Gaddafi's Next Move: Sabotage Oil and Sow Chaos?

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Ismail Zitouny / Reuters

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

There's been virtually no reliable information coming out of Tripoli, but a source close to the Gaddafi regime I did manage to get hold of told me the already terrible situation in Libya will get much worse. Among other things, Gaddafi has ordered security services to start sabotaging oil facilities. They will start by blowing up several oil pipelines, cutting off flow to Mediterranean ports. The sabotage, according to the insider, is meant to serve as a message to Libya's rebellious tribes: It's either me or chaos.

Two weeks ago this same man had told me the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt would never touch Libya. Gaddafi, he said, had a tight lock on all of the major tribes, the same ones that have kept him in power for the past 41 years. The man of course turned out to be wrong, and everything he now has to say about Gaddafi's intentions needs to be taken in that context.

The source went on and told me that Gaddafi's desperation has a lot to with the fact that he now can only count on the loyalty of his tribe, the Qadhadhfa. And as for the army, as of Monday he only has the loyalty of approximately 5,000 troops. They are his elite forces, the officers all handpicked. Among them is the unit commanded by his second youngest son Khamis, the 32nd Brigade. (The total strength of the regular Libyan army is 45,000.)

My Libyan source said that Gaddafi has told people around him that he knows he cannot retake Libya with the forces he has. But what he can do is make the rebellious tribes and army officers regret their disloyalty, turning Libya into another Somalia. "I have the money and arms to fight for a long time," Gaddafi reportedly said.

As part of the same plan to turn the tables, Gaddafi ordered the release from prison of the country's Islamic militant prisoners, hoping they will act on their own to sow chaos across Libya. Gaddafi envisages them attacking foreigners and rebellious tribes. Couple that with a shortage of food supplies, and any chance for the rebels to replace Gaddafi will be remote.

My Libyan source said that in order to understand Gaddafi's state of mind we need to understand that he feels deeply betrayed by the media, which he blames for sparking the revolt. In particular, he blames the Qatari TV station al-Jazeera, and is convinced it targeted him for purely political motivations. He also feels betrayed by the West because it has only encouraged the revolt. Over the weekend, he warned several European embassies that if he falls, the consequence will be a flood of African immigration that will "swamp" Europe.

Pressed, my Libyan source acknowledged Gaddafi is a desperate, irrational man, and his threats to turn Libya into another Somalia at this point may be mostly bluffing. On the other hand, if Gaddafi in fact enjoys the loyalty of troops he thinks he has, he very well could take Libya to the brink of civil war, if not over.

Baer, a former Middle East CIA field officer, is's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.