Libya: will Brega move the UN Security Council?
Gheddafy’s regime is claiming to have retaken Brega. The claim cannot be confirmed but it is very plausible. Brega’s fall would deal a tremendous blow to the opposition’s morale. But then, it is unrealistic to imagine that the poorly equipped and disorganised can withstand a vengeful counter attack by Gheddafi’s armed forces.
On Saturday, pro-Gheddafy forces pushed the frontline deeper into rebel territory to just 40km outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal. The rebels, mainly young, are reported by non-government sources to be retreating towards Ajdabiya, 80km away to the east of Brega. After Ajdabiya, the way would be open for Gheddafy’s loyalists to push forward to Benghazi or to bypass it to retake Tobruk and seal the Egyptian border, before falling on Benghazi, seat of the transitional National Council.
Meanwhile Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo yesterday (Saturday, March 12) called on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Youssef Ben Alawi, Oman’s Foreign Minister, told a press conference after the meeting that “all Arab states supported the call for a No-fly zone.” He emphasised that the Arab League remains “opposed to any foreign intervention” and that a No-fly zone “must end with the end of that crisis.”
The US and Britain welcomed this decision but they will not move to enforce an No-fly zone – and, even less, more direct military intervention to prevent Gheddafy to crush the insurgents – unless they are backed by a UN Security Council resolution. An EU consensus would neither be forthcoming (the Germans won’t buy it) nor, on the other hand, decisive if Britain were to decide to support the US in a UN backed No-fly zone enforcement operation.
A UN Security Council resolution, however, will need Russian and Chinese approval.Before the Arab League’s decision, foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned world powers against meddling in the affairs of Libya and other African countries, saying military intervention would be unacceptable. He did, however, hedge his bets by adding that Russia would “closely study” any such initiatives to provide support to rebel forces battling to oust Gheddafy.
Russia has, meanwhile, said it will ban all weapons sales to Tripoli, effectively halting billions of dollars worth of arms deals signed with Gadhafi’s government. Rosoboronexport, the state-owned arms export monopoly, said this week that it had more than $2 billion worth of arms contracts with Libya. Kommersant reported that Rosoboronexport was about to close deals for military jets and anti-aircraft missiles worth another $1.8 billion.
The Arab League’s decision may, however, not have been in vain. It might just convince the Russians and the Chinese – who would not want to antagonise Arab countries – to allow the UN Security Council to finally approve a No-fly zone.