Libya: A no-fly zone won’t stop a massacre on the ground | Daily Telegraph | Ranj Alaaldin
Colonel Gaddafi may be winning. He has bided his time, tested the West’s resolve and is ready to take Libya back. Latest reports coming from Libya suggest the regime has re-captured the western town of Bin Jawad, just 30 miles from the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf. At the time of writing it had been confirmed that, after intense fighting, the town of Zawiyah, 25 miles west of the capital Tripoli, had also fallen into regime hands.
Gaddafi’s strategy is clearer now: wait it out, regroup, and appraise the fighting and organisational ability of the rebels, as well as the West’s appetite for helping them through some form of intervention. He has not been disappointed. The rebels’ westward progress is being checked and the regime’s airpower has still not been eliminated, providing it with a strategic asset in the offensive against the rebels as well as a measure that, symbolically at least, starkly tells those close and distant to the regime that it is still the power it was before the uprising began.
The mood on the street is changing. In the early stages of the revolution Gaddafi was expected to fall within days. Now, it is being doubted whether he will fall at all, with the Economist, for example, describing how urban Libyans in Benghazi are still too frightened to fly the old flag from King Idris’s time.
The implications of this are as follows. First, it makes the chances of further and significant defections unlikely, least of all those officials who form part of Gaddafi’s elite group of revolutionaries and fanatics who have a vested interest in his survival.
Second, Libya may soon be on the verge of becoming divided into three groups: Gaddafi loyalists, anti-regime rebels and opportunists who will climb onto the bandwagon of the day.
Crucially, third, what this means for the international community and indeed Libyans, is that the much-debated no-fly zone will soon be rendered redundant. If the revolutionary tide is curtailed and the rebellion loses its momentum entirely, then a no-fly zone will do little to prevent the bloody onslaught against the rebels and civilian targets in their constituencies, particularly in the east.
So far, there has been stronger support for diplomatic measures, like isolating Gaddafi through engaging with the Benghazi council and providing it with organisational and humanitarian support. There have also been calls for a media counter-offensive, in light of Gaddafi’s own effective use of propaganda.
Yet, these measures will only be fruitful and have any significance if and when the rebel movement and the Benghazi council are able to consolidate their positions and keep hold of captured territory in the coming days and weeks. With Gaddafi unchecked and regaining territory, the prospects of them doing so are not promising.
Unlike Gaddafi, the rebels may end up being forced to go for broke. The international community has to prevent them from being forced into this position by enforcing a no-fly zone as soon as possible but also by combining this with the provisioning of arms to the rebels, since we may now be at a point where a no-fly zone will have little bearing on the conflict.
The international community remains indecisive as to what actions to take, fearful that intervention will undermine the indigenous nature of the revolution. Yet, it is inadvertently forcing itself into a position that will require it to choose between allowing the regime to embark on a mass killing spree as part of its revenge on the rebels, or direct military intervention through a sustained bombing campaign and the deployment of troops. In other words, with each day of inaction, the range of effective options both decreases and, militarily, looks more dangerous.