Al-Qaeda Front May Emerge on Europe’s Southern Border

Hopes by the Western anti-Libya military coalition that Gadhafi’s regime would fall quickly have been replaced by fears of a prolonged stalemate. The direst predictions are beginning to come true, particularly those by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: that the Libyan crisis may go the way of Afghanistan or Iraq. The West’s initial stated goals of democratizing Libya’s regime have been put on the back burner. As events evolve, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Gadhafi and his enemies are birds of a feather. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave the following important warning at the briefing that followed a recent Russia-NATO Council meeting. He said Al Qaeda could take advantage of the situation in Libya. “Unfortunately, there is information that Al Qaeda and other terrorists have a chance to benefit from the current situation in Libya,” he said. “That is yet another reason to pay extremely close attention to who people are and what they are doing and take what they say very seriously.”

What they are saying sounds very paradoxical, and unusual things are going on. On the one hand, Libyan rebel leaders held meetings in Doha with western, Arab and African politicians and complained that “NATO is not giving them much assistance.” On the other, Britain and France have said they would like to see more countries and aircraft patrolling Libya’s airspace to destroy Gadhafi’s heavy weapons. However, Belgium does not believe it is necessary. The leaders of the United States, Great Britain and France issued a statement saying the military operation in Libya will continue so long as Colonel Gadhafi remains in power. A month ago the plans of Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron and several other leaders of the countries involved in bombing Libya did not include overthrowing Gadhafi’s regime. Now, the United States is distancing itself from its position as leader of the international coalition in various statements and comments. “The president and this administration believes that NATO, and the coalition of which we remain a partner, is capable of fulfilling that mission of enforcing the no-fly zone, enforcing the arms embargo and providing civilian protection,” White House Press Secretary Jake Carney said. However, military experts believe that the Obama administration’s decision to use American forces exclusively in a support role in the air campaign guarantees that the situation in Libya will be protracted.

Moreover, consensus about events in Libya is lacking within NATO itself. That is apparent from the recent NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin. The NATO Secretary General insisted that the military operation in Libya needs to be expanded. He said it was necessary to protect Libya’s civilian population, although European media are not shy about saying the bombings in Libya are killing civilians. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded by expressing his belief that the air strikes should be more accurate, but as he put it, “To avoid civilian casualties, we need very sophisticated equipment.” But that isn’t all.

NATO members Turkey and Germany believe it is futile to attack the problem with air strikes; they insist it should be settled by peaceful means. Italy refused to participate in the air strikes without issuing any strong démarches. Spain, on the other hand, has extended its military support for the operation until the summer. The headquarters directing the operation is unable to get coordination going between the coalition and the Libyan opposition in Benghazi.

Thus, the anti-Libyan military operation is rendered innocuous and the quality of Western diplomacy is tumbling right before our eyes. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow endorsed (abstained rather than vetoed) the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, but the document does not say NATO should bomb the country. He called for adhering to the UN document as written. Sergei Lavrov stated that position for his NATO counterparts, although, as we know, Moscow is not participating in the Libyan military operation.

What next? According to Katie MacFarlane, an official in the Bush White House, Gadhafi is playing a good game of chess because he is convinced that the Americans, the British and the French will not decide to execute a ground operation—each for their own political reasons. For Gadhafi, therefore, a failure by the Western military coalition would be his finest hour, and he is unlikely to be willing to depart the political stage under the circumstances. On the other hand, developments in Libya are already having an impact on the stormy events in the Middle Eastern countries, and they may also affect the political fate of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the architect of the Libyan crisis, and of the British Cabinet that recently took office. Their so-called “innovative” strategy towards Tripoli has led everyone into an impasse rather than to the quick victory they had anticipated.

Not incidentally, the European media is actively discussing several ways events may play out. There is the so-called optimum scenario—the regime in Tripoli falls and Gadhafi flees. In view of the military and political stalemate that has developed between the opposition and Gadhafi, however, that course of events is unlikely for several reasons. For one thing, the opposition would need to be adequately armed and given military advisers, which would entail a large-scale escalation of ground combat operations. However, the opposition includes radical Islamists, as Lavrov has again reminded us. Therefore, instead of a front against Gadhafi, the members of the international military coalition may get a different, “unexpected war” on Europe’s southern borders.

The second, “European” scenario is similar to the first: the UN would appeal to the EU for assistance. Europe’s militaries would be drawn into a war with Gadhafi’s forces under the pretext of delivering humanitarian goods, after which NATO would stage a ground military operation. That scenario is unlikely, however, because Turkey or Germany and possibly even Italy would block it. Also, the existing UN resolution does not authorize a ground operation. Not incidentally, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet has said that a new UN Security Council resolution is needed in order to overthrow Gadhafi. Resolution 1973, which served as the basis for beginning the current operation in Libya, allows the members of the international coalition to take “all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians,” but not military occupation of the country. The resolution says nothing about changing Libya’s government. And it is unlikely that a new UN security resolution would pass as smoothly as the original. China and Russia could veto it. Finally, there is the cease-fire scenario. The roadmaps first proposed by Turkey and subsequently by the African Union were rejected by the opposition forces, which rely primarily on Paris and London. In addition, by acceding to the military coalition, Turkey sacrificed its peacekeeping potential to its allies’ interests and will be unlikely to function as a mediator in the future. Therefore, the West is increasingly looking towards Russia and China. In any event, the BRICS countries condemned the military operation in Libya at the summit in China, saying it far exceeds the UN mandate. And official Tripoli has also frequently said that the coalition members are not merely maintaining a no-fly zone over Libya but have taken the side of the rebels and are providing air support to the regime’s enemies. But whether Moscow and Beijing will want to pull the West’s chestnuts out of the “Libyan fire” is a question to which there is as yet no answer.

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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