Libya Threatens Mediterranean Planes, Ships if Attacked

Aljazeera English reports on the eruption of delight in Benghazi at the announcement Thursday evening New York time that the UN Security Council had authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and the taking of all measures necessary to protect civilian life.

The Qaddafi regime sent mixed signals after the announcement, with the deputy foreign minister indicating that a cease-fire would be observed if its details could be worked out. The minister of defense said that a ceasefire would begin Sunday (by which time, presumably, he expected to be in control of the whole country). At the same time, the ministry of defense issued a threat that if Libya were attacked, it would retaliate against air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean basin.

One strategy the Qaddafi regime could deploy would be to try to take the whole country quickly. A no-fly zone and even a ‘no-drive zone’ intended to protect the rebels would become irrelevant if all the rebel strongholds had fallen. Although some French sources are talking about air strikes on Libya by late Friday, other sources say Sunday is likely the earliest the UN-authorized forces could intervene. By then, some elements in Tripoli probably hope, the whole thing will be over with. In short, the rebels need to be able to survive on their own two or three brutal days.

It is not clear whether Qaddafi’s forces have already taken Misrata near Tripoli in the West, a city of 600,000, or whether parts of it are still in rebel hands (Aljazeera Arabic maintains the latter). Qaddafi’s forces are battling for contol of Ajdabiya in the middle of the country, from which they could quickly advance on Benghazi. They even allegedly made a foray on Tobruk in the far west before being beaten off.

I think the threat launched by the ministry of defense, of essentially turning to large-scale terrorism in the Mediterranean, has sealed the fate of the regime. No government that speaks that way will be allowed by the powers of the Greater Mediterranean.

Qaddafi is almost completely isolated in the region, a bad sign for him. His survival would not have been good for the new reform governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Having an authoritarian who sent tanks against his protesters, and who has billions in oil wealth, as a neighbor would be very inconvenient for reformists on either side of Libya, whom Qaddafi would try to undermine.

Qaddafi’s old friend Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has offered Italian bases to France, Britain, Norway, Canada, the US and the gathering UN-backed coalition. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates may well fly fighter jets over Libya on behalf of the Arab League. Russia and China, which abstained from the UNSC vote, are distant and not involved. Algeria is probably getting out of the way lest any opprobrium fall on Algiers.

If Qaddafi falls, and a new government emerges with parliamentary commitments and a rule of law, all of North Africa will have seen substantial reforms. Morocco is moving toward being a constitutional monarchy. Algeria has lifted the state of emergency declared in 1992. Tunisia and Egypt have overthrown their dictators and announced new elections and the prospect of new constitutions. Algeria has gone least far toward reform, but the regional atmosphere is turning decisively against such foot-dragging.

What happens in the next 72 hours is fateful for Libya but will have wider repercussions throughout the region, for better or worse.

North Africa

North Africa

21 Responses

  1. Maybe Saudi Arabia and Bahraini governments will take part as well? Or are they are too busy killing their own people?

  2. Here we have it again like all the UN interventionist measures, endless divisions and never ending wars – Korea, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, etc. etc.

  3. Thank you so much for this post.
    About 9 a.m. EDT, Libya announced a cease fire.
    I am hoping Gadaffi, I can’t spell, is a coward and that this goes quickly.
    I did hear France and Britain were on their way to Libya.
    I may be wrong, Juan, but I think Obama did this right.

    • I look forward to the day when Obama will continue to do the right thing by the people of Bahrain.

  4. So we’re going to see UAE pilots supporting revolution in Libya while UAE troops are suppressing revolution in Bahrain? We’re living in Bizzaroworld.

  5. Would someone kindly explain how the bankrupt US government plans to pay for its latest adventure? By increasing calls to cut Social Security and throw Grandma out on the street?

    And how does Congress figure into this? We all know that they are just a rubber stamp for DOD, but are they at least going to put on the appearance of making this Constitutional?

    • Borrow more money from China – they’ll accept a lower interest rate if they can get their hands on Libya’s oil.

  6. “I think the threat launched by the ministry of defense, of essentially turning to large-scale terrorism in the Mediterranean, has sealed the fate of the regime. No government that speaks that way will be allowed by the powers of the Greater Mediterranean.”

    I can’t believe I am saying this to the estimable Juan Cole, but I think that may be naive. If he manages to hold on to power and he’s still sitting on all that oil, they’ll kiss and make up just as they always have. He has already ordered the destruction of a civilian airliner and the mass murder of U.S. troops in Germany, and the western powers, including the U.S., chose to look the other way. I don’t think a few provocative words will matter more.

  7. Qaddafi announces a ceasefire! The fox. But then he has hardly any other choice. Is the opposition allowed now to fight on to destroy him and his cronies? And is he supposed to turn the other cheek and go down in a loving gush of nonviolence like his adversaries at home and abroad would never do themselves? The politicians’ plan is, of course, regime change but everyone is to cowardly to say it openly. Sarkozy now has his little war to boost his political fortunes. Cameron’s game may be a bit less obvious. As ever, Obama’s is totally opaque. Has the ‘international community’ hired the Libyan rebels to destroy Qaddafi? There are enough tricks and ruses and deceits here to embarrass Machiavelli. Another war has begun as the Saudis take care of matters on the other side of the region.

  8. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason? For the US anyone in power in Libya is better than Khadaffy. US rulers are indifferent to democracy. When the mob is on thier side fine. When it is not they will try to subvert it.
    In the US of the 21st century marketing has replaced reasoning.

  9. Thus, Bahrein and Yemen dictators will be bombed soon in order to stop them killing their own people? Will Saudi Arabia’s monarchy finnaly receive what he deserves for his decades-long brutal and bloody dictatorship and for his bloody attack on his own (and Bahrein’s) shia people?

    Will Karzai, the croonie of Kabul, be bombed for attacking his own afghan rebels?

    Go hypocrisy go!

  10. This is not a ‘no fly zone’ resolution. It is a resolution to dissolve the Libyan Government. If it doesn’t fall or resign it will be taken apart by the ‘rebels’ with weapons supplied from outside. This is a resolution to support war. Already Madame Clinton has said Gaddafi must go. There is no wriggle room. And if anyone who supports the Libyan Government opposes the rebel attacks – they will be killed with the full support and backing of the United Nations.

    • You mean the Qaddafi Dictatorship, not the Libyan Government. The Libyan Government is located in Benghazi, has been for several weeks. Ask the Libyan ambassadors.

      I’m making a point here. Qaddafi threw away his sources of legitimacy, without which nobody can rule.

    • The one thing I haven’t heard anyone mention is giving the critical weapons to the rebels – such as TOWs and Stingers – that would allow them to conquer the country by themselves. Is there any evidence that this will be the approach, or is the West going in to impose a government it is comfortable with?

      As for the idea that the rebels are frauds who were working for the West all along, shame on you. They took a huge chance, and the unreliability of the US as an ally is legendary. The problem is whether they will be screwed over like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was after 2001 so that an actual US client can be proclaimed leader.

      I think that what happened here was the US’s belated realization that if Gaddafi survived he’d have to be embargoed anyway for his actions, which would take 2 million barrels a day off the oil market. Politicians are far more afraid of that right now than Islam or Arabs or terrorism.

      • By the way, “you” in my comment refers to one of the posters further upstream, not Mark Delmege.

  11. Former British Ambassador, Craig Murray, wrote on his blog

    “As part of the US deal with Saudi Arabia, the Arab forces which are going to be used as poster boys for the action against Libya will come largely from the Gulf Cooperation Council, ie precisely the same organisation which the US and Saudi are using to put down democracy in Bahrain. So whatever this is about, it is not about support for democracy.”

  12. Some very good sense on Libya from Robert Fik in the UK Independent:

    link to

    “One thing we can do is spot the future Gaddafis and Saddams whom we are breeding right now, the future crackpot, torture-chamber sadists who are cultivating their young bats with our economic help. In Uzbekistan, for example. And in Turkmenistan. And in Tajikistan and Chechenya and other “stans”. But no. These are men we have to deal with, men who will sell us oil, buy our arms and keep Muslim “terrorists” at bay.

    It is all wearingly familiar. And now we are back at it again, banging our desks in spiritual unity. We don’t have many options, do we, unless we want to see another Srebrenica? But hold on. Didn’t that happen long after we had imposed our “no-fly” zone over Bosnia?”

    Right on Robert Fisk, but the one useful thing we can do is the very thing we will not do until the democratic deficit in the West is closed.

  13. ERic,
    We have been living in Bizzarroworld since Jan. 2001 and since Jan.1981 and since June 8th 1967 and since November 22nd 1963 and since 1913 and since 1832. Roots of corruption run very deep in America. It takes a few good dilligent people in the right places at the right time to keep a country on a scenic path.

    • @Burton Hurton – personally I think it all started to go pear shaped in 1648.

      @Joe Emersberger – Bosnia UN SC Resolution 781 was a No-Fly zone resolution, neither it nor the related SC resolutions had anything resembling the inclusion of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that’s in SC 1973 (link to That’s the element that’s been referred to as the n No-Drive zone clause.

      No aircraft were involved in the events in Srebrenica. If the French had sent planes (as I believe they were requested to do so by the Dutch) then its arguable whether they they could have done anything.

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