The time has come for the pro-democracy leaders in Libya to acknowledge that NATO will not help them overcome the Gaddafi tyranny and that, in order to avoid the division of Libya, they must consider inviting another Arab country or Iran to intervene directly against the Gaddafi regime.
By Nureddin Sabir /Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
As the pendulum of the Libyan revolution swings from euphoria to anxiety and depression, the broad outlines of stalemate and division are beginning to crystallize.
It is now abundantly clear that neither the ruling Gaddafi family nor the pro-freedom forces have the military power to overcome the other.
With the western half of Libya under the grip of Gaddafi’s praetorian brigades and the eastern half tenuously controlled by the opposition forces, the fault line – located somewhere between the oil town of Brega and Libya’s second city of Benghazi – could conceivably turn into a “temporary” cease-fire line.
With a little bit more stalemate, the “temporary” cease-fire line could metamorphosize into a de facto border and, before you know it, Ajdabiya, the gateway town to the east of Libya, could become the Panmunjom of North Africa.
Indeed, the prospect of a Libya divided between two failing states – a Myanmar-like, semi-pariah hell-hole in the west ruled by Gaddafi and his sons and a free state in the east – is now a real possibility.
The question now is what could be done to prevent this scenario from turning into reality? Specifically, what could the pro-freedom movement in Libya do to avoid this nightmare situation?
The answer is not clear cut and could not be guaranteed to deliver the desired result, which is to topple the Gaddafi tyranny and establish a free, democratic and united Libya. But it could embody the seeds of a solution, which at the moment the anti-Gaddafi forces appear to be at a loss to find.
Limitations of UN and NATO
First, the pro-freedom movement, led by the Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), must understand what NATO will and will not do.
The United Nations mandate under which the NATO forces are operating over Libya is broad but clear. As set out in Security Council Resolution 1973, passed on 17 March, it called for a ceasefire and the imposition of a no-fly zone, and it imposed a freeze on “all funds, other financial assets and economic resources” owned or controlled by the Libyan authorities.
The resolution, in addition, authorized member states to “take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack”, but it explicitly prohibited “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.
Although this prohibition on foreign occupation leaves the door open to specific, targeted intervention by foreign ground forces if this is deemed necessary to protect civilian lives, in reality it is unlikely that NATO will have the stomach for a ground intervention.
In other words, UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is about the protection of civilians in Libya, not about confining the Gaddafi cosa nostra to the dustbin of history. This is what the ITNC must understand: NATO’s legal mandate does not extend to providing cover for opposition forces to cleanse the rest of Libya from Gaddafi’s mercenaries and armed thugs.
Therefore, taken to its logical conclusion, and without either side in the Libyan conflict gaining a decisive edge over the other, a by-product of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 could – indeed, as matters as stand, is likely to be – the division of Libya.
If this nightmare scenario is to be averted, then the ITNC must, as a matter of urgency, refocus its efforts away from simply exhorting NATO to do more to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi’s killers by providing cover for the opposition forces. It must also refrain from wasting time with pointless threats to take its grievances against NATO’s failure to rein in Gaddafi’s thugs to the UN Security Council.
The UN Security Council has done as much as it can realistically be expected to do, especially in view of the fact that two of Gaddafi’s backers, Russia and China, are permanent members of the council with veto powers, and and at least four other rotating members – India, Nigeria, Gabon and Germany – have extensive business ties with the Gaddafi cosa nostra.
New strategy for the pro-democracy movement
What the pro-freedom Libyan opposition must now do is change tack, away from the illusion that the US, Britain, France and NATO can deliver them, and embark on a political strategy that is more likely to deliver a final victory for the people of Libya, one that is untainted by the self-serving, duplicitous West.
Of course, the pro-freedom forces can begin in earnest to built a liberation army that may eventually cleanse Libya from Gaddafi’s armed hoodlums. But this would take time. To overcome Gaddafi’s mercenaries and thugs, the ITNC would need an army of at least 20,000. And to recruit, train and arm a force of this size would take years, during which time the Gaddafi cosa nostra would also be rearming itself, perhaps with the help of the military junta in neighbouring Algeria.
An alternative course that could hasten the day of freedom for Libya would require, in the first place, an intensive, targeted diplomatic campaign by the pro-freedom forces aimed at winning broad international recognition of the ITNC as the legitimate government of Libya. At the time of writing, only Qatar, France and Italy have given the ITNC such recognition. It is essential that this number is increased significantly.
Expanded diplomatic recognition should be the precursor to the next step on the roadmap to freedom for Libya. This would require the ITNC to invite specific Arab or Muslim states directly to intervene militarily with the explicit aim of ousting the Gaddafi mafia and replacing it with an interim national unity government.
Arab or Muslim boots on the ground
The advantages of Arab or Muslim military intervention over that of the West are twofold. First, it would not carry the same baggage as that of the US or its allies who, on the one hand, speak of the value of freedom and human rights in Libya while, on the other, do their utmost to prop up the apartheid, racist, criminal state of Israel and support its occupation of Palestinian land and oppression of the long-suffering people of Palestine. Consequently, direct military intervention by Arab or Muslim troops is far more likely to be met with broad public support in Libya than if such intervention were to be undertaken by the West.
A second advantage is that Arab or Muslim troops invited by Libyans to help liberate Libya from the Gaddafi cosa nostra are unlikely to overstay their welcome – in contrast to Western forces in Iraq, for example. They would have nothing to gain politically or militarily by having military bases in Libya and would in all likelihood leave as soon as the job is done.
Despite the cultural and religious bonds that tie Libyans to the wider Arab and Muslim worlds, the grounds for direct military intervention by Arab or Muslim states on the side of the pro-freedom forces in Libya, from the point of view of both the ITNC and the intervening powers, must be neither moral nor emotional but justifiable in terms of realpolitik, i.e. the national interests of the two sides.
As far as the ITNC is concerned, it has an absolute duty at this decisive moment in Libya’s history to seek direct assistance from whatever quarter is likely and able to offer it in the form and quantity necessary to save the Libyan people from the prospect of perpetual conflict and division.
Likewise, from the perspective of a number of Arab and Muslim states, direct military intervention in Libya to topple the Gaddafi family and pave the way for a democratic alternative could be justified strictly in terms of their national interests.
So who might these countries be?
In an ideal world, Libya’s powerful neighbour, Egypt, would be the natural first candidate. It has a significant expatriate community in Libya, estimated at over one million people, which has been subjected to serious threats and harassments by Gaddafi’s thugs since the start of the Libyan uprising in mid-February. And it has what it takes militarily to annihilate Gaddafi and his armed thugs, in all probability in a matter of days.
But this is not an ideal world. Egypt is not only preoccupied with its internal problems, having toppled its own dictator just a few weeks ago, but is temporarily ruled by a caretaker military government comprised of ancient human artifacts with fossilized brains who are incapable of taking a courageous decision even if they wanted to, and certainly not without first getting the green light from their masters in Washington.
Morocco and Jordan
This leaves two possibilities in the Arab world. One is Morocco, which has a well-trained and efficient army as well as unfinished business with the Gaddafi regime, which sporadically has supported the secessionist Polisario front in the Western Sahara. Moreover, Morocco has intervened successfully in Africa in the past and, while it may not have the airlift capability to move significant military forces and supplies to Libya, it can certainly transport these by sea to Benghazi or another port in the east of the country.
The second potential candidate for Arab military intervention in Libya is Jordan. As with Morocco, it has a well-trained army which, without a doubt, can put an end to the nightmare of the Libyan people within days of landing on Libyan soil.
Within the wider Muslim world, the obvious candidate would be Iran whose media, at least, has adopted a clear stand against the Gaddafi regime. Iran has the wherewithal to do the job: both its paramilitary and regular forces are well capable of cleansing Libya of Gaddafi and his armed thugs and mercenaries in a matter of days.
To be sure, Iranian military intervention in Libya would incense the US and its European allies, but so what! These are desperate times and if Iran is able and willing to help the Libyan people, then why not?
Indeed, having succeeded in saving the people of Benghazi from certain slaughter at the hands of Gaddafi’s killers on 19 March and in neutralizing his air force but failed to achieve much else, the West could be invited to offer a practical and just solution to the Libyan crisis, instead of falling back on its auto-objections to anything Iranian. That, it is safe to say, would be a challenge that neither Washington, London nor Paris can meet.
Iranian military intervention in Libya would also alienate Qatar, the Arab country that has so far done most to help the pro-democracy forces in Libya. But, as with their NATO allies, the Qataris would be hard put to come up with an effective alternative that would prevent the division of Libya and save the Libyan people from the Gaddafi mafia.
Payoffs for the intervening states
So, how would direct military intervention in Libya benefit the Moroccans, Jordanians or Iranians.
For Morocco and Jordan, the payoffs could take the form of economic benefits ranging from below-market-price oil supplies to preferential contracts in post-Gaddafi Libya.
But there would also be political benefits. Both Morocco and Jordan have their own local problems with pro-democracy forces pushing for greater rights and freedoms. In addition, Morocco’s image has been significantly tarnished through its participation in George W. Bush’s “extraordinary rendition” programme. For both of these countries, direct military intervention on the side of freedom in Libya would signal the opening of a new page in their own domestic policies and create an environment whereby they could begin to embark on a managed process of reform that would satisfy their peoples’ aspirations without dismantling the entire political systems.
For the Iranians, direct military intervention in Libya could have significant economic spinoffs in terms of Iran’s share in reconstructing Libya after Gaddafi.
But the most important payofffs for Iran would be political. Successful military intervention on the side of freedom in Libya would provide a golden opportunity for Tehran to boost its image and credibility in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Furthermore, by helping the Sunni Muslim people of Libya break the shackles of the Gaddafi cosa nostra, Shi’i Muslim Iran could demonstrate to the entire Arab world, in particular its detractors in the Gulf, that rather than being a sectarian state, it is, as it proclaims to be, a revolutionary republic willing to pay with its own blood for the freedom and dignity of all Muslims, Sunnis and Shi’is.
The onus now is on ITNC to demonstrate that it has what it takes to lead the people of Libya to freedom. It must urgently look beyond the US and NATO who have nothing more to offer the people of Libya, set aside whatever prejudices or preconceptions it might have and summon the courage to act in the national interest of Libya.
Nureddin Sabir is Libyan and the editor of Redress Information & Analysis (www.redress.cc), a website dedicated to exposing injustice, disinformation and bigotry.