Just ten days ago, we believed that Colonel Gaddafi’s time was up, that his regime was history, and that the Libyan capital Tripoli was on the verge of falling into the rebels hands, especially after they took control of the city of Zawiya, less than 50 km away. Today it seems that the opposite is true, with Gaddafi’s troops having reclaimed many areas of the country that were previously under rebel control, and with these forces beginning to shell the rebels’ capital Benghazi. It was this development that forced the UN Security Council to rush to issue a critical resolution. Despite the differences and divisions between some states over the issue of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, this draft resolution achieved a majority and was quickly passed by the UN Security Council, resulting in Libya today becoming – like Afghanistan – the scene of an international war that aims to forcibly remove the ruling regime.
Although Gaddafi’s troops achieved a number of victories over the past days, and are much better armed than the rebel forces, they are now in the cross-hairs of the internationals forces who are similarly much better armed than they, and who – under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – are allowed to target them, and not just impose a no-fly zone, as was initially believed.
Colonel Gaddafi must have been overjoyed with the Libyan army’s successive victories over the rebel forces, especially as just a few days prior to this it seemed that he was facing the choice between seeking asylum abroad or trial and execution. [Prior to the UN resolution] Gaddafi’s victory seemed assured, and this can be seen in the statements he issued from Tripoli asserting that he intended to enter Benghazi one way or the other, and that only those who left the rebel stronghold – which has a population of 1.5 million – would be safe.
The scene in the coming days, and perhaps even weeks, and months, will see the conflict intensify in comparison to what we have seen so far, that is unless Colonel Gaddafi chooses the path of negotiating with his opponents, in order to spare Libya from harm. It is believed that Gaddafi has huge [financial] capabilities that will allow him to cling on and exert control, and the large amount of money that remain in the government banks in Libya – estimated at a few billion dollars – means that he is not in immediate need of the financial assets belonging to the Gaddafi family, which have been internationally frozen. Of course we must also recall how committed Gaddafi was to fighting this challenge to his authority since the crisis first occurred, and he has said that this is a matter of life and death for his family and regime. However even if Gaddafi is victorious [over the rebels], this will only incite an international conflict, as well as increase the international calls to widen the scale of this conflict.
I do not know what the possible solution to this crisis is, and the situation is only becoming more and more dangerous, with the potential risk increasing with the military involvement of superpowers like France and its allies. Such a war will only increase the likelihood of Libyan citizens being subject to genocide on the ground.
If Colonel Gaddafi does not take a flexible position that is open to a political resolution of this crisis that the rebels find satisfactory then he will find himself in an even more difficult position; a position where negotiation is no longer possible. Although the Libyan leader’s management of his forces has improved, changing the equation on the ground, he must be aware that any military victory [against the rebels] will be nothing more than him winning a battle, rather than war, for there is a genuine popular opposition to his leadership in Libya and it will not be easy to get rid of them.
This opposition will not simply return to their homes. With international support and after being granted international legitimacy, these rebels will be protected, and a Gaddafi victory – should one occur- will only be temporary. The external factors are now the most important ones with regards to resolving the conflict in Libya; this is something that Gaddafi seems to have failed to understanding. Gaddafi seems to be under the impression that he will be able to ride this storm, because the previous [international] blockade against him in the 90s failed, and because following the international war in Afghanistan, and the lack of victory there, the popular mood in the US has now moved away from military intervention. Whilst all of this is true, the regime in Tripoli has many enemies across the globe, and Gaddafi will be unable to fight all of these and emerge victorious.