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Qaddafi’s Quest

Over the past decade or so, as media coverage of "rogue nations" has focused almost exclusively on Iran and Iraq, Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya has largely escaped the spotlight. But despite his efforts to clean up Libya’s image as a sponsor of international terrorism, Qaddafi quietly continues developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range missiles that can reach Israel. And no one knows if Qaddafi will maintain his relatively good behavior on terrorism once the U.N. sanctions on Libya are fully lifted. All of which means that — for the foreseeable future — the international community must continue its careful scrutiny of Libya.

Qaddafi is waging a campaign to persuade the West that he has abandoned terrorism. In addition to expelling Palestinian terrorist organizations, he surrendered two Libyan intelligence agents accused of perpetrating the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 to the International Court of Justice for trial in The Hague. The move earned Libya a suspension of its U.N. sanctions. But Qaddafi wants them formally lifted, which requires him to cooperate with the International Court, pay compensation to the families of the Pan Am crash victims if Libya’s complicity is proved and formally abandon terrorism. It appears he will seriously consider taking these steps, which may prompt the United States to lift its unilateral sanctions on Libya as well.

Qaddafi is hard at work building chemical and biological weapons

Despite Qaddafi’s apparent willingness to abide by international law regarding the Pan Am case, he is still vigorously pursuing a WMD and missile capability, which has included reports of chemical and biological weapons links between Tripoli and Baghdad.

Libya is constructing what could ultimately be a vast WMD arsenal, including a reported joint development program with Iraq, which — until UNSCOM recently left — may have used Libya as a safe haven to avoid inspection of its own WMD program.

According to press reports, Tripoli is on the verge of successfully weaponizing these agents and producing the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Libya has built two huge chemical weapons (CW) production complexes, at Rabta and Tarhunah, which possess an estimated stockpile of 100 tons of chemical agents. The Tarhunah facility is a labyrinth of tunnels carved into a hollowed-out mountain, and extends for more than six square miles.

Former CIA director John Deutch has called Tarhunah the world’s largest underground CW plant, and other reports claim that a complex of large underground water pipes connecting to it could be used to store and clandestinely move chemical agent and production equipment. Once operational, according to recent reports, Tarhunah will be capable of annually producing the ingredients for an estimated 2,500 tons of poison agents.

Libya’s biological weapons (BW) program — reportedly built with Iraqi assistance — is still in its early stages, but it may be able to produce laboratory quantities of biological weapons agents after the year 2000, according to a Pentagon report.

Although the Libyans do not possess a nuclear weapons capability, loosened sanctions and increased military trade — particularly with the former Soviet republics — may make such a capability possible. According to a recent press report, the Russians are considering selling Tripoli a nuclear power reactor. Libya is also likely to benefit from nuclear weapons expertise of scientists and engineers from North Korea, Ukraine and South Africa.

London smuggling bust illustrates Libya’s illicit missile activities

Libya reportedly possesses several operational missiles with ranges of up to 350 miles and payloads of up to 2,000 pounds. It is also developing the Al-Fatah missile, which has a 600-mile range and 1,100-pound payload, just long enough to reach Israel from eastern Libya. Last November, British customs agents confiscated 32 crates of missile parts, disguised as car spares, that were being smuggled through Britain to Libya. According to The Sunday Times, the shipment included Al-Fatah components. Moreover, Barak adviser Uzi Rubin said Libya is negotiating with North Korea to acquire the 800-mile-range No Dong missile. He told Defense News that "if and when such an acquisition is made, Libya will pose a direct threat to Israel."

Qaddafi’s apparent willingness to comply with international law in the Pan Am case, combined with mounting pressure by corporate interests to renew economic and diplomatic ties between Washington and Tripoli, will likely cause Western officials to reexamine their policy toward Libya. But as long as Tripoli has the oil resources to finance its weapons programs, the willingness of foreign suppliers and technical experts to violate international sanctions, and the cooperation of other proliferators such as Iraq, its efforts to acquire WMD may well succeed. The international community, therefore, must resist the pressure to relax its scrutiny of Libya.

Dr. Sinai is a Senior Policy Analyst at Analytic Services, Inc. in Arlington, VA. He coauthored a book about Mideast terrorism.

Source: Near East Report, (March 20, 2000)