The Battle of Brega: Qaddafi Compared to Netanyahu in Arab Press

Aljazeera English reported on the Battle of Brega just as it was concluding on Wednesday afternoon, describing relatively ineffectual bombing raids by Tripoli even as partisans of the liberation movement pushed pro-Qaddafi troops out of the city.

The BBC is reporting that Qaddafi’s forces were numerous and well-armed, and had intended to take Brega first and then roll on to Ajdabiya. The less well-armed pro-Benghazi forces nevertheless contained many ex-military and had superior esprit de corps, and reinforcements from Ajdabiya allowed the Brega citizen militia to beat off the attackers.

Aljazeera English reports that people in Brega and Ajdabiya very much want a no-fly zone to be established by the outside world over Libya to remove the threat of air attacks from Tripoli. In contrast, the pan-Arab press outside Libya is extremely critical of the idea of Western intervention in Libya, even where it is virulently anti-Qaddafi.

Qaddafi’s willingness to bomb his own civilian population from the air is being likened by the Saudi newspaper al-Iqtisadiya [The Economy] to Israel’s routine use of bombing against the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. This comparison seems to me extraordinary and a sign of how unpopular Qaddafi is among Arab intellectuals and in the Arab public.

The attack by pro-Qaddafi forces on Brega underscores the contest between the Tripoli government and the Benghazi rebels over Libya’s petroleum revenues.

Qaddafi’s hopes of surviving and of reconquering the east depend heavily on his access to monetary resources. With many of his assets abroad frozen and his banks closed, and 80% of the petroleum fields and facilities in rebel-held territory, he is not well-positioned for a war of attrition. Hence the attempt to retake Brega quickly.

As in Iraq under the oil embargo of the 1990s, likely gasoline and kerosene will start being simply smuggled by Qaddafi’s forces, to provide him a lifeline. It is not lucrative to smuggle raw crude, so the real question is Qaddafi’s control of refineries. Gasoline, once produced, is easy to transport and has a high value, so it is ‘fungible’– easily exchanged for cash anywhere, and gasoline is increasingly the hope for revenue of both sides. According to the LAT, the Benghazi rebels say that they don’t need the petroleum revenue to function, since the regime had not earlier been spending much of it in their region anyway. But this assertion is mere bravado. If the standoff between east and west Libya continues, they will need to purchase arms on the international market, and will need big money to do so.

Aljazeera English reports that the strength of Qaddafi’s military has been over-estimated. For instance, his jets seem mostly not to be able to fly (sophisticate jets even in the West spend as much as 50% of the time being repaired and serviced on the ground, out of service, and the proportion is likely much, much higher in Tripoli). Only a few planes have flown missions against the rebels.

14 Responses

  1. U.S. DefSec Gates says that to impose a No Fly zone would require an attack on anti-aircraft defense installations.
    So- attacking and destroying these things on the ground would
    be a big ugly air attack, dropping bombs, and causing
    damage, casulties ect . Not so easy, or good PR I think.

    -rms

  2. I don’t for a moment believe US/European official care for human suffering of Libyans. All the talk of no fly zone is nothing more than preparation for war. You can’t have no-fly zone unless you first “take out” libyan defenses. Which as in case of Iraq also meant all infrastructure (water, sewer, electricity grid, bridges….). It seems to me US/Europeans are thinking Libyan oil, given its small population is an easy target. Furthermore, there is no one that would benefit from the current Arab street awakening. All powers in the region and beyond, US, Europe, Israel, Iran…. would love to put this genie back in the bottle and go back to the business as usual. I think in some quarters the politician see invasion of Libya as way to stop these uprising. If folks in other country see an uprising resulting in massive destruction of their country they are more likely to accept their corrupt leader as lesser of the evil that living in stone ages.

    I think for everyone that is interested in democratic middle east, they should work hard to make sure there are no external intervention in any of these countries. Otherwise we will be back down to a demoralized population and higher risk of terrorism.

    • I disagree on one point: the Iranians as a people stand to gain from an Arab rebirth. Void of the morally bankrupt order, everyone in the Islamic bloc/sphere (religosity aside; this is used as a cultural referential index) stands to gain.

      Mobarak, Ben Ali, now it’s time for Sayyid Ali.

  3. “If the standoff between east and west Libya continues,
    they will need to purchase arms on the international market, and will need big money to do so.”

    They could always sell off oil concessions, and mortgage their children’s future.

    Combine that with the phony democracy, run by powerful interests, which will inevitably take over if the Libyans are not only very careful, but also very lucky, and we will have another very disillusioned population wondering what happened to their aspirations.

    Remember that even if your intentions may be well meant,
    those of governments never are.
    So, is there good interference and bad interference as in good and bad luck?
    No such thing, there is only interference.

  4. If he doesn’t have many aircraft, only a few of those aircraft are capable of flight and the bombing raids those few undertake are ineffective then there is no reason to set up a “no fly zone” as the propaganda advantage to Gaddafi of the West becoming involved in a civil war would be immense.

  5. “In contrast, the pan-Arab press outside Libya is extremely critical of the idea of Western intervention in Libya, even where it is virulently anti-Qaddafi.”

    Perhaps the reason the other Arab nations don’t support a no-fly zone is because it would set a precedent that might be applied to them if they wanted to bomb their own citizens.

    “likened by the Saudi newspaper al-Iqtisadiya [The Economy] to Israel’s routine use of bombing against the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. This comparison seems to me extraordinary and a sign of how unpopular Qaddafi is among Arab intellectuals and in the Arab public”

    Or is it that the Saudi regime will say anything so as to ensure that they continue to enjoy unlimited support from Washington.

  6. Get involved? Israel is sending mercenaries to help Qadhafi

    When you need a friend! (Reminds me of the Spanish Civil War, Hitler and Mussolini eager to help one side, USA communists and USSR anxious to help the other, USA making it ILLEGAL for USA citizens to arm or fight for the anti-Franco forces.

  7. I’m curious and concerned about something that seems like an underreported aspect of the Libya crisis – the racial aspect.

    In the early, eastern days of the uprising, I saw graffiti and other opposition outputs that compared Ghaddafi to a monkey. There is also the issue of the mercenaries – initally assumed to be foreign fighters imported for the purpose, but the more detailed reports show that that’s not the case – the opposition just calls them mercenaries because they’re paid. In a number of cases we’ve seen videos and photos of “mercenaries”, and they’re black. I’ve also read of Chadian oil workers massacred, of other black immigrants in the east fearing to go outside because they might be killed as “mercenaries”.

    Meanwhile, we’ve heard much of the Egyptian and Tunisian refugees, the British and Italian and Turkish evacuations. But pre-crisis reporting would suggest that after Egypt, most of the foreign-born people in Libya were sub-Saharan Africans, many of them having spent many years there – more like immigrants than “oil workers”. We’ve heard almost nothing about them – whether hundreds of thousands are fleeing, or what’s up with them.

    Far be it from me to defend the Ghaddafis. But I am starting to wonder whether there is a subtext in which the Ghaddafis are getting support not only from their own tribe and from other Arab Libyans, but also from demographic groups of African immigrants who are perhaps being excluded from the category of “Libyan” even though they’ve spent much of, in some cases all their lives there.

    If this is interesting, I’d love to see more info from someone like you, Juan, or a knowledgeable commenter here, who knows more about the situation and/or has access to better sources than I do.

  8. No one in West or East wants foreign soldiers on the ground in Libya, and preferably not in the air either. In fact, it seems the survival of the Libyan revolt hinges on something rather different: money and weapons.

    Where are the proposals for an oil and weapons blockade, specifically stopping ships to Sirte and Tripoli, while letting those to the rest of Libya pass? Of course, under international law a blockade is an act of war. The Chinese (whose leaders obviously feel great kinship with Ghaddafi) may prevent any resolution in the UN Security Council. But what is there to stop other countries from implementing a blockade with the justification of the thousands of lives to be saved by shortening the Libyan Civil War?

    It may be war, but there is a clear and obvious distinction between an oil blockade on the one hand, and a ground/air intervention on the other. Public opinion is not so stupid that it can be confused over this distinction.

  9. I just thought I’d follow up with some data on blacks in Libya. I found an LA Times article from a decade ago suggesting the number of black immigrants in Libya was about 1/6th of the population of 5 million at that time.

    I’ve found a number of articles about Africans fleeing to their home countries. The numbers in those articles seem to be of citizens who have checked in with their embassies. For instance, when the Nigerian press reports 4,000 Nigerians already airlifted, out of a total of 10,000 to be evacuated, there are hints that there are other Nigerians in Libya not counted in the “to be evacuated” total – people outside Tripoli, etc.

    And if the LA Times piece is correct, that there were already 850,000 blacks in Libya 11 years ago, then there must now be a huge total that were born there and have no other passport.

  10. Another link on the situation for sub-Saharan Africans in Libya:
    link to afrol.com

    I can’t say much about Africa On-Line (the AfrOL of Afrol.com). The article is merely signed by “staff writers”. It seems to refer to some of the incidents I’ve read about elsewhere, and a few others.

  11. Since the Libyan air force is weak, where is the justification for a so-called “no-fly zone” ?

    I would say that the present situation is actually better, in terms of getting rid of Qadafi’s supporters. The fact that they have a fighting chance encourages them to risk open battle, where they are easier to defeat. An evenly-matched, hard-fought civil war has a better chance of proving decisive and leading to a clear political conclusion.

    A Western intervention would only succeed in driving the pro-Qadafi forces underground. It is not very difficult to imagine what their strategy might be.

    They would cache arms, organize a cell network, and then await events. Either the foreigners eventually leave, or they hang around. If they leave, then the civil war can be resumed at leisure, albeit with a narrower margin of relative advantage over their opponents.

    If the foreigners stay (and knowing Western interventionists, that’s what they tend to do), then after a few months, an insurgency can be mounted, vindicated by patriotism.

    Every time the stupid foreigners kill Libyans, it would be a moral victory for Qadafi and his cohorts. Every Libyan who openly collaborates with the foreigners will end up tainted by them. It is only necessary to goad the foreigners into excess, which is not terribly difficult to do.

    Schisms would open among Qadafi’s enemies because of the issues caused by the stupid foreign interventionists. It is likely that volunteers would arrive from elsewhere in the Maghreb and around the Arab world.

    Western interventionism would probably accomplish nothing but a long-simmering, indecisive civil and regional conflict. The NGO types would be thrilled; more contracts for them, more “studies” to make, etc.

  12. A sector in the US government believes that the US can position itself as the savior of the Arab masses. They have in mind the US’s popularity in Poland. These are the same people who believe that “Reagan won the cold war”. Never mind that the dictators being overthrown, Qaddafi excepted, have been propped up by US and European interests in oil. Of course such a point of view is nonsensical and unrealistic, but some of those in the US government believe it, and others know they can sell it to the populace in the US. It’s like pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein, only piggybacking on an already extant revolt. The ulterior motive is of course the usual one – the thought is that if the US appears to have supported the revolt, then the new government will be more likely to give preference to the US in the sale of oil (versus China, Russia and Europe – the main competitors). If the US can get some troops on the ground permanently in Libya, all the better from its point of view. It’s harder to sell oil to China if US troops are guarding the wells. That this is all quasi-delusional only reflects that we live in a world in which Obama feels a need to justify his Nobel Peace Prize by threatening to intervene in a civil war.

    It’s hard to see how US imperialism can be a useful part of the overthrow of Qaddafi.

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