Back on 22 February, I did a quick analysis and concluded the fastest, surest and least bloody option for ridding Libya of the mad tyrant Gaddafi was for Egypt's air force and army to intervene. Libya operates small forces of 60's and 70's-vintage armour, artillery and combat aircraft, ample to crush the rebels but not much else. Egypt, by contrast, fields 240 F-16s and regiments of US-built M-1A1 tanks that, between them, could make short work of Gaddafi's firepower advantage.
Yesterday Gwynne Dyer added his endorsement of the Egyptian option. Given Gaddafi's comeback of the past three weeks, Dyer argues that Egypt represents Libya's last chance.
What happens to the rebels and their families after active resistance is crushed will be much worse. When political prisoners in Abu Salim prison staged a protest at jail conditions in 1996, Gaddafy had 1,200 of them massacred. All the people now fighting him, or helping the Libyan National Council that organises resistance in the east, or just demonstrating against him, will be tracked down by his secret police. They and their families are doomed.
The collapse of the democratic revolution in Libya will also gravely damage the prospects of the “Arab spring” elsewhere. Rulers in other Arab countries where the army is also largely made up of foreign mercenaries (Bahrein and several other Gulf states, for example), will conclude that they can safely kill enough of their own protesters to “restore order.”
How can this disaster be prevented? Condemnation from abroad, including from the Arab League, will not stop Gaddafy. An arms embargo is too slow-acting, as are economic boycotts and freezing Libyan government assets overseas. Gaddafy is fighting for his life, probably literally, and he knows that if he wins, the embargoes, boycotts and asset freezes will eventually be lifted. Libya has oil, after all.
Even the famous “no-fly” zone over Libya (now endorsed by France, Britain and the Arab League) would not stop Gadaffy’s advance. It’s not that destroying or grounding the Libyan air force, which is poorly trained and badly maintained, is a problem. Neither are Libya’s decrepit, last-generation-but-one surface-to-air defences. It’s just that Gaddafy can win without his air force. Tanks and artillery beat courage and small arms every time.
...What is actually needed is active military intervention on the ground and in the air by disciplined, well-trained Arab forces, sent by a revolutionary Arab government that is in sympathy with the Libyan rebels. So where is the Egyptian army when the Libyans need it?
Egypt has an open border with the rebel-controlled east of Libya, and just one brigade of the Egyptian army would be enough to stop Gaddafy’s ground forces in their tracks. The Egyptian air force could easily shoot down any of Gaddafy’s aircraft that dared to take off, especially if it had early warning from European or American AWACS aircraft.
The Egyptian army would probably not need to go all the way to Tripoli, although it could easily do so if necessary. Just the fact of Egyptian military intervention would probably convince most of the Libyan troops still supporting Gaddafy that it is time to change sides.
Arab League support for the intervention would not be hard to get, and the Libyan rebels are now desperate enough that they would quickly overcome their natural distrust of their giant neighbour. As for internal Egyptian politics, what better way for the Egyptian army to establish its revolutionary credentials and protect its privileged position in the state than by saving the revolution next door?
It is very much in the interest of the Egyptian revolution that Gaddafy does not triumph in Libya, and even more that the forces of reaction do not win in the broader Arab world. For the first time since Gamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s, the giant of the Arab world would also be its moral leader.
...Egypt would be enough on its own. Only do it fast. A week from now will probably be too late.
Recently I was chided by some radical progressives for advocating this very sort of Egyptian military rescue, essentially called a war monger. It's their type who would sit back self-righteously and allow the rebels, their wives and children to fall into the hands of Gaddafi's murderous security butchers.
I expect that's why I never have and never will support rightwing or leftwing politics. Both are the refuge of rigid ideologues, radicals and extremists who demand a world that conforms to their worldview. They're a minority certainly but they're welcome in those parties nonetheless. I guess that makes me an avowed centrist, albeit of the centre-left.