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Three lessons from military intervention in Libya


A guest post by AKUS

I have no idea why “we”, whoever “we” are, are in Libya.

The Libyan adventure, which may one day be seen as the last gasp of European colonialism aided initially by a reluctant USA, seems to be nothing other than a bizarre outcome of the “right to protect” (“R2P”) doctrine. This doctrine has suddenly become fashionable in some circles as it appears to provide quasi-legal, UN-sanctioned cover for those who wish to meddle in other countries’ affairs.

It seems to me that R2P emerged as one of the side-effects of global meddling in the Israeli-Arab conflict created by those who would try to force Israel to end its blockade of arms entering Gaza. As usual, what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. Now R2P is being used to justify bombing Libya.

However, the Libyan adventure is providing some unexpected lessons for Europe and Israel – and despots around the world.

The Washington Post has a front-page headline from Saturday, April 16th, that demonstrates the weakness and divisions inside NATO, and, by extension, Europe:

NATO runs short on some munitions in Libya

Less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.

In contrast, Gaddafi seems to be able to roll out tanks to attack his foes despite the air bombardments by three supposedly powerful NATO countries. As soon as the US limited its involvement Gaddafi gained the upper hand in his fight against the rebels. (It appears the US is still involved in some way which is not being fully reported, and which will make for some interesting politics and journalism back home if it turns out that the administration led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama is involved in a Nicaraguan-style covert war).

First lesson: Europe is so weak that the combined forces of three NATO countries cannot defeat the dictator of a third-world desert country like Libya if the US and Germany stand aside. European economic interventions other countries may have some force, but the lesson despots in Africa and beyond are learning is that as a military power Europe is useless. The Saudis and Bahrainis, where American interests prevent America from intervening, have understood this perfectly.

Ha’aretz noted that Gaddafi launched hundreds of Grad missiles and cluster bombs into Misrata on Saturday:

Three killed as Gaddafi forces fire mortars at residential areas in Misrata

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi fired at least 100 Grad rockets into Misrata and fired mortars at residential areas on Saturday, killing at least three during clashes in the coastal rebel-held Libyan city, a rebel spokesman said. 

…Rebels in Misurata alleged that Gaddafi’s forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. New York-based Human Rights Watch reported Friday that such munitions were used, saying its researchers inspected remnants and interviewed witnesses.

Second lesson:  Even if your air force is grounded, destroyed, or non-existent, if you can get close enough, you can terrorize populations with hundreds of cheap unguided munitions like Grads. Those who have Grads, like Gaddafi, Hamas and Hezbollah will use them indiscriminately against civilians. Hamas already does. In light of the attempt by the PA to gain unilateral statehood, the concept of a Gaddafi-like regime on the West Bank like those in Gaza and Lebanon cannot be countenanced. Israel may need many more Iron Dome batteries than it currently has or can afford, even with the latest US investment of $205 million for Iron Dome and Chetz.

Third lesson: Gaddafi has no compunction about firing cluster bombs into towns. By extension Nasrallah and Haniyah will not either. Israel was accused of using cluster bombs in Lebanon in battle grounds, but never fired them into towns and villages. We can expect no such restraint from Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel may have to find ways to deal with this threat either by identifying and destroying the source, wherever it may be, which could mean many civilian deaths in Gazan and Lebanese villages since the terrorists prefer to fire from civilian areas, or methods of safely destroying any bomblets in the centers of Israel’s towns and cities.

Finally, a question – at what point does it become “disproportionate” to respond to hundreds of Grads and cluster-bombs landing in your cities with a massive air and ground invasion against the attackers, even at the cost of civilian casualties among whom those attackers hide?

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9 replies »

  1. This is the hypocrisy of Europeans. They decry Israel for defending itself for attacks on civilians, yet bomb nations thousands of miles a way that pose NO THREAT to their citizens.

    Same deal in Kosovo. When the dust settles we will see how many died from NATO bombings. Probably more than those killed in Gaza, that’s for sure. How about a NATO Goldstone report? Investigating the possible war crimes of Gadaffi, the rebels, and European/Americans? EH?

    If human rights are universal, why not. Europeans aren’t above the law.

  2. First lesson: I have no idea why this is on a blog about the Guardian’s Comment is Free.
    Second Lesson: Europe is so weak….probably because the French along with the U.N., at the same time, removed the dictator from the Ivory Coast. Oh, and they don’t want to put troops in the ground because then you own the ware as demonstrated by Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
    Third Lesson: Qadaffi’s using grads and cluster bombs cause that’s all he’s got left….thanks to the military intervention.

  3. It is high time to change the rules of engagement between democratic nations and terrorist nations and organizations.

    Geneva conventions should also be altered accordingly.

    Terrorists hiding behind supporting civil population should be accountable for using them as human shields and suffer the consequences should they decide to fire or hide/horde munitions from populated areas, schools, hospitals and mosques.

  4. An other lesson according to the Guardian’s Israeli branch – Ha’aretz:

    The United Nations will watch over Gaza
    Who knows? The UN might one day decide to implement its doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’ during a Hamas-Israel conflict. Seems unlikely? So did the initiative for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state a few months ago.

    I can see the united air force of Sudan, Slovakia and the Ivory Coast supported by the Arab League will enforce a no-fly zone over Gaza and Ban-Ki-Moon will take the responsibility of the security of the population of the Negev. It seems to me the air of the Sheinkin street is full of some kind of mind damaging crap.

  5. As usual, what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.

    Nice try – but this has nothing to do with alleged anti-Semitism at the Guardian and CiF.

  6. Akus, all of your points are good ones. It is particularly notable that after decades of NATO, neither Britain or France alone, let alone NATO itself, is equipped to handily take on Libya. However, don’t allow your perspective on R2P to be skewed by understandable wariness about Israel. Whatever objective position you might take on R2P, many conservative American advocates of even greater US intervention are ardent supporters of Israel. Many liberal-left advocates of R2P are also firm supporters of Israel. And the characteristic far left opponenent of Israel condemns the Libyan intervention as an opportunistic, hypocritical imperialist venture.

  7. Jay – I have been out all day – no chance to reply. I am thinking of a follow up article, and I’ll throw this out for your (and others’) consideration

    The Ha’aretz writer to whom Peterthehungarian linked to stated in his article:

    …Edward Luck, a special adviser to the UN secretary general on genocide, …[explained]: The world body plans to implement the doctrine of “responsibility to protect.” Luck explained that this concept is anchored in the principle that human rights are universal and that every member state is responsible for protecting its citizens. If a state fails to do so, outside forces are permitted to do so in its stead.

    The aim is to prevent the killing of civilians in conflicts that can develop into genocide, he wrote.

    Now, Israel has never asked for foreign assistance in its wars expect for the right to purchase weapons from the Western powers (USA, France, Britain and Germany, primarily). The idea that it would need UN protection would no doubt strike one and all as absurd. That being said, which is in fact the ONLY country in the world actually threatened with genocide, and therefore entitled to ask for R2P intervention if the UN actually means what it says?

    Israel is.

    If an R2P interventionism were required for Gaza, it should actually be implemented on behalf of the country that is daily rocketed and shelled from Gaza. There is no genocide in Gaza, and never has been. But there is a maniacal authority there that calls for genocide against Israel, and does its best to carry it out.

    That is, on behalf of Israel.

    The clowns calling for R2P intervention on behalf of the Gazans have the shoe completely on the wrong foot. It should be implemented by a UN force going into Gaza, as has been done in Libya, with the intention of rooting out Hamas and protecting Israel from Gazan rockets.

    No doubt this would strike many as ridiculous, and Israel is unlikely to request such intervention, let alone the UN carry it out, but doesn’t that actually make sense as opposed to the silly call for an R2P intervention, if one believes in the idea, to protect Gaza from Israel?

  8. Sorry – please reverse the order of paragraphs above to be

    The clowns calling for R2P intervention on behalf of the Gazans have the shoe completely on the wrong foot. It should be implemented by a UN force going into Gaza, as has been done in Libya, with the intention of rooting out Hamas and protecting Israel from Gazan rockets.

    That is, on behalf of Israel.

  9. Akus, R2P as I understand it is a principle intended to transcend any absolute conception of national sovereignty in extraordinary instances (unfortunately, not so extraordinary) of crimes against humanity, etc., committed by a government against its own people, as in Libya. Israel and it various Palestinian and Muslim adversaries (one way or the other) are not covered by this principle. Nations have a whole history of “legal” and illegal precedents to choose from to intervene (take sides) in international conflicts and the like. Of course, that wouldn’t prevent any nation – or more to the point, various organizations, and nations within the U.N. from – from attempting to misapply R2P against Israel. We know various principles of international law are misapplied against Israel regularly.

    However, just because the U.N. has made a laughing stock of the notion of human rights, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have sullied their histories and their names, and China now produces human rights reports on the U.S., that doesn’t mean that the idea of human rights should be chucked with that filthy bathwater. It seems to me that R2P, in conception, works against the whole valueless leveling that membership in the U.N. has produced over the past sixty years. Sovereignty and U.N. membership do not, in principle, inoculate a nation against murderous tyranny over its own people. I say “in principle,” because principles can’t always be applied. There isn’t likely to be a much clearer or simpler opportunity for application than Libya, and we shall see how that goes.

    By the way, my idea for how to fix the U.N. is weighted membership,with voting and participation rights moderated by how a nation scores against a rubric of standards drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other U.N. covenants. I expect the idea to be introduced and passed by the end of the year. 😉