The United Nations Security Council has approved a no-fly zone over Libya, along with “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. Apparently the Obama administration held out until the last moment and only decided today to join Britain, France and other nations in sponsoring the U.N. resolution.
It appears that any actual military action will be taken by NATO, but it is not clear how soon it can be commenced:
Although NATO has been planning for possible action in Libya as a group, the resolution authorizes action by U.N. members “acting nationally or through regional organizations,” and France has said its air forces would be ready to commence operations — most likely targeting runways and air defenses — as early as Thursday evening. Britain has also expressed interest, but has made no official statement.
A senior NATO official expressed some consternation at France’s eagerness, and said French forces were unlikely to take full-scale action until at least Saturday. “On the NATO side,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, “we’re not yet ready” and the alliance has not formally approved plans for a specific operation. But “we could move within days,” he said.
It is unclear whether the U.S. will take an active role in any military action or not. “I don’t think we’re there yet,” an administration official says.
After weeks of indecision, it is not clear whether a no-fly zone will be enough to stop Qaddafi from wiping out the opposition. Leaders of the rebel forces say it won’t be:
Rebel spokesman Essam Gheriani … said that a no-fly zone would no longer stop the march of Gaddafi’s military, and that targeted air strikes would be most effective at this stage of the rebellion.
“Our demand for a no-fly zone would have been sufficient two weeks ago,” Gheriani said. “Now the need is to hit Gaddafi’s land troops and tanks that are laying siege to Libyan cities and stop their advance toward Benghazi. Time is in his favor, not ours.”
Rapid movement at the United Nations contrasted with continued delays during the past several weeks in formulating an international response to the crisis as Gaddafi launched his counterattack against rebel forces.
One is tempted to say that this indecision is the foreseeable result of the United States abandoning its leadership role. No doubt news will leak out as to what has been happening behind the scenes over the past few weeks.
The crises in Japan and Libya have overshadowed what otherwise would have been a major news story in Bahrain. That country’s Sunni government has brought in forces from Saudi Arabia to help put down a Shia rebellion. Con Coughlin writes in the Telegraph:
There [has been] a dramatic escalation in the protesters’ demands, with the more militant calling for the removal of the royal family and the establishment of a Shia state.
The Sunni-Shia divide in the country is particularly problematic because of the close family connections many Shia have to Iran. An estimated 30 per cent of Bahraini Shia are of Persian descent, and maintain contact with relatives in Iran. In the past, this has enabled Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to establish terrorist cells in the kingdom, aimed at destabilising the monarch. …
The issue is further complicated by Iran’s long-standing insistence that it has a legitimate territorial claim over Bahrain. A recent Iranian newspaper editorial claimed that the kingdom was in fact a province of Iran. It is because of these simmering tensions between the states that the royal family’s decision this week to call for Saudi reinforcements is fraught with danger. …
Iran has responded to the Saudi intervention by cutting diplomatic ties with Bahrain and denouncing the reinforcements as “unacceptable”. There is considerable concern within British security circles that the situation could spread into a wider conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with calamitous consequences for the West.
President Obama seems to have taken office with the conviction that we could become more popular in the Muslim world by the simple expedient of doing nothing, but the Bahraini rebels are not impressed:
It is mostly because of the Middle East’s oil that these events are fraught with danger for our economy, and the world’s. As the Middle East draws nearer to what may be a precipice, we can only rue the fact that for a quarter century, the Democratic Party has blocked one effort after another to develop our own petroleum resources. It is too late now, for the foreseeable future, anyway. Events are moving much too fast. So we may soon know whether the United States will pay a fearful price for our foolish decision to be the only country in the world that deliberately refrains from developing its own energy resources.