Global Agenda: Now you’re on your own

The anti-Iranian alliance must learn its lesson from the West’s handling of the Libya crisis.

Libya rebels benghazi_311 reuters (photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)
Libya rebels benghazi_311 reuters
(photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)
In anything remotely resembling normal times, the developments in Libya would be sufficient to dominate world news – and with good reason. From a narrow Israeli viewpoint, the Libyan civil war and, on the other side of the region, the developing clashes in Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia has decided to stand up to the Iranians, are of even greater concern than the series of mega-disasters in Japan – although in all of these, we are relegated to observer status, with virtually no ability to become involved in, let alone, influence the direction of events. Our modest contribution – seizing a cache of Iranian arms and equipment on their way to Gaza – serves in the wider regional context as a declaration of intent.
What has happened in Libya illustrates the severity of the geo-strategic problem facing Israel – not just today and next week, but for the coming years and probably decades. The Mediterranean, until very recently, was a European pond. Troubles in Arab or other countries on the Mediterranean littoral were the problem – often, the opportunity – of the European powers. At least from the time of Napoleon at the end of the eighteenth century, but arguably from much earlier, the western European powers called the shots in this region, to the point of occupying and, in some cases (most notably Algeria), actually colonizing countries in it.
Libya, specifically and almost uniquely (other than Ethiopia, a special case in its own right), became an Italian protectorate – but it also served as the battleground for a long and see-sawing struggle for control of North Africa between the British and at first the Italians, followed by the Germans between 1940 and 1943. True, the Americans passed through and ensured that the Germans were crushed, but even during World War II and certainly afterwards, they left the Mediterranean to their western European allies.
The results were, from every point of view, disastrous.
The British screwed up in Palestine and in Egypt while the French were sucked into the Algerian imbroglio.
Both, together with the Israelis, concocted the Suez invasion of November 1956, which resulted in the US and the USSR joining forces to expunge them. Taken together, the series of disasters in the 1950s marked the end of European military dominance in the Mediterranean – but not of European influence, which remained preeminent.
The Americans were focused primarily on the Gulf, while Anwar Sadat’s expulsion of the Russians marked the end of a direct Soviet presence in North Africa. From the 1970s, the Mediterranean became a geo-political backwater – which allowed the western European powers, even with their shrunken clout, to continue to play the role of responsible adult for the region.
That era has now ended, fittingly in Libya. Libya is critical to the EU, although one of the most important reasons is often overlooked: it is a major funnel for illegal African immigration into Europe. It is also a major supplier of oil to Italy and a minor one to Europe as a whole, and its oil wealth is invested in many European pies, from Italy’s Bank Unicredito to the Juventus football club, as well as in more covert relationships.
Yet the European response to the rebellion and subsequent civil war in Libya has been one of total impotence.
The naval forces that were sent to patrol the coast were American, as well as Canadian and even South Korean, with the contribution of the European countries themselves being very limited. The leaders of France, Britain and Germany – as well as the corrupt buffoon from Italy – gathered in various forums, within the EU and NATO frameworks. These consultations generated proclamations from, as well as coordination with, the Arab League – whose cooperation is now deemed essential for action by other powers.
But none of this led to any action. The rebellion is being brutally crushed and the fate of the rebels will be grim. Gaddafi is already venting his venom on the Europeans, but however long his regime remains in control of Libya, everyone in the region and beyond is now assessing the new reality: Europe, whether in its EU “allfor- one-and-one-for-all” guise or on a country-by-country basis, is no longer a Mediterranean power, in the military and hence in the most basic sense of the term.
The United States remains a power, but its current leadership is unwilling and/or unable to wield that power.
For all the countries around the Mediterranean, this is a totally new ball game, the rules of which must be written from scratch.
Meanwhile, the outlook for both Europe and the US is of continued decline – economically, financially, militarily, politically and also morally. If they were unable to intervene against a universally despised despot like Gaddafi to save his subjects from him, then they cannot be relied on for anything, anywhere.
For Israel, Saudi Arabia and the entire anti-Iranian alliance – or what’s left of it after the Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon and the Egyptian upheaval and consequent paralysis – the lesson is stark: you’re on your own.