Conflicting Interests Cloud Libya Military Intervention Objectives

Analysis by Julio Godoy

HAVANA TIMES, March 22 (IPS) — Conflicting national and electoral interests as well as clashing military and political objectives and potential are jeopardizing the U.S.-Europe led military mission to implement the no-fly zone over Libyan territory, as stipulated by last Thursday’s U.N. Security Council resolution 1973.

The signs of contradictory interests of the countries involved in the military operation against the regime of Muammar al Gaddafi emerged immediately after British, French, and U.S. forces bombarded Saturday and Sunday neuralgic military and other infrastructural points in the Maghreb country.

While Turkey expressed indignation for not being invited to the summit of heads of governments and foreign ministers in Paris last Saturday, the Arab League’s Secretary General, the Egyptian Amr Moussa vacillated between criticizing the military mission and then rowing back from criticism on Monday.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” Moussa said. “What we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.” Both the Arab League and the African Union originally supported the U.N. Security Council resolution 1973, approved last Thursday.

Moussa is expected to be a candidate for the forthcoming presidential election in Egypt. Some analysts dismissed therefore his condemnation of the alleged attacks against the civilian population as a statement aimed at the Egyptian electorate.

Turkey, a Muslim country like Libya, is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO), and considers itself a bridge between the Western military alliance and the Muslim region. For this reason too it has expressed opposition to involving the NATO in the military mission to establish the no-fly zone over Libya.

As consequence of the unclear military leadership of so-called Odyssey Dawn operation, Norway announced it was suspending its participation in the mission.

In addition to such national susceptibilities, the French stance of not shying away from overthrowing the Libyan president Muammar al Gaddafi, despite the restricted mandate of the U.N. Security Council resolution 1973, added to the confusion.

Furthermore, continued strikes against Libyan military and government targets by British, French, and U.S. forces Sunday and Monday, despite their own claims that the ‘no-fly zone’ had been established already Saturday evening, contributed to the uneasiness about the real purposes of ‘the coalition of the willing’.

Monday evening (GMT), it was anybody’s guess whether the military operation would end creating an impasse in Libya, with the Gaddafi regime deprived of airborne military capabilities, but still powerful enough to resist the armed rebellion that started Feb 15.

According to French and U.S. military sources, the strikes had destroyed Libyan warplanes, anti aircraft artillery, and other military equipment. The attacks also killed numerous Libyan militia and troops, especially in the proximity of the north-eastern city of Benghazi, the country’s second largest.

Gaddafi hit back threatening, in an address broadcast by local television, with an extended war and to turn the Mediterranean basin into a battleground.

He accused the U.S., France and Britain of bombarding Libya to control the country’s large oil fields. “We will not leave our oil to America or France or Britain or the enemy Christian states that are aligned now against us,” he said. “We will not leave our land. We will fight for every inch of our land and liberate every inch of it.”

Gaddafi also said that his government was delivering arms to “the Libyan people” to defend the country against the allies’ attack. “Now the arms depots have been opened and all the Libyan people are being armed,” said Gaddafi.

At the same time, the Libyan regime announced that it had given orders to all its military units to respect a unilateral ceasefire, supposed to start Sunday at 9 pm. The Libyan regime said that the ceasefire was a consequence of the call by the African Union to stop all military operations in Libya.

The Russian government also condemned the Western attacks against Libyan forces, calling them “an indiscriminate use of force.” At the U.N. Security Council vote on resolution 1973, Russia and China, permanent members of the forum and armed with the right to veto, did no more than abstain, thus allowing the resolution a smooth passage.

The African, Arab and Russian calls notwithstanding, Western military launched Sunday and Monday new attacks against government buildings in the Libyan capital Tripoli. The strikes focused upon the main government compound, especially what Western military describes as the Gaddafi residence.

Responding to the complaints by the Arab League, the French government affirmed that its military intervention in the Maghreb country was limited to “uniquely implementing the U.N. Security Council resolution.”

However, this declaration was immediately contradicted by French foreign minister Alain Juppé, who said that the real objective of the mission was to overthrow Gaddafi.

In an interview with the public television channel France 2, Juppé admitted that this objective “is not written” in resolution 1973. “But we should stop telling stories,” Juppé added. “It should be quite obvious that the aim of all these (attacks) is to allow the Libyan people to choose its own government.”

“I don’t have the impression that the people would choose Gaddafi,” Juppé added.

Although resolution 1973 authorizes the ‘international military coalition’ “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” in Libya, it also excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,” and stresses “the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people … and (to facilitate) the dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.”

Also, some French analysts recalled that France’s leadership of the allied military intervention in Libya constitutes a “radical turnaround” of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s traditional policy towards the Maghreb region.

Noel Mamère, leader of the Green party, recalled that as late as 2007, Sarkozy tried to sell nuclear power plants to the Gaddafi regime. “That year, Sarkozy received Gaddafi in Paris with all the honors and allowed him to set his tent at the (Paris presidential) Élysée Palace,” Mamère said.

At the time, Sarkozy also tried to sell French military aircraft to Libya.

Mamère described Sarkozy’s behavior vis-à-vis Gaddafi as “that of a sales agent” for the French military and nuclear industries. France maintained lucrative political and business relations with practically all Maghreb dictators until early 2011.