Geopolitics

Benghazi: Surveying Remains Of Decimated Gaddafi Forces

Rebel fighters in Benghazi thank France and allies for their military intervention, say bombing barrage arrived just in time.

A B-2 stealth bomber is readied for Allied assault on Libya over the weekend.  (USAF)
A B-2 stealth bomber is readied for Allied assault on Libya over the weekend. (USAF)
Adrien Jaulmes

BENGHAZI - The bombs fell with devilish precision. Two Sunday morning air raids by the international coalition destroyed several dozen of Muammar Gaddafi's tanks, which were gathered at the southern entrance of Benghazi. Their advance toward the rebel capital was stopped in its tracks. Loyalist survivors took to their heels, retreating hurriedly to the south.

Blackened T-72 heavy tank carcasses, multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled guns and armored vehicles dotted the four-lane highway near the city. Some tanks look as if they have been dismembered by an unknown force, their turrets furiously torn apart and thrown dozens of meters away. Others, abandoned by their crews, are lying about like prehistoric animals wiped out by a cataclysm from above. Smoldering black steel remains are bleeding shiny drops of molten aluminum on the tarmac. From time to time, ammunition explodes with blinding flashes of light. The road is littered with pieces of charred metal and debris from the withdrawal. There is a smell of burned tires and gasoline in the air, the smell of defeat.

Dozens of charred or abandoned vehicles are scattered along a 50 kilometer-long trail south of Benghazi. Near the village of Lajhar, a tank burning on the trailer of a tank carrier suddenly explodes into a big ball of orange flames and black smoke.

Three days ago, Gaddafi's soldiers were about to launch the final assault on the rebel capital. They were obviously taken aback by the allied war planes and their bombs: cooking utensils are scattered everywhere, skinned sheep carcasses lie between vehicles, suggesting loyalists were preparing to have breakfast before launching their attack. The bodies of dozens of these unfortunate soldiers are spread around their vehicles. Some of the corpses are charred, twisted and blackened. Others have been shredded beyond recognition. Sifting through the rubble, one stumbles on scattered body parts: a leg in a shoe here, a severed arm there.

"The French planes struck twice, the first time at around 6:30 a.m., the second time at around 10:30 a.m.," says Colonel Souleymane Al Qaddiqui, a Libyan army officer turned rebel. "Gaddafi's soldiers dispersed, some of them fleeing on foot, others inside civilian vehicles. They took the road to Ajdabiya. Now we'll be able to move forward."

Nobody was able to see the war planes, which were flying at very high altitudes, or the cruise missiles, which reached their targets with impressive precision. Yet rebels are convinced the planes were French, and they are more than willing to express their gratitude to France for its support at a time when all seemed lost. "Sarkozy, bravo!" rebel fighters shout from their pickups. Curious civilians are gathering around the destroyed vehicles. Some have no qualms about plundering the vans left behind by Gaddafi's soldiers.

The allied air assault came just in time. Gaddafi's forces were getting closer to their target with every passing hour. Over the previous two weeks they had advanced hundreds of kilometers along the Gulf of Sidra. Along the way they seized control of the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega. Last week they took the strategic town of Ajdamiya, which fell in a few hours. The dictator's army then entered the suburbs of Benghazi. Over the weekend they were ready to launch the final assault against the almost defenceless rebel city, to drown the Libyan revolution in blood.

The final assault began on Saturday, when Katyusha rockets began targeting several parts of the city. Dozens of people were killed or injured and inhabitants started pouring towards the cities of northern Cyrenaica, the region of east Libya. The approval by the UN of a Libyan no-fly zone galvanized rebel fighters and allowed them to reorganize. In Tabalinu Hayet, a southern Benghazi suburb, they managed to stop Gaddafi's forces near the city's highway interchanges, and under the eucalyptus trees lining the road near Gamfuda. On Saturday night, the streets of Benghazi were cut off by hurriedly erected barricades.

It is impossible to say, however, how long rebel Benghazi would have been able to resist the superior firepower of the forces loyal to the dictator. "We had managed to stop them, but we then had to retreat. Until the planes arrived, that is," says Lajhar, a fighter who voluntarily joined the revolutionary militia fighting to defend Benghazi.

"They shoot at anyone in front of them"

The allied air strikes turned the tables in just a matter of hours. After a disorderly withdrawal, Gaddafi's troops were heading Sunday toward southern Libya. Late in the afternoon, they were seen by revolutionaries near the villages of al-Magroun and Sultan, halfway between Benghazi and Ajdamiya. "They shoot at anything in front of them," rebel fighters say. By dusk, residents of Ajdamiya (situated some 160 kilometers south of Benghazi) were saying that the loyalists had left the city and were heading towards western Libya and towards Gaddafi's home region of Sirte, where the embattled ruler still counts on a large number of supporters.

The movement across the coastal road has once again resumed, this time in the opposite direction, towards Western Libya and the Gulf of Sidra. Revolutionary forces have already started to activate again, even if they still lack real organization. They are preparing to resume their advance southward. Loyalist forces are now said to be rapidly retreating. But in a landscape hopelessly flat and barren, Gaddafi's armored vehicles are easy targets for the coalition's cruise missiles. The outcome still remains uncertain, a struggle based more on will than on military power, but the allied international intervention may have changed the course of the Libyan revolution.

Read the original article in French.

Photo credit - (USAF)

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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