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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Libya, No-fly Zone & the Next 10 Days

[added March 20, 2011, 1015 GMT] Pop quiz: how many wars is the US currently engaged in?  You might think 3: Afghanistan (2001-), Iraq (2003-) and now, Libya.  Did you miss out Pakistan (2004-)?  It is a UAV-show all the way.  Pakistan’s toll is 2000+, and counting.

Yours, thinking about MENA Analyst,


I predicted three weeks ago (cliquez ici) that rebels in Libya are unlikely to succeed in deposing  Gaddafi. I stick to this prediction and make further predictions.  I would not classify this post as 'analysis'.  If you are interested in knowing the basis of what I state here then feel free to write back.

Gaddafi’s forces have reached Ajdabiya (labeled A on the map of north eastern Libya).  I do not expect them to march into Benghazi just yet which is 100 miles north of Ajdabiya.  Instead they will likely gain further mass around Ajdabiya over the next few days and another contingent would head east 250 miles to Torbuk (labeled B on the map).  Once Torbuk is taken they will take Benghazi in a pincer movement [1]. Panic has already begun to set amongst rebels in Benghazi.  They have started sending their family members towards the Egyptian border (the solid north-south line on the east-end of the map).    The misty-eyed idealists that joined the protests will desert in large numbers.  The ground leaders will likely stay on as for them it is a fight to finish.  The mercenaries fighting alongside the rebels will do the same or flee back home (the Mediterranean looks more likely though as getting home means traversing southern Libya, which firmly remains within Gaddafi's control) .  The key behind-the-stage actors and Gaddafi-appointed diplomats that sided with the rebels will likely take asylum in the European capitals.

Map 1: Map of East Libya.  Places of interest on the map - the towns of Ajdabiya, Torbuk and Benghazi, the Mediterranean Sea to the north and Egyptian border to the east.

I fear widespread massacre of those left behind in coastal towns in the region above the purple line (see the map).  This should be “over” [2] in about 10 days.

China will be able to hold back the growing international calls for a UN-mandated no-fly zone (NFZ) for at least a week [3].  Its job is not too hard as: 
  • US has no interest in unilateral action.  
  • When push-comes-to-shove Germany will say a firm no to a EU-organized NFZ.
  • France has no interest in taking the lead on the NFZ.  Its loud noises on this count are a reflection of power games with Germany on matters concerning the future of the Eurozone and not North Africa.
  • Britain has the capacity but not the political will to play a leading role in enforcing the NFZ.
  • The Egyptian military does not have an interest in enforcing the NFZ.  And without Egyptian participation, Arabs (read, GCC Arabs) have no ability to project power beyond the Arabian Peninsula or the Persian Gulf.  Besides, as much as the GCC leaders despise Gaddafi, they would (privately) heave a sigh of relief if Gaddafi manages to arrest the domino.
  • Russia does not favor the NFZ.

My main concern in not whether an NFZ can be established but what (if anything at all) can be done to broker peace.  NFZ will not save lives; a brokered truce will.

There is of course the possibility of assassination and that would send the events along an entirely different path.  For me such an event would be a random draw - I profess complete cluelessness about its potential occurrence.  That aside, I think it is astounding to see how much structure there is underlying the seemingly chaotic games played by those who run the world.

[1] There is no point chasing up north when those that are being chased can escape to the East and regroup.  Besides, Gaddafi can achieve victory at a lower cost by breaking the will of his antagonists.  That is much easier done when the antagonists are cornered and forced to fight or set sail across the Mediterranean than when they have an opportunity to draw out Gaddafi’s forces into a desert safari.

[2] The phenomenon we are observing in Libya and the broader Arab world is an organic phenomenon and not an incident.  So, nothing will really be over in the true sense of the word over. Therefore the quotes.

[3] Contrary to widespread media reports Gaddafi has hitherto used his air force for mainly:

· organizing troops movements
· destroying ammunition depots that are controlled by rebels
· destroying food depots and water catchments in rebel areas

He has had enough time to organize his artillery logistics.  Even if an NFZ were imposed now I do not think it would make much difference.

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