New evidence of a possible impasse emerged Friday as an opposition spokesman called publicly for a cease-fire that would halt the fighting and essentially freeze the battle lines. The Libyan government rejected the proposal, saying it would not “withdraw from our own cities.”
At the same time, British officials privately disclosed a recent visit to London by a senior aide to one of Gaddafi’s sons, prompting new speculation that those close to the Libyan leader were exploring ways to end the fighting.
Gaddafi loyalists continued to pound rebel fighters in the key oil hub of Brega, a town that had been claimed by anti-government forces less than a week ago. Yet, despite repeated setbacks in recent days, intelligence assessments suggest that the rebels, with continuing NATO air support, are capable now of maintaining control of strongholds such as Benghazi as well as key oil fields in eastern Libya, according to two U.S. officials privy to classified reports from the region who agreed to discuss them only on the condition of anonymity.
U.S. analysts have concluded that Gaddafi will likely not step aside voluntarily, despite recent defections by top aides. Nor is he likely to be driven anytime soon from his Tripoli base, where he has surrounded himself with highly paid fighters and tribal kinsmen who remain fiercely loyal, the officials said.
One likened the current conflict to an evenly matched football game, with two sides skirmishing over a few yards in midfield.
“Neither side seems capable of moving the ball down the field,” said the U.S. official. “It is also true that neither side has endless resources.”
A stalemate could mean an open-ended mission for the coalition of NATO and Arab countries now enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya, increasing both the financial and political costs for the participants. But analysts are increasingly confident that Gaddafi can be largely contained within a divided Libya, unable to significantly threaten his neighbors and gradually weakening over time.
“He remains a danger . . . but over time he could be squeezed,” said a second U.S. official familiar with intelligence assessments. While it is possible that Gaddafi could be assassinated or overthrown, he maintains an elaborate, multilayered personal security system that has protected him for decades. “By all accounts he is very paranoid, and he will fend for his own survival,” the official said.