RAF Tornado GR4 (ZA597) at an English air disp...

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As French planes engage with the Libyan air force and apparently have hit four loyalist tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi, the rebels take down a Libyan Air Force plane over Benghazi (possibly…), and world leaders gather in Paris, the Western-led, Arab-supported, intervention in Libya is in full swing.

 

Ceasefire

Despite Gaddafi’s “ceasefire” announcement, Benghazi was being bombarded this morning – followed by French planes deploying over Libya.

Gaddafi’s move to call for a cease-fire, to my mind, was a trick – if a cease-fire was called, and respected, Gaddafi could not be toppled. True, he could not, until the threat of intervention lessened, reclaim the territory around Benghazi and Tobruk, but he had recaptured most of western Libya, and would be in an excellent position to re-ignite the conflict at any time. If he had respected the cease-fire, there would be no legitimate way for the West and the rebels to order his removal, especially seeing as the humanitarian crisis, the major part of it anyway, that the no-fly zone was called to prevent, was only going to happen as the Libyan air force bombed Benghazi. He could have claimed it was never his intent, and would have been able to cling to power.

Clearly this is not acceptable – he did commit crimes, would have committed worse, and while that is good enough a case for his removal for me, others may be swayed by realising that Libya’s huge oil reserves mostly flow to Europe, and his age of sponsoring terrorism and producing WMDs may well have re-started. He needs to go.

We must aim to topple Gaddafi in this intervention – without this, the cycle of violence will only continue and turn Libya into a partitioned State.

What is going to happen now?

The international community now has a legal basis for a variety of actions. The United States has released a statement meaning that Gaddafi must stop advancing on Benghazi, withdraw from Ajdabiyah, Misurata and Zawiyah, and re-establish full supplies to all areas, including water, electricity and humanitarian aid.

The summit at the Elysee Paris about the intervention is being attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU President Herman van Rompuy and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, along with representatives of states such as Germany, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

Militarily, France has already deployed forces to Libya. The US is poised to deploy in large numbers. Britain, France, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands will be joined by Qatar and other Arab forces. Italy and Spain have offered use of air force bases on their territory. Today, Canadian planes have landed at Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire to refuel, probably on their way to Libya.

NATO, irritatingly, is being delayed by German and Turkish vacillation, even now Obama has come down in favour of intervention. The EU is being held up by Germany as well.

Hillary Clinton has said we’ll be attacking air defence systems in Libya if they pose a threat to our planes and pilots.
And, as I’m writing this, it seems that France has engaged with ground forces – beyond the remit of a no-fly zone, but bombing Libyan loyalist tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi is totally legal according to the UN Resoltuion 1973.

What will the UK do?

It seems as though the UK will deploy Typhoons and Tornados, as Cameron indicated recently. Experts have estimated that we’ll deploy 8-12 Typhoons (Eurofighters) and 6-12 Tornado GR4. We have bases in Italy, which Berlusconi has agreed to let the force use, but a Joint Air Force Component headquarters has already been set up in Cyprus – so RAF Akrotiri might be a more likely base.

We are deploying Nimrod surveillance aircraft, and the HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster are in the area. Feasibly, hunter-killer submarines with Tomahawk Cruise missiles could be deployed as strikes on the Libyan Navy are legal, or we could send an Invincible-class helicopter carrier to support special forces missions in Libya.

Legally, the phrase “a foreign occupation force of any form” means that an Iraq/Afghanistan style occupation is illegal – but not necessarily a force that doesn’t intend to stay, particularly of small-scale or in order to support the monitoring part of the mission. Monitoring the air space over Libya is a difficult task, which would be made easier if we had monitoring stations around Benghazi.

We could also recognise the National Transition Council, following France’s lead. This cements the legal basis of intervention (The UN can do whatever it needs if it’s invited by the legitimate government), and would prove this isn’t just an imperialist act. But…that would also show that we are, doubtlessly biased. We should be biased, legally, against Gaddafi but perhaps we shouldn’t be biased towards the rebels…it could complicate matters for us further, and make them look like our puppets.

What we won’t be doing is deploying the HMS Ark Royal and a squadron of Harriers. Thank you Strategic Review…

Oh, and we will “regret it” according to Gaddafi.

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