Over the last week, the Libyan rebels have captured the strategic Zawiyah oil refinery near Tripoli and assumed partial or total control over other key towns like Sabratha, Garyan, and Surman, while Muammar Qaddafi's regime reels from the defection of a top security official and NATO airstrikes that have sunk a boat filled with Libyan troops, targeted the home of Libya's intelligence chief, and killed the brother of a government spokesman. As the rebels speak of the regime's impending defeat and the U.N. evacuates foreigners from a besieged Tripoli, there are reports that the Libyan government is involved in French-brokered negotiations with the rebels and that Qaddafi himself may flee to Tunisia. All these developments have analysts wondering whether, after months of what appeared to be an intractable stalemate, the Qaddafi regime is teetering and we're finally witnessing the last stages of the Libyan conflict. Let's take a look at the commentary:
- Conflict Has Reached 'Critical Moment' In a dispatch from Zawiyah, Kareem Fahim of The New York Times notes that while each side in the Libyan conflict has often made predictions of imminent victory, there's significant evidence that this time those forecasts may prove accurate. The rebels have seized territory in western Libya and choked off the Libyan government's supply routes without Qaddafi's forces launching a "forceful counterattack," Fahim notes. He adds that thousands of refugees are fleeing Tripoli every day and rebel fighters are brandishing new weapons supplied by foreign powers as the Libyan military suffers from degraded morale and capabilities. But Fahim cautions that the rebels are still plagued by internal divisions and may yet "advance beyond their ability to hold their ground," while the "Qaddafi forces, despite signs of weakness, have not stopped resisting" (this is particularly true now in Zlitan, east of the capital).
- Rebels Will Soon Succeed, But It Won't Be Easy The Telegraph's Con Coughlin believes the rebels will ultimately topple the Qaddafi regime, though it could take several weeks. But he adds that achieving that objective will require a bloody and unprecedented military assault on a heavily fortified Tripoli by the rebels:
Nato officials caution that capturing the dictator's stronghold in Tripoli is a very different proposition to liberating a small coastal city like Zawiyah.
Then there is the thorny question of how the rebels propose to winkle Qaddafi out of his Tripoli bunker without a bloodbath. The Qaddafi clan insists it will not surrender without a fight, and the launch of the regime's first Scud missile last weekend was an ominous sign that Gaddafi might yet resort to desperate measures if cornered.
- Stalemate Will Continue Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, claims that while the rebels have made "major advances" recently, the "government forces are still strong" and Qaddafi "will not step down soon" (China and Russia have been very uneasy about the U.N.-authorized military intervention in Libya). Dartmouth professor Dirk Vandewalle expresses a similar opinion at CNN, writing that "there is no immediate end in sight" and that "Libya's civil war will be decided by a grinding, prolonged military conflict in which Qaddafi's regime is gradually exhausted by NATO-supported rebel attacks."
- This Won't End With Rebels Seizing Tripoli CNN points out that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said repeatedly that the Libyan conflict can only end with a political solution, and Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations tells the news outlet that NATO's latest strategy is, in CNN's words, "to cut off all economic and outside supplies to make [the Qaddafi regime] cease functioning" and crumble from within. The Economist adds that rebel leaders are banking on a "general uprising in Tripoli as living conditions deteriorate and people realise the colonel is finished." The magazine also offers up its own advice for the rebels: "It makes more sense to tighten the noose around the capital further and wait for events to take their course rather than fight for the city street by street in a bloody showdown."