Wed. Sep 22nd, 2021

By Martin Chulov
The road to Tripoli runs straight through Zawiya.

Control of the town and its lifeline to the Tunisian border gives the rebels a formidable launching pad for an assault on the capital, 30 miles to the east. Access to the oil produced by the refinery on the outskirts of town is more a bonus than the main prize.

Even without the black gold the rebel leadership covets, it has clearly established other means of keeping its ramshackle military moving. For the past five months the key goal has been to control the road and the supply line that matters – the one that runs 100 miles west to the Tunisian border.

This flat desert highway has kept Gaddafi’s Libya viable since February. His envoys have used it to travel to meet would-be peacemakers and to ask allies for money and guns. His wife and daughter crossed the border in May to sit the war out in Belarus.

Libyan rebels tear down Gaddafi regime bunting at the Zawiya oil refinery. Photograph: Bob Strong/Reuters

With the border now effectively closed to Gaddafi and his loyalists, he has nowhere left to run. The rebels, meanwhile, will sharply ramp up orders for things that matter to their campaign — providing the Tunisians are on board.

They could also, presumably, take charge of the Libyan side of the border crossing, as their counterparts in the east did when they ousted Gaddafi’s army in February. All of this would allow rebel leaders to prepare for the main game – an eventual assault on Tripoli. Short of a last-minute climbdown from Gaddafi – something he has vowed never to do – such a move seems inevitable.

After many months of stumbles and miscalculation and billions of dollars of European and US ordnance being dropped from the sky, the capital is now within range. The rebel armies are configured in a classic pincer movement; in the west in Zawiya, and in central Libya outside Misrata, where they appear to have finally won the upper hand against a resilient foe.

The rebels in the east, where it all began, may also take heart from the breakthrough in Zawiya and push west from Libya’s second oil town of Brega, where Gaddafi’s troops have had them pinned down all summer.

Zawiya will have done wonders for morale. The fact that the breakthrough took place during Ramadan will probably give it extra impetus. For an exhausted, beleaguered and out-manoeuvred Gaddafi, it will have had the opposite effect.

Source: The Guardian

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