A few questions on ‘free Libya’

A few questions on ‘free Libya’

Explaining regime change with oil may be “so 2003,” but on Libya and considering the “party line” being fed in the global media, it is compelling to assume the role of the annoying mnemonic.

Libya has nearly 45 billion barrels of oil reserves, 3.4 percent of the world’s known supply. Four-fifths of this top-quality oil is in the vast Sirte Basin. Natural gas reserves are estimated at near 55 trillion cubic feet. Until Col. Moammar Gadhafi was removed from his throne, most of the nation’s oil exports went to Italy – 32 percent of foreign sales as of 2009. Other top destinations were Germany, France, Spain and China.

The possibility of a cancellation of existing energy deals seems small – it will create too many problems with the West, to which the “National Transitional Council” owes its victory. However, exploration and extraction licenses for new fields may show who’s the new boss. According to an Aug. 29 Bloomberg Businessweek story, for example, Italy’s Eni is fearing that French giant Total will get the lion’s share in natural gas fields, given Nicolas Sarkozy’s “obsession” in bombing Tripoli to bits.

Western energy companies could also request a “fine-tuning” of existing contracts. According to the Gadhafi-era deals, 90 percent of oil revenues belong to Libya, while oil firms get 10 percent. This “injustice” will surely be corrected. If need be, the $154 billion of frozen Libya assets worldwide would make a good carrot!

As was the case in Iraq, energy is only one aspect of Operation Libya, and the more complex the story gets, the more the hypocrisy. Have you read The Times of London’s piece on Britain’s contributions to regional democracy? Last week, the newspaper reported that U.K. arms sales to regimes in the Middle East jumped 30 percent during the Arab Spring. Arms sold between February and June amount to 30.5 million pounds, the report says, noting that these include weapons that could be used to suppress domestic protest.

Britain is not alone. According to Der Spiegel, Berlin recently sealed an agreement to sell 200 Leopard 2A7+ tanks to Saudi Arabia for 1.5 billion euros.

Of course, the United States accepts no rival on this front. In October last year, Washington announced a deal to sell up to $60 billion worth of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia over the course of 15-20 years – talk about a long-term commitment!

Between 1999 and 2006, the U.S. averaged $5.8 billion per year in arms sales deals with the Middle East and South Asia, according to armscontrolcenter.org. Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan and Bahrain rank high alongside Saudi Arabia in this list.

I wish this were the end of the annoying contradictions, but it is not. I’d like to learn, for example, how come a listed “terrorist organization,” the Libya Islamic Fighting Group, is at the forefront of bringing freedom and democracy to Libya. Here’s the United Nations list, updated Aug. 22: www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/pdf/AQList.pdf

The group apparently has changed its name to the “Libyan Islamic Movement” and its “emir,” Abdelhakim Belhadj, is today the commander of the Tripoli Military Council. The emir has had quite a journey, from jihad in Afghanistan to a CIA “interrogation” chamber in Thailand. “CIA rendered Abdelhakim Al-Khoweildy [his other name] to Libya on March 9, 2004,” says a Human Rights Watch report. According to press reports, he was kept in prison on death row until March 2010 but was released on the insistence of Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.

It seems that as Col. Gadhafi got a “downgrade” from eccentric statesman to ruthless dictator, Mr. Belhadj advanced from terrorist to freedom fighter!