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War on Gaddafi: West versus Libya’s madman

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Op-ed: West hopes aerial war of attrition will exhaust Gaddafi, force him to accept UN’s conditions

By Ron Ben-Yishai

The aerial offensive launched by the West against Libya’s army Saturday secured one important objective already – it curbed the advance of Gaddafi’s army and militias towards Benghazi, thereby averting (for the time being at least) the mass slaughter of city residents. Such bloodshed would have happened as result of the battles between Gaddafi loyalists and rivals in urban areas.

Gaddafi’s fans may have also perpetrated a massacre if and when they would have captured the city. The aerial assault prevented this from happening, so rebels can breathe a temporary sigh of relief. However, the battle for Libya is still far from being decided.

The two types of action approved by the United Nations Security Council – enforcing a no-fly zone, and aerial strikes on targets that are vital for the regime – cannot topple Gaddafi in and of themselves. For the time being, the Libyan dictator enjoys not only the loyalty of most of his army and the militias he trained and armed, but also the loyalty of hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of Libyans, mostly among the poor strata of society and also among large, important tribes. He secured this loyalty thanks to welfare enterprises and various perks he provided, along with the cult of personality and nationalistic zeal he cultivated for more than 40 years.

Even among Libya’s educated middle class, which endorses the rebels and their objectives, we see great concern over the prospect of instability that would prevail in the tribal state should Gaddafi fall. Members of this sector see the disorder among the rebels and fear chaos that will undermine their economic and personal security. Hence, many of them are willing to accept Gaddafi’s ongoing rule with clenched teeth.

Gaddafi is undoubtedly a mentally unstable man suffering from major pathological disorders. At the same time, he possesses good intuition, sharp senses, and sweeping charisma that is not always understood in the West yet holds an almost magical effect on his people. His provocations against the West, for example, helped him survive in power and repress previous uprisings in his country.

Gaddafi’s human shields

The grave international sanctions imposed on Libya after Gaddafi ordered the bombing of a Pan Am flight were of no use either. Gaddafi survived because he was able to use his state’s immense oil reserves in order to manipulate the international community. He also managed to make his own people fear him and admire him simultaneously. No less importantly, Gaddafi knows how to show flexibility when necessary and is an expert on buying time.

Gaddafi and his sons apparently believe that all these qualities will help them this time around as well. As a skilled tyrant who does not shy away from utilizing the means that allowed Saddam Hussein and his regime to survive the first American offensive against Iraq in 1991, he is transporting large groups of civilians to major airbases in order to serve as human shields. He is also sending his tanks and armored personnel carriers into the heart of civilian neighborhoods at the outskirts of rebel-controlled towns, so that Western jets concerned about harming innocent civilians would refrain from striking Libya’s armor.

At the same time, Gaddafi declared a ceasefire and will likely order his army to honor it in order to show that he is complying with Security Council resolutions. By doing so, he will make it even more difficult for the West to act against him. Yet meanwhile, the armed civilian militias loyal to him will continue their efforts to infiltrate rebel strongholds and engage in hand-to-hand combat there. The West will have trouble assisting the rebels in such civil war, which is already being conducted in several cities and possibly at the outskirts of Benghazi as well.

Officials in Washington are aware of all of the above, which explains the lack of enthusiasm and caution adopted by the Obama Administration. The US knows that utilizing aerial force against Gaddafi loyalists and regime strongholds may prompt desertions in his army and lead to the toppling of the Libyan dictator. Yet there is no guarantee this will indeed happen.

Hence, the White House fears entanglement that would eventually force America to decide whether to embark on ground operations or at least send arms and “advisors” to the rebels, or alternately, let these rebels – whose makeup and determination aren’t clear – to clash with Gaddafi until they’re exhausted and defeated.

Source: Ynet

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Written by Theophyle

March 21, 2011 at 9:42 am

Posted in Libyan War, Y-Net

Tagged with , , ,

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