Don’t underestimate Libyan support for Gaddafi

muammar gaddafi libya

First reaction: with rebels on the verge of taking crucial towns, is it too early to celebrate?

BY Ben Riley-Smith LAST UPDATED AT 14:32 ON Mon 15 Aug 2011

With Libyan rebels reportedly on the verge of taking two key towns near the capital Tripoli and rumours circulating that Colonel Gaddafi has held talks with the opposition about a possible departure, the beleaguered dictator has issued a defiant call to arms.

"Move forward, challenge, pick up your weapons," Gaddafi urged his people in an appearance on Libyan TV. "Go to the fight for liberating Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from Nato."

It was the leader's first address since the rebels launched their latest offensive. Should the insurgency succeed in taking Zawiya and Gharyan, towns which control access to Tripoli, the capital will be blocked off - by the rebels on land and Nato at sea. So does this mean the Gaddafi regime is on the verge of collapse?

The end is nigh. "Gadaffi has been growing weaker over the last several months," former US Assistant Secretary of Defense Larry Korb told Al Jazeera. "A lot of his forces have been destroyed by Nato and Arab League air strikes, he's running out of money, he's also running out of supplies because of the blockade. I think if they hold [the towns] this is the beginning of the end because there'll be no way for Gaddafi's forces to keep getting resupplied."

The BBC's Matthew Price agrees. "Over the weekend in the hotel which the government keep us in, where we see government officials, on occasions they looked edgy," he told the Today show. "If Tripoli becomes encircled permanently by the rebels then one would have to assume the end game is beginning."

Time to plan for life after Gaddafi. "The conflict has entered its decisive phase," the Telegraph's Damien McElroy says. "Soon Gaddafi will have no option but to make a last stand in a besieged city."

"At the current rate of advance," he continued, the priority should be "detailed planning for a stable post-Gaddafi government – a project that is riddled with wishful thinking and half measures... If post-Gaddafi Libya is not run well – or emerges as a haven of warlords and Islamic fundamentalists — history will be a harsh judge of their military adventurism."

Don't underestimate support for Gaddafi. "On a fact-finding trip into Tripoli last week, I saw first-hand that Gaddafi has solidified his control over the capital and most of western Libya," the Chronicle-Herald's Scott Taylor writes today, striking a note of caution.

"Since Nato started bombing, Gaddafi support and approval ratings have actually soared to about 85 per cent. Of the 2,335 tribes in Libya, over 2,000 are still pledging their allegiance to the embattled president." He adds: "At present, the people still blame Nato - not Gaddafi - for the [fuel and electricity] shortages." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.