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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