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It's funny: some of the places most unsuitable for human habitation are among the longest-habitated.  Libya's turned out to be one of those – a place that's been lived in since we Homos were still bearing maiden names like ergaster, and bearing signs of cultural development as pre-historical as those of Ancient Afghanistan.  

Tonight, this 4-part look at a land where changes in the political landscape reflect those of its deserts – sometimes slow, relentless, and inevitable; sometimes sandstorm-quick and unpredictable – comes to a conclusion.  Join me, if you will, in the Cave of the Moonbat, for a bombing run down Morning in America lane – and a story that includes such rich plot elements as the discovery of oil, a coup d'etat, and a sunglasses-wearing strongman – before ending with a look at NATO's take on the 100-year anniversary of the very first time Libya (or another other country) was bombed from an airplane.

Historiorant:  Like all the Libya series, this diary goes out to Meteor Blades and his family.  Thanks for all you've done for this community – and for this Moonbat!

Earlier pieces to this great puzzle we call Libya:

And the obligatory map, now updated to the tribal-line-crossing political borders drawn up by Gaddafi's government from that old-school one referenced in the previous diaries – the one that included the three traditional regions of Tripolitania (in the west), Cyrenaica (east), and the Fezzan (desert south).

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King Idris

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn December 24, 1951 (a date which, for all but a handful of Libyans, was the eve of nothing more than a regular ole' Tuesday), Libya became the first country to gain its independence through, and be fully decolonized by, the United Nations.  Sheikh Idris I, leader of the Sanusi Order, emir of Cyrenaica, and emir-in-exile of Tripolitania, was named the new country's heredity monarch under a constitutional system – though his turned out to be one of those governments that was heavier on the "monarchy" part than it was on the "constitution."  After the country's first-ever elections in February, 1952, for example, he abolished political parties and sent prominent dissidents into exile, and throughout his reign he continually favored old-school tribal autonomy over any real sense of nationhood.  He even split his time between two capitols – Benghazi in his Sansussi-dominated power base of Cyrenaica, and Tripoli, which was more internationally recognized but was a place the king never did feel very comfortable.

Idris was 62 years old when he assumed the throne, and in those dark, Viagra-less days faced a further problem: he had never sired a male heir.  He originally designated his 60-year-old brother his successor, but when the younger man preceded him to the grave, Idris named his nephew, Hasan ar Rida, the new crown prince. Though not really of major importance right now, Hasan's status as heir will play a part in Muammar Gaddafi's rise to power, when the king's health starts to fail in the late 1960s.

Idris had warm diplomatic relations with Britain and the United States, which extended into strategic interests during the Cold War.  Libyan officers (including a young Gaddafi) received advanced training at Britain's Army Staff College, and the United States Air Force received the rights to base strategic bombers, refueling aircraft, and, later, US Air Forces Europe pilots (on training missions to the massive gunnery ranges located in the deep desert, where the really big spice worms are) at Wheelus Air Base, 7 miles east of Tripoli.

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Wheelus AFB                                                                 Giant Spice Worm

Weird Historical Sidenote:  Okay, so there aren't any giant spice worms in Libya, but that's not to say you don't find weird stuff out in the desert.  In 1958, some British geologists located the wreckage of an American bomber, the Lady be Good, which had crashed in the sand dunes about 400 miles south of Benghazi in 1943.  By 1960, researchers had found the bodies of 8 of the 9 crewmen – one was near the plane, but seven others had survived about a week longer than could have been anticipated and had hoofed it as far as 109 miles north before finally succumbing to the inevitable.

The cursed plane wasn't finished with the USAF just yet, however.  Some of the old B-24's parts were still serviceable and were installed in other aircraft, which then reportedly ran into weird mechanical problems of their own.  A C-54 in which was installed a few autosyn transmitters once had to throw cargo overboard to land safely, and a C-47 that got one of the bomber's radio receivers had to ditch in the Mediterranean.  Most tragically, a U.S. Army "Otter" got an armrest from the wreckage of the old Liberator, then crashed into the Gulf of Sidra with a loss of all hands.  That particular crash produced very little detritus, but of the few articles that washed up on shore...was the armrest.

Of Oil and Arab Nationalists

But the fates of American WWII fliers weren't the only secrets hidden in the sands of Libya: In 1959, Esso geologists discovered petroleum deposits at Zaltan in Cyrenaica.  Overnight, cash began to flow into what had been one of the world's poorest nations; by 1963, King Idris had so much extra booty that he launched a five-year development plan centered around agriculture (which was largely being abandoned as everyone headed off to the oil fields).  He also wearied of working under a federalist system, and together with a parliament even more compliant than that in Wisconsin (gasp), abolished the federal experiment and rewrote the constitution to reflect a unitary state.  This is also the point at which the three traditional regions disappeared as political entities from maps of Libya.

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Idris' reign took place against a backdrop of tumultuous inter-Arab politics and disunited antagonism toward Israel.  Idris himself had become immersed during the 1956 Suez Crisis, when he backed the United States and Britain (and, by extension, France and Israel) in their failed effort to de-nationalize the recently-appropriated Canal.  Egypt's leader, Gamel Abdel Nasser, an army officer who had taken power in a nearly bloodless coup four years before, emerged the apparent victor – and in so doing inspired young officers in armies throughout the Arab world to think about seizing power from the imperialist-friendly old guard.

In the Fezzan, a kid from a peasant family living in the region of Sirte began attending the Sebha Preparatory School, even as war was erupting in the Sinai.  Enamored of Nasser's dream of pan-Arab nationalism, Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi became politically active, and spent his formative years thinking long and hard about what an Arab state in the modern world should look like:

Qadhafi formed the essential elements of his political philosophy and his world view as a schoolboy. His education was entirely Arabic and strongly Islamic, much of it under Egyptian teachers. From this education and his desert background, Qadhafi derived his devoutness and his austere, even puritanical, code of personal conduct and morals. Essentially an Arab populist, Qadhafi held family ties to be important and upheld the beduin code of egalitarian simplicity and personal honor, distrusting sophisticated, axiomatically corrupt, urban politicians. Qadhafi's ideology, fed by Radio Cairo during his formative years, was an ideology of renascent Arab nationalism on the Egyptian model, with Nasser as hero and the Egyptian revolution as a guide.

LoC CountryStudy

Sources differ on what he did next – he may have been expelled from Sebha in 1961, or he might have gone on to study law at the University of Libya – but by 1963, he was enrolled in the Libyan Military Academy at Benghazi, where he became friends with some like-minded cadets.  After graduation in 1965, he was sent to England to study at the Army Staff College, and upon his return the following year was commissioned an officer in the Signal Corps.

Historiorant:  Note that there's a zillion ways to spell this guy's Bedouin-rendered-into-Arabic-rendered-into-English name (actually, the Wikipedia article says 37).  I'm going to go with the spelling most often used on his web site, but blockquoted items may use alternate spellings.

Didn't see this one coming...

Those anti-government friends of Gaddafi's reflected a growing consensus on the Libyan street that Idris didn't have the best interests of his subjects in mind.  He tried the love-me-just-'cause-I'm-the-King approach toward promoting nationalism, which didn't really square with his propensity to hoard oil wealth and remain secluded at a palace next door to a British air base.  In 1964, he bowed to pressure from his 6000-strong armed forces (and a lot of agitation in the street) to negotiate the withdrawal of the foreign air forces (the Brits were gone by 1966, the Americans, 1970), but he was unable to prevent rioting and mob attacks on the US and British Embassies – and their associated oil company offices – during the 1967 Six-Day War (find a very self-congratulatory CIA analysis here - folks with cookie concerns are cautioned that this link goes to a CIA-run site).  He was also unable to prevent the growing group of nationalists in his army from becoming seriously consternated at their lack of ability to do anything while their brother Arabs were getting their asses handed to them by the Israelis.

In June, 1969, the old Sanussi king, now alienated from the youth, the cities, and most everyone who wasn't an old-guard Cyrenaican tribal leader, handed over control to Crown Prince Hasan ar Rida and left the country for medical treatments in Turkey.  He never returned.  On September 1, a group of about 70 officers and enlisted men – calling itself the Free Officers Movement in another homage to Nasser – staged a coup in Benghazi, and within a couple of hours had seized both the Crown Prince and control of the government.  The military quickly fell in behind the coup-meisters, feared resistance in Cyrenaica and the Fezzan never materialized, and within a few days, the 12-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) that headed the Free Officers Movement was the newly-acknowledged government of the newly-minted Libyan Arab Republic.  If Idris was negotiating with the Brits to intervene on his behalf, he disavowed it after Hasan publicly abdicated in favor of the RCC.  With Nasser's approval, Idris went into a second exile in Egypt; he died in Cairo in 1983.

Things happened fast and bloodless in early September, 1969.  The United States extended recognition on the 6th, and on the 7th, the RCC announced the formation of an 8-member Council of Ministers that was to oversee the implementation of RCC policies.  The following day, the RCC promoted 27 year-old Captain Muammar Gaddafi to the rank of colonel, and placed him in charge of the country's military.  Though the rest of the membership of the RCC remained secret, Col. Gaddafi's public fronting for it showed him to be the de facto leader of the RCC, which effectively made him the leader of the country.

Weird Historical Sidenote:  Though he could have at a whim, Gaddafi never has promoted himself to the rank of general, asserting that since Libya's new utopian society was "ruled by the people," he didn't need to.  He's not the only coyly modest military dictator to achieve power in the twentieth century: Nasser always remained a Colonel, and in El Salvador, a self-effacing trio of Lieutenant Colonels - Oscar Osorio (1950-56); José María Lemus (1956-60) and Julio Adalberto Rivera (1962-67) - were in charge.  Jerry Rawlings of Ghana (1979, 1981-93, & 1993-2001), the most impossibly modest of them all, never promoted himself above First Lieutenant.

The Vision Thing

The RCC moved rapidly to redefine Libya's socio-political policies and the nation's role in the world.  According to the Library of Congress CountryStudy:

Analysts were quick to point out the striking similarities between the Libyan military coup of 1969 and that in Egypt under Nasser in 1952, and it became clear that the Egyptian experience and the charismatic figure of Nasser had formed the model for the Free Officers Movement. As the RCC in the last months of 1969 moved vigorously to institute domestic reforms, it proclaimed neutrality in the confrontation between the superpowers and opposition to all forms of colonialism and "imperialism." It also made clear Libya's dedication to Arab unity and to the support of the Palestinian cause against Israel. The RCC reaffirmed the country's identity as part of the "Arab nation" and its state religion as Islam. It abolished parliamentary institutions, all legislative functions being assumed by the RCC, and continued the prohibition against political parties, in effect since 1952. The new regime categorically rejected communism--in large part because it was atheistic-and officially espoused an Arab interpretation of socialism that integrated Islamic principles with social, economic, and political reform. Libya had shifted, virtually overnight, from the camp of conservative Arab traditionalist states to that of the radical nationalist states.

Gaddafi's power expanded to include the office of Prime Minister (and SecDef) after the cabinet was reorganized following a suspected coup by two of its ministers in December, 1969.  The following year, the RCC assumed majority leadership of the cabinet when some relatives of the king were accused of plotting to seize power – an event (or non-event, depending on how you look at it) that led to a broad purge designed to cleanse the country of leftover elements from the "defunct regime."  Throughout 1971 and 1972, more than 200 former officials were tried (many in absentia) on treason-related charges; 5, including Idris, were sentenced to death, though 4 of the doomed were already in exile.  Fatima, the ex-queen, got 5 years in prison; Hasan ar Rida was sentenced to three.

The Library of Congress describes Gaddafi during this period as "caught up in his apocalyptic visions of revolutionary pan-Arabism and Islam locked in mortal struggle with what he termed the encircling, demonic forces of reaction, imperialism, and Zionism, increasingly devoted attention to international rather than internal affairs."  He turned over the Prime Minister's post to his longtime comrade-in-arms, Major Abdel Salam Jallud, and set about theorizing what a utopian Arab socialist Islamic state should look like.  In the meantime, Libya's relations with the U.S. deteriorated; the Nixon White House cut and ran out of Wheelus a year earlier (June 11, 1970, is celebrated as a national holiday) than the 1964 agreement had stipulated – in order to make room for the Soviets, who renamed the base Okba Ben Nafi and promptly began flying MiGs out of it.  Okba Ben Nafi also served as the headquarters of the Libyan People's Air Force, and was home to the first MiG 25s sold to an air force other than that of the Soviet Union itself.

The Brother Leader

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketGaddafi moved to radically restructure Libyan society during the early 1970s; by 1973, he had overseen to this end the establishment of an estimated 2000 "People's Committees" at neighborhood, workplace, municipal, and provincial levels throughout the country.  These were to be the backbone of a governmental structure in which power was (ostensibly) vested in a General People's Congress (GPC), and were largely autonomous in the way they regulated their own affairs and selected representatives to the GPC.  Early on in its existence, of course, the GPC declared Gaddafi its leader – kind of a first-among-equals thing – but the Colonel tried to show a public face that rose above such mundane pretenses as title.  After the "triumphant" work of the GPC was declared finished in 1979, Gaddafi never took on another official government title; to this day, he styles himself "the Brother Leader" or "Leader of the Revolution."

The RCC disbanded the Sansussi order and rewrote history to cast the old-style religious nationalist period as a colonialist-friendly dark age, aided by a press that was conscripted into the information-dissemination business.  Gaddafi set forth his vision for an Islamic nationalist utopia in 1975, with the release of Volume 1 of The Green Book.  This part of his guiding manifesto dealt with political structure and the role of "the masses" in Gaddafi's vision of democracy (Historiorant: it's positively Rovian in the way it uses the language of democratic ideals to describe totalitarianism).  Volume II (pub. 1978), which deals with economics, and wasn't real well received in the capitalist think tanks of the West, either:

The ultimate solution is to abolish the wage-system, emancipate man from its [sic] bondage and return to the natural law which defined relationships before the emergence of classes, forms of government and man-made laws. The natural rules are the measure, the reference book and the sole course in human relations.

The Green Book, Part 2, Chapter 6, via

Under the essentially communist reforms, private property ownership was limited and large business interests were nationalized.  Small businesses and shops were allowed to remain in private hands, where their owners and employees were expected, like all citizens, to take part in their local Basic People's Congress, a form of on-paper direct democracy in which recommendations for legislative action were passed up to the GPC.  Volume III of The Green Book described how social relationships were supposed to work under this system, but in reality, BPC leadership was comprised largely of fire-breathing Gaddafi-believers, and the organs became intimately associated with state control of the single-party system.

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The BPC/GPC (with Gaddafi as dictatorially-powerful General Secretary) form of government was formally declared in March, 1977, when the republic adopted the "Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority," reworked the 1969 constitution to make it fit, and started calling itself the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.  LoC describes the last word thusly:

The term Jamahiriya is difficult to translate, but American scholar Lisa Anderson has suggested "peopledom" or "state of the masses" as a reasonable approximation of Qadhafi's concept that the people should govern themselves free of any constraints, especially those of the modern bureaucratic state.

The whole "power to the people" thing didn't sit well with many of Libya's technical and managerial elites, including what remained of the Jewish population (present since the days of Rome) that hadn't fled in the aftermath of the Six-Day War-related violence.  While Gaddafi formally evicted the latter early in his rule, many more of the former chose self-exile in preference to the Jamahiriya.  By 1982, estimates were placing between 50- and 100,000 of the wealthiest, best-educated Libyans in countries overseas – and the resulting lack of technical expertise, when coupled with international reaction to Gaddafi's foreign policies, would have important ramifications on Libya's standing in the world economic and political community.  Gaddafi recognized this, and demanded in 1979 that exiles "repent" and return home or "face liquidation," then followed up with a wave of assassinations of prominent Libyan exiles, mostly in Western Europe.

While opposition groups organized overseas, Gaddafi faced several takeover attempts closer to home, as well: In 1975, his Minister of Planning fled with much of the country's technocratic elite after a failed coup attempt, and in 1977, 22 army officers were executed for similar plotting.  More army dissidents were executed in 1979, and several hundred were reportedly killed in an uprising centered in Tobruk in 1980.

Syriana Stuff

Libya has always been conscious of the political power of oil – as early as 1967, King Idris had broached the idea of international price-setting among oil-producing nations.  Gaddafi had, by the early 70s, expropriated a controlling interest in foreign oil holdings (outright nationalization was impossible due to the need for foreign expertise in exploration, production, and marketing), and was one of the prime movers behind the formation of OPEC in 1973, where Libya tended to support the more militant embargoes and production limits.  Domestically, hard-nosed bargaining with foreign oil interests and self-imposed production caps had provided the government with enough of a surplus that in 1975, it announced a Five-Year Economic and Social Transformation Plan (1976-80) that eventually pumped $20 billion into agriculture and industry.  It was deemed a success, and in 1981, a second such plan was announced.

Subsidies from oil revenues improved the general welfare of the population in the 70s and early 80s, increasing literacy rates and access to health care.  The vast amount of money also allowed Libya's planners to dream big when thinking in terms of public works and infrastructure projects.  In 1984, worked began on what is, by some measures, the world's largest engineering project, the Great Manmade River (GMR Authority website), which means to bring an absolutely mind-boggling amount of "fossil water" from aquifers beneath the Sahara.  The figures for both the water and the scale of the project are incredible:

The majority of this water was collected between 38,000 and 14,000 years ago, though some pockets are only 7,000 years old. There are four major underground basins. The Kufra basin, lying in the south east, near the Egyptian border, covers an area of 350,000km², forming an aquifer layer over 2,000m deep, with an estimated capacity of 20,000km³ in the Libyan sector. The 600m-deep aquifer in the Sirt basin is estimated to hold over 10,000km³ of water, while the 450,000km² Murzuk basin, south of Jabal Fezzan, is estimated to hold 4,800km³. Further water lies in the Hamadah and Jufrah basins, which extend from the Qargaf Arch and Jabal Sawda to the coast.


This (Phases I and II of V) was a massive undertaking, using a quarter of a million sections of concrete pipe, 2.5 million tons of cement, 13 million tons of aggregate, 2 million km of pre-stressed wire and requiring 85 million m³ of excavation, for a finished cost of $14 billion.


It hasn't always been successful: at one point, engineers attempted to cut corners by utilizing pipes installed by lowest-bidding Italian contractors 70 years earlier, only to find that modern pumps created a wee bit too much pressure.  Still, the project – parts of which serve as signposts for orbiting astronauts – stands in colossal support of the idea that throwing enough money at a problem can indeed help to solve it.

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Pan-Arab Dreams in a Realpolitik World

Gaddafi, in his own mind if not in fact an Arab populist/nationalist, saw Nasser's dream of Arab unity as an achievable goal, at least at first.  He actually began negotiations for a Libyan/Egyptian union with his hero in 1970, and Nasser's death in September of that year did not dissuade his successor, Anwar as Sadat, from pursuing the same line of talks.  Rejecting the arguments of naysayers who proclaimed the time not yet right, the unification talk soon expanded to include Syria and its new leader, Lieutenant General Hafiz al-Assad.  On January 1, 1972, the three countries merged on paper into a single entity known as the Federation of Arab Republics, but though they agreed on the design for a flag and in principle to most of the major ideas, the leaders failed to see eye-to-eye on the specifics of virtually anything.

Gaddafi wanted immediate unification with Egypt, with a constitution to follow in due course; Sadat favored a step-by-step approach.  None of the three could agree on a combined policy toward Israel, but both Syria and Egypt (which bordered Israel) felt Libya's approach too prematurely confrontational.  In the end, a serious personal rift developed between Gaddafi and Sadat, even as people on the street in Cairo and Tripoli sobered up to the difficulties of uniting two states with markedly different economies, populations, religious leanings, and traditional animosities.  Gaddafi tried to re-stimulate support with a 30,000-person "holy march" in the Egyptian capitol, but September 1, 1973 – the date set for the glorious unification – passed without notice in Cairo.

The next month, Gaddafi got a wake-up call as to just how far he'd been cut out of the loop, when Sadat and Assad launched their secretly-prepared October War against Israel.  He was, predictably, really, really pissed:

The Libyan leader castigated his erstwhile FAR partners for wasting resources in fighting a war for limited objectives, and he was appalled by Sadat's agreement to a cease-fire after the successful Israeli counteroffensive. He accused the Egyptian leader of cowardice and of purposely sabotaging the federation. In response, Sadat revealed that he had intervened in 1973 to prevent a planned Libyan submarine attack on the S.S. Queen Elizabeth II while the British liner was carrying a Jewish tourist group in the Mediterranean. Thereafter, relations between the two leaders degenerated into a series of charges and countercharges that effectively ended any talk of merger.


Egypt and Libya engaged in a short shooting war in 1977 (resolution hat-tip to the Algerians), and Gaddafi was a similarly bad neighbor to Tunisia.  Yet another attempted union, this one with Syria in 1980, resulted in Libya paying off a $1 billion debt Damascus owed to Moscow, but both countries found themselves isolated internationally – even among Arab states – when they supported Shi'a Iran against Sunni Iraq in the all-around disastrous Iran-Iraq War (click here for's take on the war).  This emboldened Lebanese Shi'as into hijacking planes (two separate incidents, starting in 1981) and flying them to Tripoli, where they demanded to know the whereabouts of Imam Musa Sadr, an Iranian-born Shi'a leader who disappeared while on a trip to Libya in 1978.

Getting Behind the Bad Guys

In sub-Saharan Africa, Gaddafi supported virtually any group that said it opposed colonialists.  In 1973, he occupied Chad's northern border region, known as the Aouzou Strip, and from there supported what ultimately turned out to be a successful revolutionary movement.  Plans for Chadian/Libyan unification fell through in the face of outcry from France and other North African states, and control of Chad fell back into the hands of less Libya-friendly leadership, and Gaddafi's estimated 10-15,000 troops retreated back to the Aouzou Strip.  A ceasefire was reached in 1987, and in 1994, in compliance with an order from the International Court of Justice, Libya withdrew its remaining forces.

Relations with the Sudan, which had begun the 1970s somewhat amicably, soured as the decade wore on; eventually Sudanese President Jaafar an Numayri and Gaddafi exchanged assassination attempts and took to behaving generally very rudely toward one another.  He was friendlier with Uganda's Idi Amin Dada, who exchanged a vow of antipathy toward Israel in exchange for Gaddafi's military supplies.  When a combined Tanzanian and Ugandan force drove him from power in 1979, Gaddafi overtly came to Amin's aid, and provided refuge for him in Tripoli after he had fled his former kingdom.

Relations with the United States were not good as the Reagan Regime asserted its hegemony in Washington, and deteriorated as those dark years dragged on:

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Libya was widely suspected of financing international terrorist activities and political subversion around the world. Recruits from various national liberation movements reportedly received training in Libya, and Libyan financing of Palestinian activities against Israel was openly acknowledged. There were also allegations of Libyan assistance to such diverse groups as Lebanese leftists, the Irish Republican Army, Muslim rebels in the Philippines, and left-wing extremists in Europe and Japan. Some observers thought support was more verbal than material. However, in 1981 the GPC declared Libyan support of national liberation movements a matter of principle, an act that lent credence to charges of support for terrorism.


In December, 1979, the US Embassy in Tripoli was stormed and burned as a show of solidarity with Iran; the US expelled Libyan diplomats in May, 1981; and US jets shot down two Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sidra's "Line of Death" in August of that same year.  Gaddafi's other foreign policies machinations during the 1970s and 80s read like a Rogue's Gallery of people you don't want to meet:

  • PLO – supported "Black September" movement and the plot to attack the 1972 Berlin Olympics
  • Carlos the Jackal – hired to kidnap and ransom Saudi and Iranian oil people
  • Iran – Shi'a theocracies are apparently preferable to secular Sunni dictatorships
  • IRA – in 1987, the British captured the MV Eksund, a Northern Ireland-bound freighter carrying Libyan arms.  It probably wasn't the first or only such shipment
  • ETA – provided weapons and financing for violent Basque separatists in Spain
  • etc. – the list extends to many of the "liberation movements" in the developing world.

Of course, when you're a world leader for a long time, you meet all sorts of people:

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Eldorado Canyon

In early 1986, tensions with the US escalated again, as Libyan patrol craft and a US Navy task force sent to enforce a 12-mile territorial zone exchanged unpleasantries in the Gulf of Sidra.  Then, on April 5, a bomb exploded in the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin – a place frequented by American GIs – which killed 3, injured 200, and was quickly identified by the Reagan Administration as Gaddafi's handiwork.  Ten days later, the US launched a retaliatory strike against Benghazi and Tripoli, in an operation code named "El Dorado Canyon."

The strike was a bit like Reagan himself: brash and blatant.  18 F-111Fs (large fighters with bombing capabilities) and 4 EF-111s (essentially the same plane, only with the optional electronic countermeasures upgrade) flew from England, and were joined off the Libyan coast by twenty-seven A-6, A-7, and F/A-18 attack aircraft from the carriers USS America, USS Coral Sea and USS Saratoga, on station in the Gulf of Sidra.  300 bombs and 48 missiles were directed at military and governmental targets; though it is thought that Gaddafi himself was foremost in the gunsights, he emerged unharmed from the attack.  It was not the same for his possibly-adoptive - sources differ; the adoption may have been posthumous - daughter, Hanna, a 15-month old who was among the 15 civilians (and an unknown number of military personnel) killed.

Weird Historical Sidenote:  From the pre-planning phase to the post-operation briefings, European governments responded very negatively to the raid.  Indeed, the reason the big, heavy, nearly obsolete F-111s were used was because only they had the range to fly from England – France and Spain wouldn't allow overflights, and Germany and Italy wouldn't allow the attack to be launched from their soil.  

This caused considerable ill will among rednecks in America and GIs in Europe alike – your Moonbat, stationed in Germany at the time, remembers setting out in the company of several other stupid young soldiers on a 45-minute road trip to the French border, with the intention of there standing on the German side and urinating upon the country who had so recently spited the Stars and Stripes.  Though another adventure intervened before this was possible, I also recall that Operation Eldorado Canyon later resulted in working many months of 12-hour shifts.

Other fallout from the raid included the execution of one American and two British hostages by the Abu Nidal group in Beirut; the kidnapping of a journalist and the murder of a tourist in Jerusalem; and near-universal condemnation of Ray-gun's swaggering cowboy foreign policy (though Australia and Israel were okay with it).  Gaddafi's retaliation waited until four days before Christmas, 1988, when agents in his employ (though this was denied for a long time) blew up Pan American Flight 103, a Boeing 747 which had originated in a Frankfurt terminal crowded with GIs heading home for the holidays, over Lockerbie, Scotland.  All 259 people on the plane were killed, as well as 11 more on the ground.

Involuntary Isolation

Though we GIs in Europe were ready to go to war to avenge Pan Am 103 (I'm not proud of it, but you should trust me on this – u.m.), Connecticut blueblood George H.W. Bush was no swaggering cowboy actor, and chose diplomatic and economic pressure to get Gaddafi to 'fess up.  In 1991, Scottish and U.S. prosecutors indicted two Libyan intelligence agents in absentia for the bombing, and at US urging, the UN Security Council demanded that the two be handed over for trial, that victim's families receive compensation, and that Libya cease sponsoring terrorism.  When Gaddafi failed to comply, they passed UNSC Resolution 748, which authorized punishing sanctions upon Libya until he did.  The screws were further tightened with another round of sanctions in 1993.

Gaddafi laid low on the international scene for nearly ten years, but in the early 2000s began a very public about-face.  With Israel now an undeniable fact of Middle Eastern existence, the dream of Arab unity in tatters, and the collapse of his main supplier of arms and military expertise, he began seeking détente with his former enemies, first by turning over the intelligence officers accused of the Pan Am bombing to stand trial beginning in May, 2000.  Nearly a year later, one was acquitted, the other sentenced to 27 years in prison.

The imprisoned bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was released in 2009, having convinced the Scottish and British governments that he was about to die of cancer.  He's still alive, apparently having beaten odds that gave him only a 0% chance at survival.  Normally, one might think of this as just a case of the lying bad guys being more clever than the naively compassionate good guys, but during the BP Oil Catastrophe of 2010, it became apparent that the oil conglomerate and the government it employs had engaged in a little quid pro quo.  Many Americans, especially those who knew people on that doomed flight, thought Robert Gibbs summed things up nicely:

"I think the images that we saw in Libya yesterday were outrageous and disgusting. We continue to express our condolences to the families that lost a loved one as a result of this terrorist murder.", 22 August 2009

In 2003, Gaddafi announced he would be abandoning his various WMD programs as a sign of good faith, and later established a $3 billion fund for the families of the Pan Am flight and those of another plane (UTA Flight 772) bombed by his intelligence agents.  About 80% of this money has actually been released; the remainder is hung up in negotiations.  Shades of the Old Gaddafi keep popping up, however: in 1999, his government – equipped with a justice department nearly as incompetently malevolent as our own – placed on trial two doctors (one Bulgarian and one Palestinian intern) and five Bulgarian nun/nurses, accusing them of deliberately infecting 436 hospitalized Libyan children with AIDS.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Bulgarian doctor was acquitted in 2004, but the Palestinian and the five women were sentenced to death.  The sentence was upheld on appeal, which makes sense, from a Gaddafi point of view – after all, if you deny that AIDS is present among your own people, then clearly the only explanation for 400+ infected children is a deliberate act by foreigners (it's probably just a coincidence that the charges were levied a month before the accused Pan Am bombers were handed over).  Both the EU and the US have condemned the verdicts, which are still pending one final appeal.  In April, 2007, Libya announced it was no holding as a condition of release the promise of an exchange for Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted Pan Am bomber, but continued to hold the medical personnel on death row until the summer of that year.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And Gaddafi?  He's still around, pontificating (er...) to anyone who'll listen, protected by his Amazonian Guard – a group of 40 beautiful, martial-arts trained women (supposedly virgins, but you know how that rumor mill is) who sometimes cause ruckuses of their own.  Of late, he's also taken to solving the whole Israel/Palestine problem with his new White Book, in which the Brother Leader proposes a single-state road map toward a nation that would be known as "Isratine."  (warning to link-clickers: Muammar doesn't exactly approach Judaism with the openest of minds – u.m.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHe's also accumulated an abysmal human rights record – "opposition" is a crime, and dictatorial rule is total.  Transparency Libya, which does a lot of linking to a more broadly-focused site called Beautiful Atrocities, has current info on Gaddafi's abuses – and Beautiful Atrocities takes a rather irreverent look at, among other things, Gaddafi's family.  The Colonel's only daughter, Aisha (see pic), was a lawyer on Saddam Hussein's defense team – always good for a few barbs – and goes on to describe 3 of his four sons thusly:

Al Saadi, 31. Nickname: the hooligan. Compared to Uday Hussein. Married to daughter of Libyan intelligence chief, thought to be worth 8 billion. Soccer fanatic and wannabe; fired Libyan soccer chief who described him as 'useless'. Crashed his 130-foot yacht into a wharf in Port Cervo, where he was tossed out of the Billionaires Club. Involved in 1996 shootout at Libyan soccer match in which 8 people were killed and 39 wounded.

Mutassim, 28. Nickname: Hannibal. International drunk & womanizer. Involved in brawl at Rome Hilton where he sprayed police with a fire extinguisher & was escorted to airport.

Sayf al-Islam, 32, bachelor. Businessman also considered for succession, known for keeping Bengal tigers in his Vienna bachelor pad.

In February, 2011, novelist Idris Al-Mesmari was arrested hours after giving an interview with Al Jazeera about the police reaction to Tunisia/Egypt-inspired protests in Benghazi, and within three weeks, the country was in open rebellion.  It remains to be seen what effects Operation Odyssey Dawn or its successor bombings will have, but since that's getting more into current events than history, I'll leave the debates to more worthy diarists.


But for now, I'm afraid this approaching-record-length (for me, anyway) diary is gonna have to come to a conclusion.  I leave it in the capable hands of you historiokossians to analyze the reign of Muammar Gaddafi – but as I do so, I also leave it to you to consider the ebb and flow of history across a desert that's been trodden on by everything from gigantic Ice Age mammals to Roman sandals to the hooves of Arab cavalry to the boots of pirate corsairs to Nazi tanks to the feet of wealthy, frustrated, austere, Pan-Arab idealists.  It's a fascinating country with a fascinating history, and I'd like to once again thank Meteor Blades for sharing the story that inspired this series (and in so doing, turned me on to Libyan history) – and best of wishes to the stepdaughter at the heart of the tale.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Sun Apr 03, 2011 at 06:44 PM PDT.

Also republished by oo and Eyes on Egypt and the Region.

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