In 1982, Ariel Sharon decided to intervene on behalf of the Maronite Christians of Lebanon, against the Shia. He gave weapons, training and other requisites to the Gemayel brothers, individuals whose concept of democracy was to send a bullet through the heart of any individual who disagreed with them. Intervening in a civil conflict in any society is fraught with risk, but this is exactly what some powers have repeatedly done.
However, Israel is far more vulnerable than former colonial empires such as the UK and France, in that it is located in a region where the population regards it with distaste, if not hatred. Secondly, it is far smaller than the major NATO powers in both size as well as population. Hence, caution ought to have been exercised rather than a reflexive exercise of power. Sadly for the world’s only Jewish-majority state, neither Sharon nor other Israeli leaders stopped to consider the ill-effects of their bias towards the Maronite Christian leadership. The consequence of Israeli intervention was to deepen the Lebanese sectarian conflict (with Syria and later Iran coming on the side of the embattled Shia) and to make the country the only one in the world that is the target of Shia-based terror groups. The intervention in Lebanon has cost Israel dearly.
These days, after having incorrectly assumed that Muammer Kadhafi will go the way of Hosni Mubarak, both the UK as well as the US are threatening to enforce a No Fly Zone over Libya, thereby seeking to ensure that the particular tribes backed by them have a better chance of dividing Libya into two states, with the oil-rich eastern state coming within the control of groups that are ( at least for now) friendly to the NATO powers. Strangely, even some governments in the region who ought to know better are secretly encouraging both President Obama as well as Prime Minister Cameron to attack Libya. This is a shortsighted view, caused by personal hatred of Colonel Kadhafi and disquiet at the fact that he is a republican rather than a monarch. Indeed, Kadhafihas become as much a figure of hatred within high councils in many Arab countries as was Gamal Abdel Nasser in his time. The difference, of course, is that Nasser was a simple man whose family declined to join in money-making, whereas the Kadhaficlan have become billionaires, thereby provoking anger within their own country. As in the case of the ancient Indian king Dritarashtra, Colonel Kadhafi’s blind spot are his sons. These have masterminded a policy of succumbing to the commands of the NATO powers, only to be abandoned by them at the first sign of an internal threat to the rule of their father.
However, whatever the personal faults of Colonel Kadhafi, the reality is that the world has come a long way since the 1956 Suez intervention against Egypt. Should the NATO powers use armed force to battle the Libyan air force and anti-aircraft defenses, the spectacle that would enfold would inflame fears of a colonial takeover. Apprehensions that the strutting of the Paul Bremers in Iraq and the numerous NATO proconsuls in Afghanistan have already created. Amazingly, as yet the numerous well-paid individuals ( mostly from the NATO powers) who man the International Court of Justice have not bothered to examine the numerous cases of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan that are caused by the foreign armies occupying both countries. Should CNN or BBC focus as much attention on the broken families that have been the result of such killings, scenes may emerge that are far more heart-rending than the endless picturisations of the Libyan conflict. However, they seem to be ignoring this carnage as much as the International Court is.
Should President Karzai take the bold step of preferring a formal complaint to the International Court about such civilian deaths, he would find himself in deep trouble in a country where 83% of the money gets spent by NATO but almost all the corruption allegations get placed at the door of Karzai. While Iraq is slowly regaining its sovereignty, the same cannot be said of Afghanistan, which is still a UN-legitimized colony of the occupying powers, a situation that has led to the rebirth of the Taliban
The use of armed force in Libya would erase the hatred for Kadhafi that is being felt across the region for his use of air power against protestors, and make him a martyr. There would be Libyan deaths, each of which would serve to increase hatred for those causing them. NATO pilots are not known for their forbearance in combat situations, and their insertion in what is at the base a tribal war in Libya would create a chain reaction across the region. In every country in the region, there are tribes that are - or regard themselves as being - treated poorly by the ruling structures. In each, there would be a tendency to follow the Libyan example and seek outside intervention in an armed assault on the ruling structures. There would be a huge multiplication of instability in the region, that could send oil prices to levels that would be disastrous especially for newly-rising powers India and China. Neither President Obama nor Prime Minister Cameron seem to have any idea of the tempest that they would be unleashing in the Mideast, were they to use armed force to help those tribes that seek the overthrow of the Kadhafi regime. Those tribal and other groups that are these days at the doorsteps of NATO asking for military intervention will desert that alliance soon after victory is secured, the way the Taliban turned against the very country that gave it training, weapons and cash, the US. Who can forget the many visits made by Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel to Peshawar and Kabul, so as to ensure facilitation for the Taliban? Of course, these days such intervention and assistance is a forgotten chapter, and the entire blame for the Taliban has been placed at the door of Pakistan
Will Russia and China agree to a UN Security Council resolution that imposes a No Fly Zone over Libya? Or will they block the UK-France move for such a resolution to get passed? If Moscow and Beijing agree to the demands of the other three permanent UNSC members and approve the use of military force against Colonel Gaddafy, they would be letting loose a swarm of hornets similar to that unleashed by Ariel Sharon in his 1982 intervention in the civil war in Lebanon. However, this time, it will not be a single country but the whole of NATO that will feel the sting of the tribalism that will be unleashed across the Arab world, should there by military intervention in Libya. Sometimes, the best policy is a policy of doing nothing. Indeed, this is what India is doing. Delhi has made it clear that it would oppose any use of force in Libya. Hopefully, the Chinese and the Russians will agree, and thereby save Cameron and Obama from themselves.
-(M.D. Nalapat is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
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