Tehran switches gear in its relationship with Tripoli after Qaddafi’s death


Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast expressed his joy upon hearing the news of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s death and congratulated the Libyan people on this victory.

ISNA, the Iranian semi-official news agency, reported Mehman-Parast as saying that Qaddafi’s death meant “the end of history’s despots and oppressors”. He also called for “popular power in Libya” and described Qaddafi’s authority ─ who was once Iran’s key ally just a few months ago ─ as “the black dictatorship”.

The Iranian spokesman expressed his country’s willingness to transfer its expertise to Libya and participate in the reconstruction of the country.

It is important to note that the Islamic republic did not officially recognize the Libyan Transitional Council as the opposition.

The delay in recognizing events in Libya raised criticism within Iranian media, including the fundamental website, asriran.com, which wrote: “Our country’s foreign diplomacy dealt with Libya as if Iran does not exist on the world map”.

Iran- Libya relationship

The political relationship between Iran and Libya started in 1967 when both countries were governed by the monarchy, just one year shy of Qaddafi coming to power after a deposing King Idris in a military coup.

From the moment Qaddafi came to power on September 1 in 1969, he joined the Arab leaders alliance that comprised Jamal Abdul Nasser, Yasser Arafat, Ali Nasser Muhammad and Hafez al-Assad, against Iran’s King Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, the last pro-western king who was accused of supporting Israel and was later overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979.

On December 30 that year, Libya, along with Iraq, South Yemen and Algeria, filed a complaint to the Security Council against the Shah’s occupation of the three Emirates islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa. This stance strained the relationship between Tripoli and Tehran.

Shortly after the Iranian revolution in 1979, Colonel Abdel Salam Jalloud, then Libya’s second in command, became one of the first dignitaries to visit Tehran to offer congratulations for the country’s victorious revolution ─ thereby bringing a thaw to bilateral relations.

According to the website Farda, which is said to have close ties to Tehran’s police chief Mohsen Qalibaf who is former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Libya provided crucial military assistance to Iran during its war with Iraq. So strong was Qaddafi’s support, the report says, “Even if Qaddafi had kidnapped Imam Moussa Al Sadr, he would have issued a statement against Saddam Hussein, in favor of Iran. However, he ultimately exerted pressure on Iran to stop the war on Iraq. Despite all the contradictions, Qaddafi was our key ally in the war that was imposed on us.”

The report adds: “Libya was in the recent past a precious friend and supporter of our country. If we overlook Imam Moussa al-Sadr’s disappearance and the developments in Libya during the last few months, we would find that it was among the few countries that stood by our side during our darkest days in the 1980s.”

The report does, however, say that Qaddafi was serving his interests by offering this support.

A report by The Associated Press on October 10, 1980, writes: “At the beginning of the [Iran-Iraq] war, the position of Hafez al-Assad was not clear. However, 20 days after the war had started Qaddafi adopted an explicit stance and sent messages to Arab leaders calling on them to publically stand by the side of the Islamic brothers in Iran.”

Iraq then severed its ties with Libya and the country’s official newspaper described Libya’s stance towards Iran as an act of “treason”.

Tripoli supplies Tehran with arms against Baghdad

According to the Farda report that while it has been a long time since the war with Iraq, Iranian officials have recently spoken about Libya’s role in providing assistance and support during the war.

Iran’s foreign minister then, Ali Akbar Velayati, said “Libya provided key armament aids to Iran during the war”.

Velayati, who is now advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, spoke about the importance of that support. He believes Libya’s position was meant to address the Camp David convention on one hand, and to change the perception of the Iran-Iraq war as a war between Arabs and Persians, on the other.

On October 22, 1984, the BBC broadcast a report on the military cooperation between Iran and Libya. In the report, the BBC qualified the ties between the two countries as “a broad relationship”. The United States believed that Iran was receiving arms from Russia through Libya including the naval mines used by Iran in the Gulf Sea.

Mines in exchange for chemical weapons

In October 1986, in an interview with Alef Ba magazine, Hamid Shaaban, the Iraqi Air Force Commander, threatened to intensify air strikes against Iran, saying that “the missiles received by Iran from Syria and Libya won’t frighten Iraq”.

In September 1987, the U.S. Department of State sent a threatening message to the Libyan government, warning it against delivering Russian navy mines to Iran because the mines were hindering navigation in the Gulf Sea. A State Department spokesman said at that time: “Washington warned Libya from exchanging advanced navy mines for Iranian chemical weapons”.

The western press, published during the period of war between Iraq and Iran, described Libya as a weapons and war equipments warehouse for Iran. The arms received from Iran included land and navy mines, Scud ground-to-ground missiles, Sam 2 anti-aircraft missiles, Tao anti-tank missiles and American made navy equipment.

The cooperation between the two countries was not limited to providing Iran with arms. In fact, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was leading the war on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Khamenei, said that Libyan military consultants were assisting the Iranians in their war against Iraq.

Moreover, among the Iranian dignitaries to have visited Libya was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, the last Minister of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps before the dissolution of this ministry, Mohsen Rafiq Dust, former foreign ministers Ali Akbar Velayati and Manouchehr Mottaki.

Analysts believed that by congratulating the Libyan people on the death of Qaddafi, Iran’s key Arab ally, Tehran is trying to compensate for not acknowledging the Libyan Transitional Council thus far. This explains why Iran is drifting away from its allies on their stances over Qaddafi’s regime, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.