TEL AVIV - If anyone had remaining doubts about the fog of war that descended
on Libya in the last weeks, the confused bickering that has completely taken
over more recently should clear those.
More cynical - or astute - observers claim that the whole thing was a
masquerade from the start, a cover for a full-scale Arab counter-revolution or
even a diversion of world attention from more pressing global problems such as
the disaster in Japan, the financial crisis and the rattled international
Others blame the situation on glaring incompetence. While some
of the former claims make sense as well, evidence of the latter is
overwhelming, and incompetence does not exclude conspiracy.
Some of the latest news from Libya is that France and Britain are accusing the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of not doing enough. "NATO must play
its role fully. It wanted to take the lead in operations, we accepted that,"
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday.
It looks like the blame game is in full swing. First the United States, which
was instrumental in starting the bombing campaign, dumped Libya on its European
allies led by Britain and France. Now, the latter two are trying to avoid
responsibility for the debacle by pointing a finger at NATO (as if they,
alongside the US, did not comprise a major part of the alliance).
The rest of the world has a much more convincing case for dodging the blame,
even though hardly any leader's conscience is clear. Russia, for example,
arguably helped the West get bogged down in Libya in order to serve its own
narrow interests. 
The French are clearly unnerved. If French President Nicolas Sarkozy hoped he
would resemble former British premier Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands in
1982 and pull a domestic comeback by a daring military operation,  his
ambitions are about to end, to use a line by T S Eliot, "not with a bang but a
The military campaign is rapidly turning into a dead end ("stalemate" being the
euphemism of the day), and a host of other powers ranging from the African
Union to Turkey to Europe's economic leader, Germany, are vying to cut British
and French ambitions down to size by imposing a ceasefire.
So upset are the French that they vented their anger on Ivory Coast's former
president, Laurent Gbagbo, whom their special forces allegedly arrested on
Tuesday. In Ivory Coast, just like in Libya, air strikes and limited
"humanitarian" interventions failed to do the trick, yet Gbagbo was more
vulnerable and easier to pin down than Gaddafi, and his arrest gave Sarkozy a
minor opportunity to save face.
Ivory Coast is far from being out of the woods yet, but the situation in Libya
is exponentially more dangerous. Confusion and paranoia reign supreme on the
ground. Even in Benghazi, "People still tell me to be careful about the cars I
get a ride with at night, or the alleys I walk down," writes Ryan Calder, an
analyst who spent the past few weeks in Libya. "It's like there are ghosts and
goblins about." 
The rebels, with help from their Western patrons (most importantly, Britain,
France and the US) are desperately trying to put together a professional army,
but they keep shooting themselves in the foot - in fact, in the heads, and in
the most creative ways imaginable. Consider the following Reuters report from
As rebels ranging from engineers to vegetable vendors and
university students stood guard at the entrance to the strategic town of
Ajdabiyah on Tuesday, the sound of gunfire rang out ... An insurgent fiddling
with a machine gun bullet belt had accidentally set off two rounds by pounding
firing pins with a stone. One fellow fighter fell to the ground, hit in the
head. Another was wounded. Both men were rushed to hospital.
the rare occasions that they put on a convincing show, only NATO seems to take
them seriously - if only to bomb them, thinking they are Gaddafi's forces. 
One thing that the rebels are good at: rejecting a compromise, and blackmailing
NATO to continue the air strikes (even insisting that the alliance carpet bomb
Libyan cities). The most the African Union could get them to promise was to
"study" a road map that Gaddafi reportedly accepted on Sunday. However, they
insisted that the colonel "must go", and the ceasefire, if there ever was one,
quickly unraveled on both sides. It is likely that this will also be the fate
of a similar initiative undertaken by Turkey.
The intervention has failed
miserably its very raison d’etre: to convincingly
limit civilian casualties. Not only has it
produced an unknown number of "collateral damage"
deaths, but it has forced Gaddafi to use
less-accurate weapons, such as mortars, which kill
more civilians. A doctor in Misrata, the besieged
main rebel city in the western part of
told The New York Times recently: "Instead of no fly zone we have no safe
Meanwhile, an enormous amount of weapons are on the loose, and numerous
factions and rogue groups are competing to lay hands on them. Previously, I
reported rumors that Hamas and Hezbollah were trying to acquire some of
Gaddafi's arsenals,  and recently new information surfaced that adds weight
to these speculations.
According to Peter Bouckaert, a researcher on the ground, advanced Russian
anti-tank missiles, of the same type used against an Israeli school bus last
week, alongside large amounts of anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled
grenades and high explosives circulate all but freely in Libya. "There is good
cause for US and European officials to worry," Bouckaert writes. 
That some of these weapons will inevitably fall into the hands of international
terrorists is bad enough; what they will do to Libyan society is likely even
more horrific. Some experts speculate that the vast supply of arms will
"criminalize" the opposition and will sow divisions that will take decades to
resolve. Thus, Gaddafi's claims that he is fighting terrorists and criminals
will likely find increasing support in the future.
On the other side of the Mediterranean, Europe is reeling at the prospect of
being flooded with hundreds of thousands of refugees; Italy is currently
absorbing wave after wave of North African immigrants, and a crisis is quickly
unfolding. Add to this the economic fallout from the loss of Libyan oil and
natural gas, and we have a very serious situation. The issue of the sovereign
debt crisis in the European Union could come back with renewed strength, and
analysts have long argued that Italy could be the proverbial straw that
ultimately breaks the camel's back.
As Germany is the economic heart of Europe, this makes German leaders
justifiably worried. Der Spiegel reports that a German special agent, Bernd
Schmidbauer, with the bombastic nickname "Agent 008", was recently sent to
Libya to negotiate a ceasefire with Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam. We can only
speculate about the relationship of this move to the African Union initiative
or the much-rumored overtures by Turkey, but it is clear that it undercuts the
French and British war zeal.
The latter twist speaks also to another dimension of the crisis. American
think-tank Stratfor has long speculated that a large part of the motivation of
Britain and France to embark on the adventure was to show reluctant Germany
that they are the political leaders of Europe. They failed miserably, and we
can expect German Chancellor Angela Merkel to gradually take on the role of a
mother figure of sorts, disciplining her unruly economic dependents.
In light of all this, Gaddafi must be having a field day. According to a report
in Asharq Alawsat, he even offered to step down, with the appropriate security
guarantees, in favor of his son Saif al-Islam.  What a farce! Currently,
there is hardly a credible threat to Gaddafi's regime, and it is difficult to
imagine that he would step down merely to let his enemies save face.
He can only win diplomatic and world public opinion points with such statements
by presenting himself as a responsible leader who is ready to compromise. Yet,
confronted with similarly brazen Western mystifications,  one has to admit
that the colonel, nicknamed by his enemies "Uncle Curly", has a sense of humor.
That "Agent 008" conducted negotiations with said son suggests that at least
some in the West might be trying to keep a straight face. Arguably, however,
Germany's main motivation is to stabilize Libya, and not to get Gaddafi to keep
his promises (much less to oust him). If anybody currently has a grip on the
situation, it is "Uncle Curly". Once the air campaign stops, it would be
difficult to restart it, and the European adventurers might have to swallow
Besides, after the allies (allegedly Britain) bombed his residence some weeks
ago, and especially after witnessing Gbagbo's fate in Ivory Coast, Gaddafi
might be justifiably worried that a desperate member of NATO would try to
assassinate him. If his government keeps being essentially a one-man show, this
would become even more likely. Thus, logic dictates that he designates a
successor, and this seems to be precisely what he is doing.
It is anybody’s guess what will follow - at least in terms of statements and
pretenses. The limelight is currently on a summit in Qatar, scheduled for
Wednesday. The rebels are expected to solidify their position that Gaddafi must
go, and NATO is expected to discuss future moves.
It is remotely conceivable that, if offered a sufficiently attractive package
of carrots and sticks, Gaddafi would agree to step down, but it is unlikely
that he will actually implement such a move. Whatever he does next, he will do
from a position of strength, while NATO can only hope to avoid a greater