Patrick Cockburn: Arab League call for a no-fly zone may be too little, too late

Share
Related Topics

A call for action from the Arab League sounds like a contradiction in terms, given the 22-member organisation's reputation for ineffectiveness.

Its request for the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya may come too little, too late for the Libyan rebels whose military weakness has been underlined in the past few days by defeats in the east and west of the country.

For the first time, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is beginning to look as if he may survive and even crush the rebellion against him that seemed close to victory two weeks ago. A no-fly zone, even if was imposed, would be unlikely at this stage to stop his counter-attacks, which depend more on tanks and artillery than airpower.

Such a no-fly zone is, in any case, far from being inevitable since the US may not support such a resolution at the Security Council. When the idea was first mooted, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said setting up such a zone would in practice be the opening act of a war because the US would have to attack Libyan air defences. To turn the tide in the fighting, the US and its allies would probably have to do a lot more, such as using its planes to prevent the pro-Gaddafi units advancing on Benghazi.

The Libyan government has also had some luck in that the Japanese earthquake has shifted international media attention away from Libya for the first time in three weeks. Political pressure against Gaddafi and in favour of the rebels is likely to subside once it is no longer in the spotlight. If, however, his forces engage in well-publicised massacres in recaptured towns, then he might, once again, risk international intervention.

The first military successes of the regime are also serving to underline that the rebel leadership, supposedly grouped in the National Transition Council, has remained fragmented and unable to weld enthusiastic but untrained volunteers into an effective military force. The loss of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, and the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega to the south of Benghazi, show that lightly armed militia face inevitable defeat when assaulted by armour backed by artillery.

It remains a mystery of the uprising why the estimated 6,000 troops, whose defection led to the rebels seizing eastern Libya, have not been seen in the front line. Their commanders are not united and appear to be hedging their bets by staying out of the fighting.

Much will depend on whether or not pro-Gaddafi troops can keep up the momentum of their initial advance and move on Benghazi. If they do, then events may outpace action by the US, Nato and European leaders. If, on the other hand, the rebels hold on to the east of Libya, then the broadly-based but confused international backing for them may jell and lead to action.

The significance of the move by the Arab League is that it gives US or Nato a cloak of Arab support and intervention will not look like a rerun of Iraq. It underlines the degree to which Gaddafi is isolated internationally, though he will present a no fly-zone or any other action against him, as an imperialist venture to be resisted.

The lesson of the Libyan rebellion so far is that both Gaddafi and his enemies command few forces they can wholly rely on. It will not take much to tip the balance, but a no-fly zone may no longer be enough to save the rebels.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders