Could Qaddafi Have Freed Shalit?

 

An Israeli-Libyan peace treaty was in the works?

Asharq Alawsat is reporting that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had offered to secure the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and to sign an official peace treaty with Israel in exchange for an end to the NATO airstrikes. Qaddafi had apparently contacted Druze politician Ayoob Kara and presented his offer before being forced into hiding. Kara was invited to discuss the proposal in Tripoli, but was denied an exit visa by Israel. Consequently, Kara contacted David Lazar, a member of the Austrian Freedom Party who is personally connected to Seif al Islam. Lazur visited Libya and discussed the proposal with the Qaddafi family. The Israeli government was reportedly very interested in the deal, but Qaddafi fell before anything materialized:

Kara claimed that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi even expressed his willingness to personally visit Israel – after securing the release of Gilad Shalit – and speak before the Knesset, in the same manner as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1977.

Kara also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Libyan offer was taken seriously in Tel Aviv, who asked Gaddafi to present it in writing; however the situation in Tripoli collapsed before Gaddafi could do so – with the rebels advance on the Libyan capital – which resulted in the Israeli authorities deciding to end communication with the Gaddafi regime.

Obviously, Israel would be interested in any proposal that would result in the release of Shalit; due diligence was probably the only reason for Israeli interest as Israeli support for Qaddafi would be an insane PR blow for Israel. Yet this raises several hypothetical questions:

  1. Would Qaddafi have been able to convince Hamas to release Shalit?
  2. Would Israel have been able to top the NATO air attacks?

Kara said that he was assured that the Qaddafi’s had close ties with the authorities in Gaza and Syria, saying: “Saif al-Islam and his father have very serious relations with Hamas chief Khalid Meshal and with the Syrian authorities… There was no doubt that he [Saif al-Islam] could talk in confidence about bartering [for Shalit’s release] in the context of this [Israeli – Libyan] deal.” Presumably Qaddafi would have been able to bring up the topic with the Hamas and Syrian leaders, but does this mean that he would have been successful in releasing Shalit?

The capture and subsequent holding of Shalit took place exclusively in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, meaning that it is unlikely that Hamas would release Shalit for anything less that Israeli concessions (prisoner release, guaranteed relaxation of blockade, etc.) Qaddafi would need to offer a treasure trove of incentives that greatly exceeded the value of Israeli concessions. Yet even what Qaddafi would offer in return would need to be related to Hamas’ struggle against Israel – i.e. diplomatic support on the international level, weapons, training, one of which would be accepted by Israel and would likely be breaking the potential Israeli-Libyan peace treaty. It is difficult to see what Qaddafi could offer in this respect other than to be a mediator between the two parties.

Secondly, it seems highly unlikely that Israel would have been able to stop the NATO bombing campaign. Western governments, particularly the US, UK and France, had already spent serious political capital on Libya and had previously amended their positions to equate victory in Libya with the fall of Qaddafi. Each country had already called for the ouster of Qaddafi and recognized the TNC as the legitimate leader of Libya. Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy all had personal stakes in removing Qaddafi from power and each leader would have taken a beating in domestic polls if they had reversed course.

Moreover, while Israel clearly has significant influence in the western governments – particularly the US and France – historically, this influence has been limited to Israeli security issues (or what could be defined as security.) Politicians that are typically receptive of Israeli requests might find the defense of Qaddafi to be unrelated to existential Israeli needs – which could potentially damage the status of Israeli influence in the western governments. It is unlikely Israeli pressure to call off an increasingly successful bombing campaign aimed at removing Qaddafi would lead to any results.

A corollary of the second question is whether it would be politically prudent for Israel to push for an end to the NATO bombings. Public opinion had greatly turned against Qaddafi and such an agreement would have been, correctly, viewed as Israel supporting a falling dictator. Israel would have needed assurances of Shalit’s release and a favorable peace treaty with Qaddafi and, even then, the political waters would have needed testing before Israel took such a risk. Qaddafi was basically asking Israel to risk its international influence and attach itself to a sinking Qaddafi ship in exchange for a peace treaty and another round of (probably unsuccessful) Shalit negotiations.

In general, this seems like a relatively amusing nonissue. It is unlikely that Qaddafi would have been able to negotiate the release of Shalit and, on the other hand, it is just as unlikely that Israel would have been able to convince NATO powers to stop the bombing campaign. From an Israeli point of view, it was worth looking into the proposal – as much as it is worth looking into any proposal – but we can assume that this was an effort of an increasingly desperate Qaddafi trying anything and everything to stop the NATO/TNC war.

(Though we still can’t rule out an exiled Qaddafi in Israel as the Libyan is, perhaps, technically Jewish…)

Photo from The Middle Eastern Eye

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