The Abduction of the Libyan Prime Minister

The BBC reports that “Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been seized by militants from his residence in the capital Tripoli”. The perpetrators, referred to as the “anti-crime department militia” sound like they are from comic-universe Gotham City.   But they were all business today.


Sources say Mr Zeidan was arrested by anti-crime department militia. On Tuesday he called on the West to help stop militancy in Libya.

In an interview with the BBC he said it was being used as a weapons base. The prime minister told the Newsnight programme that his country was being used to export weapons throughout the region.

There are suggestions the abduction was in retaliation for “the capture of suspected al-Qaeda leader Anas al-Liby in Tripoli” but “the BBC’s Rana Jawad in Tripoli says that it is too soon to link Mr Zeidan’s seizure with the capture of Mr Liby.” However the AP says “the abduction early Thursday comes amid anger among Libya’s powerful Islamic militant groups over the U.S. special forces raid on Saturday that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect, known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Several groups accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid, though the government denied having any prior knowledge of the operation.”

Zeiden was released after some hours, Sky News reports.

Sky’s Foreign Affairs Editor Tim Marshall said: “If this claim is true, it would appear that the prime minister of Libya has been detained by a faction that answers nominally to part of his own government.”

The public prosecutor’s office said it had issued no such warrant for Zeidan’s arrest.

Sky sources said the man believed to be behind the abduction is Abu Obeiida, who is thought to have taken over the militia group. …

The former rebel group appeared to post a warning of its intentions on Facebook on Monday.

It said it “holds everyone who is involved in co-operating with foreign intelligence” responsible for the “kidnap” of al Libi and “will pursue them and bring them to justice”. …

Marshall said: “The prime minister of Libya’s jurisdiction runs about to the end of his hotel corridor and then stops because there is no real government, certainly in the sense that we understand it.


The Telegraph account puts the PM in a slightly different place, with Zeidan at the Corinthia Hotel in the capital when “gunmen had arrived at the hotel in a convoy of cars before leading Mr Zeidan out of the building and driving him away. The clerk reported no gunfire during the incident, and said the gunmen were respectful and ’caused no trouble.’ One guard described it as an ‘arrest’.

If ‘arrest’ it was then the collar was designed to send a message to the Obama administration.

The kidnapping comes one day after Libyan Islamists threatened revenge on Westerners after al-Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi was seized from his Tripoli home by US forces.

One Facebook page, run by “The Revolutionaries of Benghazi, Al-Bayda and Derna”, said: “We condemn this act, and pledge before God to fight those who betrayed their country and involved themselves in this plot.

“We also say to the Libyan people that we didn’t fight against the dead leader to replace him with a traitor or foreign agent who would deliver up our compatriots out of loyalty to the infidels.”

Zeid’s offense was supposedly approving a US raid on his own country. The NYT reported on Oct 9 that “the Libyan government in recent weeks tacitly approved two American commando operations in its country, according to senior American officials, one to capture a senior militant from Al Qaeda and another to seize a militia leader suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi.”


While American officials expected that the Libyan government would claim that it had known nothing about the operation, news of the raid has raised concerns that the suspect in the Benghazi attacks, Ahmed Abu Khattala, has now been tipped off that the United States has the ability to conduct an operation in Libya.

It is not clear why American military commanders did not conduct both operations simultaneously to avoid this problem. Some military commanders said conditions in Libya on Saturday may not have been opportune. But the backlash against a second raid could bring down the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, which has teetered on the brink of collapse and has little control over vast parts of the country, particularly in the eastern part near Benghazi. …

The Libyans’ consent marks a significant step forward for the Obama administration, which has been criticized by Congressional Republicans for moving too slowly to apprehend the Benghazi suspects.

And the backlash apparently did bring the Libyan government down, which makes the leak by “American officials” that much more mysterious. For having known it would bring down the man who granted it, the officials seemed none too careful who knew. It seems clear however, that the raiders of the US consulate have far more powerful backing than might be enjoyed by a YouTube movie producer in LA.

What exactly it signifies has not yet been divined. This comes amid news of a suspension of US military aid to neighboring Egypt. The BBC reports that “the US is suspending a large part of the $1.3bn (£810m) in aid it gives to Egypt’s military. … It said “credible progress” must be made towards free and fair elections. A review was launched in August after a crackdown by the authorities on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi left hundreds of people dead.”


The NYT reports that Israel has expressed dismay at the suspension of aid to Egypt, “one Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomacy involved, warned that the implications of punitive cuts in Egypt’s aid could go far beyond the issue of Israeli-Egyptian relations. The United States is playing with fire, he said.”

It was a veiled reference to the fact that aid to Egypt was the “payoff” to Cairo for maintaining peace with Israel. “You cannot disassemble the peace treaty and take out this part or that part,” an Israeli official said.

Asked about American aid to Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he would speak only “in general terms,” but made it clear that any withdrawal of aid was a concern.

“Our interest is basically having the peace with Egypt continue,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a radio interview last week. “That peace was premised on American aid to Egypt, and I think that for us is the most important consideration, and I’m sure that’s taken under advisement in Washington.”

President Obama has managed to violate the cardinal rule that “you should make no enemies where you can make no friends” by pursuing the policy of making enemies where ever he once had friends, in order to make friends with those who will always be his enemies. In this wise he perhaps hopes to become best buddies with Iran and the Palestinians.


President Obama’s recent diplomatic moves have redrawn the affinity maps of the Middle East. Walter Russell Mead says the Saudis deeply resent his rapprochement with Iran and show it openly.

It’s not just our Syria non-policy that has the Saudis at arm’s length. The newfound cooperation between President Obama and President Rouhani of Iran has put an added strain on the US-Saudi relationship. The Saudis, like the Israelis, are displeased with the prospect of US-Iranian non-proliferation talks. They see them as an Iranian ploy to ease UN sanctions while continuing to press toward getting the bomb. And while the Saudis are a key American ally, they are adept at securing their interests in the region and are not beholden to Washington. If they continue to be dissatisfied with US policy, they might hinder, or at a minimum do nothing to help, other US interests in the Middle East.

It’s an open question whether the cartwheels that American diplomacy is performing in the region are intentional or simply the result of incompetence and ignorance.  The administration has been reluctant to admit any mistakes. The latest disasters will be spun as simply the result of a video or the subtle machinations of a policy too brilliant for anyone but the President to understand.

Just recently his Obamacare website advised visitors to call by telephone instead of applying online. That is the failure that passes for success in his administration.


As I wrote in an earlier post, Obama’s blunders are approaching the tipping point. He will smash something big soon at the rate he is going. “Playing with fire” was the phrase an Israeli official used. Somebody’s going to get burned. The only question is when.

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