Libyans will observe the annual Muslim holy fast of Ramadan this year under extremely difficult conditions that resemble nothing so much as what happened a century ago when Italian “crusaders” appeared in their desert expanses. It begins on August 1 and forbids the faithful from partaking of food and drink and engaging in recreational activities from sunrise to sunset. Berbers had to both fast and fight the invaders at the same time for more than 20 years.
The Libyans were united then, and they fought to the death against a foreign enemy. Now they are almost artificially split under the false pretext of replacing their leader, Muammar Gadhafi, who annoyed his fellow countrymen during his 42-year rule less than the West, which intends to replace the entrenched generation of Middle Eastern “kings” by arranging the electronic tragedy called “Arab Spring” using Internet social networking sites. It was conceived at start of the year in Tunisia and Egypt. Things happened quickly. The “controllable chaos” has lasted for half a year in Libya, Yemen and Syria; and perhaps for the first time NATO, which is proud of its military power, has been unable to deal with the warlike Bedouins of the Libyan desert. They have succeeded in splitting them, and dumping all the evils of the early 21st century on them, and testing the latest military developments on them—but they have failed to defeat them, much less topple their leader, Muammar Gadhafi, the “Lion of the Desert,” who studied nowhere but knows both the Quran and the fine points of surviving in the Sahara by heart.
No matter what missiles and bombs the Western aggressors have rained on the Libyan “barrel of oil,” striking it more than 15,000 times, the holy month of Ramadan, which marks a half year of war, will apparently be no less bloody; and the defenders of Libyan soil will have to both pray and fight to the death for their honor, for their desert, for their way of life, for their leader, and for their Bedouin values.
In fact, the so-called “Libyan rebels” entrenched in Benghazi—the main city in Cyrenaica, the eastern part of the country (the rest of the country calls them “rats”)—have made little progress towards gaining control of the situation despite military, financial, political and propaganda support from the West. They first attempted to seize power elsewhere in the country by surrounding the capital city of Tripoli—the stronghold of forces loyal to the Jamahiriya—but they didn’t have the stomach for it.
The Western media, despite everything, keeps on applauding the supposed successes of the latter-day Saharan fighters for democracy. Juma’a Abd al-Sayyid, the official spokesman for the anti-Gadhafi formations of the February 17 Revolution, says almost daily that the opposition “has advanced on several fronts simultaneously.” He says combat operations are being coordinated with NATO headquarters and have the ultimate goal of “decisively shifting the initiative to the insurgents.”
Abd al-Sayyid claims that fierce fighting is occurring in Misurata on the northern front to the west and east of the city, and members of the opposition have expanded their zone of control to the outskirts of Zlitan, Bani-Walid and Tuargha. Positional battles are taking place in eastern Libya along the front line between El Brega and Adjdabiya. In the southern city of Sabha, Gadhafi’s main stronghold in the center of the Libyan desert, anti-government riots sometimes break out and are suppressed by the authorities.
In his mid-July address to the people, Gadhafi urged Libyans to storm the Jabal al-Gharbi district (western Libya) and seize the French weapons dropped from airplanes for a “handful of traitors.” According a report in the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoting Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, the local population in Tripoli was given 1.2 million weapons. He said, “Future defenders of the fatherland are being trained everywhere against a treacherous attack by apostates from Islam or a ground operation by the Western Crusaders.” He stressed that “every Libyan—male and female—would fight the bandits and invaders.”
Numerous eyewitnesses have reported that Gadhafi’s regular army units are successfully repelling enemy attacks. They say the rebels are traveling on Japanese jeeps with heavy machine guns and guns removed from destroyed tanks and armored vehicles mounted on them. Due to poor logistics, they are forced to retreat to replenish ammunition after breaking through a section of the front. Military actions like that have allowed Gadhafi’s troops to regroup and regain lost positions over the past six months. The rebels are relying on NATO air support, arms supplies and French and British military experts, who, incidentally, are unfamiliar with the outdated Soviet weapons once sold to Libya. One of the military specialists still serving in Gadhafi’s army noted that there is enough of that equipment to fight several wars.
Eyewitnesses say Gadhafi’s army has highly trained groups of sappers and explosives experts who, for example, were able to rapidly mine a large area around the oil port of Mers el Brega (where, according to a EuroNews report on June 29, 400,000 landmines and bombs had been emplaced), closing down the oil terminals and stopping the flow of oil for export. “The Libyans have lived for thousands of years without oil and will do so for many more,” Gadhafi said on a similar occasion in 1971 when tensions with the West first peaked. Libya’s coast, which extends for about 2000 km, is currently being patrolled by 17 NATO warships, but it has also been mined in many areas—it is dangerous for ships to dock, and they must be supplied with everything they need from outside. The caves that line the Libyan coast are also dangerous to outsiders; an enemy can be fired on from them at any time of the day or night. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen has accused Gadhafi of using “human shield” tactics (groups of people guarding important buildings in Tripoli around the clock). He said formations loyal to Gaddafi are firing missiles from mosques and putting children’s playgrounds next to military bunkers and that, not surprisingly, the International Criminal Court has started investigating Gadhafi and his associates on suspicion of crimes against humanity. The Libyans respond by saying, “So what? War is war.” And they ask: who in Europe will answer for the destruction of Libyan cities and the daily victims that local residents led by Gadhafi are burying, not the rebels and not the Europeans. They bury them in silence, with eyes sparkling angrily. Gadhafi’s youngest son, who was killed in a bombing, and his three grandchildren were laid to rest in just that way. As were hundreds and hundreds of other Libyans. And NATO shrugs: “It’s not us, they’re doing it to themselves.” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has even said: “I don’t know of any instance where someone was hurt in Libyan territory by NATO bombing.”
Is it possible that Juppe does not know that it was France that initiated the European coalition war on Gadhafi and was the first to bomb military targets and government buildings and take part in the intervention? Moscow News asked French authorities that question on July 12. The newspaper calculated that NATO aircraft have struck 2700 military targets in Libya, and France destroyed 35% of them. However, NATO’s operation is nevertheless at an impasse. The rebels who seized control of Eastern Libya still do not know how to get to Tripoli.
Meanwhile, a French lawyer named Marcel Ceccaldi petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding NATO’s actions, which he regards as war crimes. He spoke about that in Paris. “We don’t know what methods were used in the ICC’s investigation or under what circumstances witnesses saw the regime’s so-called victims, “ he said. The bombing by NATO aircraft of targets where there are civilians is a war crime. The Transitional National Council in Benghazi is also guilty of a number of such crimes, but the ICC has taken no action against it. Ceccaldi accused the ICC of applying double standards.
As has Gadhafi’s daughter Aisha, who lost a two-year-old son and a younger brother when French aircraft bombed a house in Tripoli. She filed a suit in a French court against President Nicolas Sarkozy as commander-in-chief of the French armed forces and the top military officials directing operations by French forces in Libya. The Paris court rejected the claim, arguing that the military was engaged in combat operations in Libya and their leaders are not subject to prosecution because they were carrying out military tasks. That is French justice.
There have been reports in the West that Libyans from the west and east are sending delegates to talks on the island of Djerba (Tunisia), to Cairo (Egypt) and to Moscow (Russia) in order to discuss cease-fire terms. By all appearances, they are dragging things out. NATO urgently needs to stop dropping bombs on Libyan territory and get out while the getting is good. The Bedouins need time to understand what is happening.
That apparently will not happen for quite a while, and in the meantime the economic and criminal situation in Libya is getting worse. The territory controlled by the “rebels” is affected most. Eyewitnesses there say looters have plundered everything they can, and no one is bringing in new goods. That was noted in a report by a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that visited Libya. The delegation concluded that there is a risk of a food crisis in most parts of Libya, but ICRC experts found no food crisis in the areas controlled by the government: every family continues to receive subsidies for food. Government wages are being paid through the banking system, including to those who have been displaced. The pension system is functioning normally. According to the ICRC, the bombings and battles are psychologically traumatic for all Libyans. None thought they would see a war in their own country.
Scholars of the world are alarmed: the Libyan conflict threatens the unique city of Leptis Magna—the country’s largest archaeological center, which UNESCO lists as a World Heritage Site. The front line is only 40 km from this monument of antiquity, and UNESCO is sounding the alarm out of concern for the safety of the Phoenician colony, which was constructed about 1100 BCE. The Romans built a forum; a basilica; a Liber Pater temple; temples of Roma, Augustus and Hercules; a large market; and a theater—all are well preserved. The ruins are located 130 km east of Tripoli.
After the capture of Baghdad in 2004, some US Defense Department contractors working in Iraq were involved in the theft of valuables from the Baghdad Museum; some were taken out of the country and are now being auctioned in Europe despite the fact that US forces have not left the country. The treasures of Leptis Magna are much more valuable than those in Iraq, and not surprisingly UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has urged the sides in the conflict to respect the Hague Convention on Protection of Cultural Property.
Although the Obama administration claims that American forces are playing only a supporting role in NATO’s Libyan campaign, US Air Force and Navy aircraft have flown more than 5000 missions in support of Operation United Defender. The Washington Post reported in late June that the United States is flying F-16 fighters; U-2, E-8 and Orion P-3 reconnaissance aircraft; KC-10 and KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft; and many more. But despite that and despite European efforts to eject Gadhafi from Libya, the country remains a socialist people’s Arab Jamahiriya in which resentment against the foreign military intervention and illegal actions by the rebels, who are divvying up other people’s money and arms received from outside the country, is growing by the day and by the hour.
The nearly half year of war with the West and domestic chaos have hardened Gaddafi and his supporters and showed them what to pray for during the holy month of Ramadan, and what to ask of God. The city of Sirte, which is considered Gadhafi’s hometown, held a mass demonstration on July 22, prior to Ramadan, in support of Gaddafi. They heard an audio message from him in which he said for the first time that he would not negotiate with the rebels “until Judgment Day.” Gaddafi urged them to surrender to the authorities and not betray their fellow countrymen, against whom the West has gone to war. Gaddafi said the forces loyal to him will fight the insurgency everywhere if need be—even in Europe. His arrogant opponents said at the same time that they plan to end the war on August 1 so that they could read the Quran among friends and pray to God in peace.
Gadhafi’s son and successor, Seif al-Islam, said in an interview with Le Monde: “We are just as prepared to reach peace in the conflict, hold elections and establish democracy as we are for war… But,” he stressed, “the conflict in Libya cannot be settled without Muammar Gaddafi. This is a Libyan conflict, involving Libyans and traitors, armed formations of various groups and terrorists; and the solution to this conflict cannot be found without my father’s participation… There is no chance the ‘rats’ will take control of Libya. The war concerns us more now than the Transitional National Council in Benghazi does…”
Nothing more need be said. War and Peace are incompatible concepts, of course. But all wars end sooner or later, in what Arab Muslims call Salaam, and the European crusaders call Peace.
Peace be unto you all.
Yegor Desnin is a Middle East expert from Russia.
Source: New Eastern Outlook