy to have Bob Shepherd's opinion back with us, now that he has finished his latest book. A former SAS soldier, Shepherd spent many years in private security throughout the Middle East and Asia. I’ve never made breakfast for myself in Libya (the litmus test for claiming ‘expert’ status on a nation). Indeed, I’ve never visited the country nor interacted with its various tribal groups; hence why I would never be so arrogant as to believe I could manipulate the outcome of a military intervention in Libya to my advantage. If only Downing Street would admit the same.

Even before the first Western missiles rained down on Gaddafi’s military infrastructure, my gut reaction to the no-fly zone operation was that it will compromise British national security. Though my heart goes out to the innocent Libyans who’ve been persecuted and oppressed by Gaddafi’s regime, I am not prepared to endorse airstrikes that could very well invite revenge attacks on British interests and open Libya to exploitation by anti-British, anti-western elements.

The most important question to ask about the no-fly zone is: who exactly is it benefiting? Britain’s coalition government and most of our media keep referring to the anti-Gaddafi rebels as ‘pro-democracy forces’; an image promoted by the Benghazi-based Libyan Interim Transitional National Council. This 31-member rebel group which claims it will guide the country toward free elections has cleverly appointed Mahmoud Jibril, an American educated professor, as its special envoy.

With a western-friendly interlocutor making the rounds, decision makers in the US, Britain and France have grown more confident that there is a democracy-loving, freedom fighting government-in-waiting to take the helm once Gaddafi is gone. But not all members of the opposition are as palatable as Jibril. The Telegraph reported that Libyan rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi admitted to an Italian newspaper that not only had he recruited around 25 al-Qaeda fighters from eastern Libya to fight coalition forces in Iraq but that some of those jihadists are now fighting on the frontlines of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion. This corroborates what we already knew from the so-called Sinjar records: al-Qaeda documents seized by US forces in Iraq which establish conclusively that the epicentre of the Libyan revolt is an al-Qaeda breeding nest.

As a general rule, Islamic fundamentalists reject the western liberal democratic model on the grounds that it gives non-Muslims a voice in government. Perhaps Mr. al-Hasidi has grown more tolerant and is genuinely prepared to embrace universal suffrage. Perhaps not. All I know is that if a post-Gaddafi power struggle ensues, my money won’t be on the political science professor with fond memories of his American university days. It’ll be on the hard-boiled Islamic jihadist.

When I see the amount of attention Washington and Whitehall are lavishing on Jibril and the ITNC, I can’t help but be reminded of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress member who fed the US a boatload of false intelligence on Iraq in order to spur an invasion. A savvy PR opportunist, Chalabi styled himself as the man who could deliver Iraq to a peaceful, democratic, western-leaning future once the evil dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted. It turned out Chalabi had zero influence in post-Saddam Iraq and the country swiftly disintegrated into a sectarian civil war. In the end, not only did the US-led coalition not get the Iraq it had hoped for; its sacrifice of blood and treasure backfired in the worst possible way by enabling Iran to become a major power broker in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Is the West once again placing its trust in a charlatan who can’t deliver? I really hope not. But common sense tells me our political leaders are in no position to judge. Look no further than the botched British secret mission to make contact with Libyan rebels that resulted in the arrest of an MI6 officer and his Special Forces escort team (all of whom were fortunately released unharmed). Sure, you can fob it off as a misunderstanding. But the episode says volumes about Britain’s lack of understanding when it comes to Libya’s internal affairs.

--Bob Shepherd