Potential Threats To Israel: Libya

Despite its massive arsenal of Soviet-supplied weaponry, Libya has until recently possessed only limited capability to directly attack Israel. Within the last few years, however, President Muammar Qaddafi has acquired the capacity for aerial refueling, giving Libyan bombers the range to reach Israel.

Libya, like Iran, has been dealing with North Korea to acquire its intermediate-range Nodong ballistic missile, now under development. This will allow Qaddafi's regime to target Israel for the first time. Tripoli is also continuing to fund development of other ballistic missiles. the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine has been reportedly discussing new arms deals with Tripoli, which would be a violation of international sanctions.

Libya was building the largest underground chemical weapons production facility in the world. Qaddafi was believed to possesses the largest CW capacity in the region. Some 100 tons of poison gas weapons were stockpiled.

Libya is also a state sponsor of terrorism. It was responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 Americans. For years, Libya flagrantly ignored UN Security Council Resolution 731, which called on it to take responsibility for the bombing, to turn over those accused of its execution and to disclose evidence related to it. Finally, in August 2003, Libya sent a letter to the UN Security Council, stating that it “accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials” in the Pan Am 103 bombing, and made arrangements to pay compensation to the families of the victims in accordance with an agreement worked out directly between the families and Libya. Previously Libya transferred the two Libyan suspects charged in the bombing, one of whom, Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi, was convicted of murder and is now serving a life sentence.

In recognition of these steps, and to allow the families’ settlement to go forward, the United States notified the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. would not oppose the lifting of the UN sanctions that were suspended in 1999. The lifting of sanctions at the United Nations did not affect U.S. bilateral sanctions on Libya, which remained in place because of its poor human rights record and lack of democratic institutions; its destructive role in perpetuating regional conflicts in Africa, and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their related delivery system.

Libya has offered support to radical Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process and has threatened to support Islamic extremist movements in Algeria and Tunisia.

In late 2003, following the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, Libya surprisingly announced its intention to give up its weapons of mass destruction and open its facilities to international inspection. Following the announcement, U.S. officials discovered Libya's nuclear weapons program was much further advanced than previously thought, and included centrifuges and a uranium-enrichment program, all necessary components in making a nuclear bomb. Pakistan's top nuclear scientist also was found to have offered his expertise to Libya.

Libya showed a team of United Nations and British inspectors a significant amount of mustard gas. Libya also admitted cooperating with North Korea on the development of "extended-range Scud missiles."

Britain and the United States will now work with Libya, and the international bodies charged with stopping the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons. Those two agencies are the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

In March 2004, Libya took the first concrete step to eliminate its stockpiles of chemical weapons. Libyan officials acknowledged the existence of 44,000 pounds of mustard gas, thousands of tons of materials that could be used to make sarin nerve gas, and disclosed the location of a production plant and two storage facilities. Libya also destroyed 3,300 bombs that were intended to carry chemical payloads.

Source: American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); Jerusalem Report, (January 12, 2004), p. 5; CNN, Washington Post, (December 20, 2003, February 5, 2004); U.S. State Department (August 15, 2003; Associated Press, (March 6, 2004)