William Hague in the Commons tried to rubbish claims that the government only had 12 officials working full-time on post-Gaddafi Libya. But listen to his answer and he says there are “dozens” of officials “connected” with this work. Around Whitehall I found an official involved in all this talking of the risks of “catastrophic success” and a minister with knowledge of the level of preparation who says he “prays every night” that Gaddafi doesn’t go too quickly.

One Government source said Nato advice was to expect trouble after Col Gaddafi – “blood-letting not bloodbath” one official put it. Another Whitehall source talked about how a lot of the Difid effort so far was going into trying to identify who currently runs key pieces of Tripoli infrastructure – transport, hospitals, security etc – so that they can be contacted and persuaded to stay put (in most cases) if and when Col Gaddafi goes.

The government is acutely aware of the Iraq mistakes and the Difid Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell yesterday said: “When Tri29 libyagraphic x Whitehall prays Gaddafi doesnt leave too soonpoli falls, someone should get on the phone to the former Tripoli head of police and tell him he’s got a job.”

All this looks even more significant when you hear Government confirmation of reports last week that rebels in Libya have succeeded in cutting off the main oil link into Tripoli. The Az-Zawiya refinery must now survive on what it has in its tanks. There is speculation in Government that this won’t last more than 20 days or so. The ports have long been closed to tanker traffic and British Government sources say they are confident that there is nothing like the 15 – 20 large road tankers a day coming in over Libya’s land borders which Gaddafi would need to make up the shortfall. Things could even grind to a halt earlier than the outer predictions because of oil pressure problems when a pipeline is no longer in use.

One Government source said this could all mean the endgame is nigh…though you can see why the government doesn’t want to stick its neck out saying anything of the sort. Rommel, of course, failed in the end because he ran out of fuel. Britain is hoping that the same fate may befall Gaddafi.