The idea of the UN sponsored intervention in Libya was to essentially stop the slaughter of civilians as a result of the civil war that had evolved from protests by Libyans against their leader Muammar Gaddafi.
At first, as the protests morphed into a civil war and the protestors became rebels, they seemed to be getting the upper hand over Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels seemed on the verge of victory as rumours spread that Gaddafi had fled the country. But then, as Gaddafi’s forces regrouped and recovered from the initial shock of being routed by the rebels in the west and the east, Gaddafi loyalists fought back and retook the central and western part of the country quite quickly and headed toward the east and the rebel’s stronghold based in Benghazi.
The Gaddafi forces advance on the eastern part of the country held by rebel forces was accompanied by threats from Gaddafi and his son that they would annihilate the rebels, ‘showing them no mercy’. Since Gaddafi had already demonstrated his barbarity by having his own security men executed for refusing to open fire on unarmed demonstrators, (warning: this link shows graphic content) it seemed clear that Gaddafi was in no frame of mind to forgive those that had rebelled against his rule so the ‘showing them no mercy’ threat was taken very seriously. The ‘showing them no mercy’ threat was, furthermore, implied to included anyone that was found to have supported the rebels as Gaddafi threatened to hunt them down ‘house by house’ and ‘inch by inch’, This was taken as an implicit threat against civilians that supported the rebels.
All in all, what with Gaddafi’s threats and past history together with the fact that his forces were gaining the upper hand, it seemed a bloodbath was imminent as Gaddafi’s forces were set to make a final thrust on the rebels holed up in Benghazi and in other pockets in eastern Libya.
When the battle was going the rebel’s way, they asked specifically for no foreigners to intervene. However, as the battle began to swing in favour of Gaddafi’s forces with his superior firepower and airpower and Gaddafi increasingly became more threatening, Libyan rebels changed their minds about intervention and asked for a no-fly zone to be established. At first the West were wary of the idea fearing that it would be seen as typical Western interference against an Arab nation that has oil and that any intervention may be seen as a cynical ploy to gain influence in an oil-rich state. But, as the battle quickly seemed to be inevitably lost from the rebel’s point of view and the possibility of a bloodbath seemed increasingly possible, the international community, especially after many of the Arab states also supported the idea after initially being against the idea, relented and authorised intervention.
However, now that intervention has been authorised and participating nations are taking action against Gaddafi’s forces, there are concerns that the allied forces taking part in the ‘intervention’ are going beyond the intended mandate of stopping Gaddafi forces from committing crimes against the Libyan people and the rebels he is fighting. As well as targeting Gaddafi forces that are rolling east to reinforce those attacking the rebels, the international forces are also hitting targets not at the front lines and are targeting Libyan infrastructure that can be used by Gaddafi in his fight against the rebels particularly its air defence facilities. While it is true that hitting Libya’s air defence facilities will deny Gaddafi the ability to hit back at the allies air offence, one also needs to realise that these facilities are not so much Gaddafi’s but Libya’s, and the chances of Gaddafi being able to hit back at the allies air offensive even with his air defence facilities intact are very remote. Many of Gaddafi’s air defence facilities are based in civilian areas and some of these areas have been hit by the allied assault which is said to have killed civilians.
It is clear that the motive now behind the allied assault against Gaddafi is not just to level the playing field in order to ensure there is no massacre of rebels and dissidents in the event of Gaddafi prevailing in this war, but to actually ensure that Gaddafi is defeated and either sent packing to any country that would have him, or killed in the assaults and fighting, or arrested and brought to justice for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
If it is, and always has been the intention, of the allies to be rid of Gaddafi for good, then the international community has been conned. If Gaddafi chooses to stick it out to the bitter end then there will be a lot of people dying on both sides regardless of the strength of the allied assault on Gaddafi – and that means a lot of those dying will be civilians.
Finally, the question that really needs to be asked now is; if Gaddafi is going to be attacked for killing unarmed civilians, will the allies attack those other governments that attack unarmed civilians; like Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and, dare I mention, Israel?