The first war is the one initiated by the rebels, that is, the opposition to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who has been ruling Libya for more than four consecutive decades. This war escalated into a civil war and prompted the second war - fought by the West against the Gaddafi regime. France, Britain and the United States are the bridgehead in this war and have been joined by additional forces, while aiming to shift the main burden to NATO.
While we see daily developments in these two parallel war theaters, generally speaking we can say – as odd as this may sound - that the Libya battlefield is facing a state of dynamic impasse.
That is, every day we see combat, including grave incidents, casualties, changing positions, withdrawals and advances, with each side taking over cities or oil ports. But at the end of the day, for some two months now, there has been no dramatic progress towards toppling the regime and taking power by the rebels. Similarly, there are no dramatic developments in the regime’s ability to eliminate the opposition and embark on a post-war regime that will attempt to ameliorate the situation.
This state cannot persist forever. At some point, the Libyan regime or the West will attempt to decide the outcome of this war. This assumption holds within it another assumption, whereby the West will indeed decide to persist with its policy of toppling the regime even though it does not declare this objective openly.
Rebels depend on West
The West claims that it intervened militarily/politically/diplomatically in order to safeguard civilian lives and avert a massacre. In practice, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the West is apparently determined to topple Gaddafi. Under the circumstances, it is difficult for Western forces to withdraw, lest they be perceived as failing to puruse their objectives and complete the mission, thereby prompting negative domestic implications.
Gaddafi himself, with his family by his side, continues to barricade himself at the Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli. In essence, he has no other option except for continuing the war. Should he surrender, Gaddafi will be extradited, through grave humiliation, to the West and find himself facing the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He may face the same fate as Saddam Hussein, and swore before that he will not be finding himself in this situation.
An alternative that is just as terrible for him would see Gaddafi handed over to the rebels, who will take their revenge on him and his family. Hence, he has no choice but to keep fighting, in the hopes that he will be able to suppress the rebels; he knows better than anyone else that they do not constitute a threatening power as may appear to outside observers. They are not united ideologically, politically, or in terms of leadership, they have no weapons, and do not know how to use the arms they do have.
The rebels’ success wholly hinges in the West’s capabilities and its resolve to stand by them over time. We are seeing cracks in the West, and now must wait for developments. For the time being, as is the case in war, people are being killed every day.
The rebels are receiving significant Western assistance in the form of weapons and massive, ceaseless aerial strikes against Gaddafi’s army and other areas. The rebels too have no reason to withdraw; after all, they feel that victory is in the cards.
And so, the Libyan theater is in a state whereby both sides are convinced they must win and have no other option. Hence, the deciding factor will ultimately be the West, based on its military performance on the ground.
Professor Yehudit Ronen, Bar Ilan’s University’s Political Science Department and Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center
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