Muammar Qaddafi, or Gaddafi, became the dictator of Libya in 1969. Qaddafi continued the tradition of socialist dictators of North Africa and the Middle East, who overturn the pro-West monarchs and aligned their countries with the Soviet Union. Right from the start of his dictatorship Qaddafi started helping the other socialist dictators i.e. Gamal Nasser, Hafez Assad, Yasser Arafat etc, in their efforts to overturn the Iranian King i.e. the the Sah of Iran. The Sah of Iran was the strongest American ally in the Middle East. And as I have said in the past in 1968 the Iranians and the Israelis managed to construct the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline, after they had defeated the Arabs in the war of the 1967 i.e. the Six Day War.
With the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline the Iranians managed to overcome the Arab territorial blockade of Syria and Iraq, and the sea territorial blockade of Egypt and the Suez Canal, and reach the Mediterranean Sea and Europe through Israel. At the same time the Israelis were earning commissions, and they had access to oil, since the Arabs had not recognized Israeli and were not willing to sell oil to Israel. See “The Intra-Arab War for Oil 1950-1970”.
Map 1 The Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline 1968
When the Iranian Islamists finally did overturn the Iranian Sah, and they nationalized the western oil companies, they no longer had the protection of the West. As I have already said in the past, Saddam Hussein grabbed the chance and invaded Iran, among other things in order to annex the rich in oil Khuzestan Province. For Saddam’s invasion of Iran and the Iran-Iraq War see “Saddam Hussein : The Father of ISIS in Iraq”.
But while all the Arabs, together with the Americans and the Soviets, were supporting Saddam Hussein and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, two Arab countries i.e. Libya and Syria, were supporting Iran together with China and North Korea.
The socialists Syrians, with Hafez al Assad as their leader, the father of the current dictator Bashar al Assad, supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 because their efforts to form one country with Iraq in the 70s had failed due to Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in 1979. The Syrians had almost reached an agreement with Saddam’s predecessor Hassan al Bakr, in order for the two countries to become one, and export Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean Sea through Syria. However Saddam Hussein threaten al Bakr with a military coup and became president of Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s terms were much tougher than Bakr’s i.e. he wanted the Iraqi army in Syria before Syria and Iraq were to form a single country, something not accepted by Hafez Assad. See “Iraq-Syria Relations : Baathist Iraq and Syria”.
As a result a great rivalry was developed between Assad and Hussein, and the two men started accusing each other for allegedly plotting a coup against their regimes. Therefore even though both Syria and Iraq were Soviet allies, even though Iraq was very rich in oil and Syria was not, the two countries did not reach an agreement because it was difficult to decide how to split the power between the Syrians and the Iraqis.
Remember that Syria had already lost Egypt, when Egypt became an American ally in the 70s, and then also recognized Israel, and in 1979 Syria also lost Iraq with the Assad-Hussein rivalry. Therefore the Syrian Arabs decided to turn to Iran, both for funding against a common enemy i.e. Iraq, but also hopping that the Iranians would win the Iran-Iraq war, and the Shiite (Shia) Arab majority of Iraq would come to power. In that case the Iranians and the Iraqis could send their oil and gas to the Mediterranean Sea through Syria. Something that Gazprom undertook to do after many decades in order to block the Qatar-Turkey pipeline i.e. the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline.
Map 2 Pipelines Iraq-Syria and Iran-Iraq-Syria (1979)
Muammar Qaddafi on the other hand was an admirer and supporter of the Egyptian socialist dictator and Soviet ally Gamal Nasser. Gamal Nasser was threatening to block the Arabs of the Gulf from reaching the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal, in order to ask for higher commissions and more influence for him over the Arab World. According to Nasser’s plan Egypt would conquer Israel and Syria would conquer Lebanon, and together they would totally block the Arabs of the Gulf. Nasser was trying to do what today Erdogan and Turkey are trying to do to the Arabs of the Gulf.
Gamal Nasser’s aggression towards the Arabs of the Gulf was quite convenient for Qaddafi, because the Gulf countries were his competitors in the European oil markets. Moreover Saudi Arabia was a US ally and it was much harder to jointly reduce oil production in order to increase prices. When Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Nasser as the Egyptian socialist dictator, and decided to steer Egypt towards the United States, Libya and Egypt went to war i.e. the Libyan-Egyptian War of 1977. Egypt and Libya broke diplomatic ties for many years. For the Egyptian-Libyan War of 1977 see Wikipedia “Libyan-Egyptian War”
Anwar Sadat was Egypt’s number 2, and he was Gamal Nasser’s vice president. After Nasser’s death in 1970 Sadat became the next socialist dictator and continued Nasser’s legacy, by fighting the 1973 war with Israel. However after Egypt’s defeat in 1973 Sadat decided that Egypt should change direction, and aligned his country with the United States. Egypt started receiving huge economic and military aid from the US. Only Israeli was receiving more than Egypt. Israel receives approximately 3 billion dollars per year and Egypt receives 1 billion. I believe that the Iranian Islamists and the Libyan socialists must have played a role in Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Iran actually named a street after the assassin’s name. Only recently Iran decided to rename the street in order to improve relations with Egypt. See BBC “Iran and Egypt to restore ties”, January 2004.
Therefore Qaddafi had every reason to align himself with the Iranians, whom he knew would be blocked from the Western oil markets and would not compete with him. Moreover the Iranian Islamists would cause many problems in the Gulf and would make life very hard for the Arabs of the Gulf. As a result Qaddafi was one of the strongest supporters of Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 80s.
However, when Qaddafi fall the Iranian Islamists rushed to salute the Libyan Islamists who were fighting Qaddafi, because they wanted to compete for influence with the Turks and the Saudis. After all the war in Libya reduced dramatically Libya’s oil production, something good for the Arabs, the Iranians and the Russians. Remember that not even Russia vetoed the military intervention in Libya at the UN Security Council of 2011. Russia preferred to abstain from the vote. See “Libya no-fly resolution reveals global split in UN”, March 2011.
I would not go as far as saying that Russia wanted Qaddafi gone. Maybe the Russians did not want to go against Nichola Sarkozy who had excellent relations with Vladimir Putin. Remember that at the time Sarkozy and Putin made the agreement for the sale to Russia of the French Mistral warships, which was the largest military contract between a NATO member and a non-NATO member. Note that the French were the first to attack Libya.
Of course it is also true under Nicholas Sarkozy France joined NATO after 33 years of absence. Sarkozy wanted to protect France from Germany, because Germany had Russia as an ally, and France needed the US. Sarkozy knew that the economic interests between Germany and Russia were more aligned than the economic interests between France and Russia. Remember that recently Putin said that Sarkozy is the next president of France. See “Sarkozy’s Putin visit sparks controversy at home”, October 2015
Note also that Angela Merkel is trying to balance between USA and Russia. On one hand Merkel promotes the energy deals between Russia and Germany, but on the other hand she accepts to the sanctions against Russia, in order not to worry too much the Americans, the French and the English, who are already worried. Merkel is trying to prevent the total break up of NATO, which could mean great problems for Europe.
Things got a bit better after the Russians included in Nord Stream 2 the Germans, the French, the British, the Dutch and the Austrians. Now only the Italians are angry.
Map Nord Stream 2
I must also say that Libya and Iran were both trying to develop their nuclear programs, and the Western countries were trying to prevent them from doing so. The two countries both wanted the uranium of Western Africa which was mainly used by the French. Therefore the Libyans and the Iranians both had a motive to cooperate against the French in West Africa. Also see “France VS Muammar Qaddafi”.
I want to also say a few words about the Libyan-Algerian relations. Qaddafi managed to have working relations with Algeria, even though both countries are exporting energy to Europe. It is true that both were Soviet allies, it is true that Algeria is very rich in gas and Libya is very rich in oil, it is true that Algeria sells mainly to France and Libya sells mainly to Italy, but still nobody would be surprised if Libya and Algeria had very hostile relations.
I believe that one of the reasons Libya and Algeria managed to have working relations is the common threat of Morocco. Algeria and Morocco have very problematic relations because Algeria supports the independence of Western Sahara, currently under Moroccan control. Not only Western Sahara is rich in oil and gas, not only Morocco is a US ally, but moreover the oil and gas of Senegal and Mauritania could travel to Europe through Morocco and Western Sahara. Nigeria could also send oil and gas to Europe through Western Sahara and Morocco, and Nigeria is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of oil and gas reserves. Libya, which could also be hurt by Morocco, supports Algeria on the issue of Western Sahara.
Before proceeding I would like to bring to your attention some articles about Western Sahara and West Africa.
“Cairn confirms Senegal oil discovery”, October 2014
“Kosmos finds gas in Mauritania as regional exploration picks up”, April 2015
“Kosmos Energy Makes Second Major Gas Discovery Offshore Mauritania”, November 2015
“Oil: Western Sahara’s future”, March 2003
Map 5 Western Sahara
I believe that the alliance between Algeria and Libya over the issue of Western Sahara, plus the other factors that I mentioned, were the reason the two countries managed to have working relations. Note that Algeria, through her agreement for the Trans-Saharan Pipeline with Nigeria and Niger, tried to ensure that if the gas of Nigeria goes to Europe it will go through Algeria and not through Morocco. That is of course if the gas of Nigeria manages to pass through Boko Haram i.e. the ISIS subsidiary in Nigeria, and through the Tuareg fighters who were traditionally funded by Qaddafi. See “The Rebellion of the Tuareg Desert Warriors in 2012”.
“Iran hopes Gaddafi domino will fall the right way”, August 2011
“Iran hails death of long-time ally Qaddafi as great victory”, October 2011
“Dislike for Qaddafi Gives Arabs a Point of Unity”, March 2011
“Iran in a dilemma over Libya”, March 2011
“Iran and Egypt to restore ties”, January 2004
“Arab League Relations with Libya”
“Tehran switches gear in its relationship with Tripoli after Qaddafi’s death”, October 2011
“Libyan Leader Delivers a Scolding in U.N. Debut”, September 2009