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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gadhafi's odd plea to Israel

A few weeks ago, when Col. Moammar Gadhafi was still hallucinating that he could cling to power in Libya indefinitely, he sent two unannounced emissaries to Jerusalem. Their mission was simple -- convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lobby on Gadhafi's behalf in Washington. In return, Gadhafi would consider establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and involve Israeli corporations in Libya's reconstruction effort after six months of cruel civil war.

Gadhafi did not know that Netanyahu had instructed all his ministers not to engage in any kind of discussions with the Libyan emissaries. He further instructed that as long as Gadhafi was in Libya massacring his people, no Israeli -- whether government official or private citizen -- should have any contact with Libya.

To the embarrassment of Netanyahu, however, the Libyans met briefly with Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister and the current chairman of Kadima opposition party. Livni could not deliver anything on behalf of the Israeli government and the emissaries returned to Tripoli empty-handed.

A quick investigation revealed that the two Libyans had a faint acquaintance with Walter Arbib, a former Libyan Jewish entrepreneur who now lives in Toronto.

Arbib is the partner of an Indian businessman who owns the Skylink Aviation, which delivers food and medicine on behalf of international charities to poor and embattled African countries.

Arbib is one of several former Jewish entrepreneurs who, in good faith, try to establish economic relations between Israel and Libya.

When told that the two Libyan emissaries were not welcome in Israel, however, Arbib washed his hands of their bizarre mission.

Arbib's behaviour is not surprising. He and his family came to Israel after the 1967 Six Day War. After the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Arbib established a small tourism company that tried to promote tourism to both Israel and Egypt. But he was unable to compete with well-established international tours companies and his enterprise failed. In 1988, he moved to Canada and became a partner in Skylink Aviation.

During all these years, he never cut his links to Israel and Libya. He recently celebrated his 70th birthday in Israel where his family still resides.

Yossi Mellman, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, managed to talk by phone with Arbib in London. He was very evasive. Arbib told Mellman that he has friends in both the Gadhafi and rebel camps, but that it is still too soon to evaluate the future relations between Israel and Libya.

Mellman described Arbib as a generous donor to Israeli charities, especially the Sheba Hospital, near Tel Aviv.

Israeli-Libyan relations are a case study in international relations.

When Israel was born in 1948, Libya was a monarchy ruled by King Idriss Senoussi. As a member of the Arab League, Libya always voted against Israel in international forums. Yet, Libya did not participate in the 1948 Arab war against Israel. Because of its non-belligerency, Libya was not defined as an enemy state in Israel's international law. This status was not modified even after Gadhafi's 1969 coup.

For unexplained reasons, Israel did not change its definition of Libya even when Gadhafi engaged in violent terrorism against Israel. Over the years, Gadhafi financed all Palestinian terrorist groups and used the diplomatic pouches to smuggle arms and ammunition for their operations in Europe. He supported Carlos the Jackal, the Abu Nidal group and opened his purse to any anti-Israeli operation.

Yet, after the Camp David Accords and the peace between Israel and Egypt, Gadhafi undertook a two-faced policy. He sharply attacked Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak and broke diplomatic relations with Egypt. Yet, when Israel and Jordan signed their peace treaty in 1994, he allowed Libyan "pilgrims" to visit both Israel and Jordan in tours organized by the Israeli entrepreneur Yaacov Nimrodi of the Iran-Contra affair.

Another Jewish-Libyan entrepreneur, Raphael Fella, who now lives in Italy, undertook several missions in Israel on behalf of Gadhafi in Israel. The efforts were inconclusive.

Most recently, however, due to the state of anarchy in Libya, Gadhafi's arms depots were broken into and arms were smuggled via Egypt and Sinai to Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Among the smuggled arms Russian-made Grad rockets, anti-tank weapons and heavy mortars.

NATO officials now hope that once the National Transition Authority moves from Benghazi to Tripoli and establishes itself as the sole legitimate authority in Libya, control over all Libyan arms depots will be again secured.