Source Link: Stratfor
As NATO is taking control of Libya’s no-fly zone, STRATFOR CEO George Friedman discusses a potential stalemate on the battlefield, and he explains why the new attacks by Hamas on soft targets near Tel Aviv enticing Israeli retaliation are a serious concern.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Colin: NATO is taking control of the Libyan no-fly zone, but what happens if there’s a prolonged stalemate down on the battlefield, and probably, not by coincidence, Hamas has picked this time to open up a new conflict with Israel.
Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman, who joins me now to examine both issues. I asked him first about Libya.
George: Well the problem here is basically that a no-fly zone has very little effect on the fighting on the ground. Most of the casualties being inflicted by the Libyan army on the insurgents are inflicted by artillery, some by rocket fire and so on. We’ve had some air attacks on ground forces, which seems to be somewhat different for the mission as originally laid out, but clearly that’s taking place. But it’s always been the belief that somehow a ground force can be destroyed from the air so to such a degree that it can no longer fight. It’s rarely been the case, and I don’t think it’s the case in Libya. If you want to defeat Gadhafi, you’re going to have to go in on the ground. Plus, if you’re going to have airstrikes, you’re going to have collateral damage — in other words, you’re going to kill other people than you intend to. No matter how accurate the weapon is that you fired at a artillery piece or tank, when you blow up a huge piece of metal, shards will fly in all directions and it will hurt and it’ll kill people, and there’s no way out of this.
Now, we have a contradiction. On the one hand, this is a humanitarian intervention. It has put severe limits on what can be done — the French have said that they’re not going in on the ground, the Americans have indicated the same thing. They’re going to try to do this all through the air and they’re going to try to do this without civilian casualties. That’s the impasse. The impasse is not whether the coalition has the ability to get rid of Gadhafi — it does. Whether it can get rid of Gadhafi under the current rules of engagement that appear to be in place is a much more serious question. I’d have to argue that unless there are significant negotiations underway right now to give Gadhafi a safe haven, he’s not going to leave. And given the precedents of Milosevic and others who have been brought to The Hague for war crimes, his motivation to leave is much less than anyone else’s would be.
Colin: There are not many places, George, that would welcome Gadhafi.
George: Well, and even worse, the negotiators that might be able to negotiate a safe haven in some country can’t guarantee that the international court won’t reach out and try to have him extradited and won’t have him extradited. In other words, you’re in a situation where in the negotiation one of things that Gadhafi is going to demand, in return for a cessation of hostilities, is a safe passage. And extraordinarily no one is in a position to give that guarantee, unless I suppose U.N. Security Council would formally give it, and I don’t know that would hold. So you’re in a situation where what you really want is Gadhafi to voluntarily step down and he’s in no position to do so — he’s much safer where he is, fighting the war.
Colin: The Gadhafi stronghold is Tripoli, the main opposition is in and around Benghazi — there could be a long stalemate. Leaving aside humanitarian issues, does that matter geopolitically?
George: I have to say that, since Libya is a country of six million, it does have some substantial energy exports but not an overwhelming impact on the global economy. In many ways, we’ve selected to fight in a place that geopolitically has only marginal interest. Certainly for the United States, it has minimal interest, it has somewhat greater interest for the Europeans, but whether or not this stalemate goes on will have geopolitical significance to the extent that the outside powers decide to insert major force. And it will have that significance because, for the United States for example — stretched as it is by Afghanistan and Iraq and some other conflicts — this is someplace that if you put major force in, you’re really straining the American capability to fight. This is why the United States has insisted this is a European problem, but the Europeans are clearly divided, the French have made it clear that they’re not coming on the ground.
It’s very difficult to see how this ends except in a negotiators’ settlement, and it’s very difficult to see what Gadhafi’s motivation for negotiation is. Possibly, there will be some negotiations with some other members of his faction who will take care of him in return for safe conduct on their part, but a lot of these people have extraordinarily bloody hands, all of them undoubtedly belong in The Hague, and you can’t give them the guarantees they won’t wind up there. So, like people who are cornered, they’ll fight.
Colin: Meanwhile, we have something else to worry about — something quite serious. The attack just south of Tel Aviv, probably Hamas inspired. A big provocation to Israel?
George: Well we have seen in the past few days recounting about 60 attacks with longer range missiles and also with the mortar fire. Those are too many attacks to be lone wolves. They’re coming from Gaza and they’re clearly under the order of Hamas.
Hamas is now stepping up its operations against the Israelis and the interesting question to ask is why. When you think about it, this is a superb moment for Hamas. The Egyptian government has retained its treaty with Israel, but on the other hand there are strong forces there that will want to abrogate it. The Saudis who support them are preoccupied with events in Bahrain and the rest of the Persian Gulf. If they can force the Israelis into a military response in Gaza, this will inflame passions in the region, particularly in Egypt. The possibility of creating a situation where either the current government must abrogate the treaty with Israel or alternatively where a new government comes into place in the coming elections, it is an extraordinary opportunity for Hamas. For Hamas, its future is based on Egypt ending its relationship with Israel, participating in the blockade and becoming hostile toward Israel and friendly toward Hamas. If they can get that, it’s worth a great deal, and if they get the Israelis to attack into Gaza, they may well inflame the passions sufficiently.
Therefore, Hamas has appeared to have decided to move to a more aggressive stance, and particularly in firing, as you put it, toward Tel Aviv. They are pushing the envelope of what the Israelis can tolerate without responding. They haven’t quite gotten as far north as Tel Aviv — it was toward Tel Aviv but south of it. But should they be able to configure a rocket that goes that far, that’s the redline that will force the Israelis to intervene and finding these stockpiles of rockets is not going to be all that easy. If you get another Gaza war, Hamas gets what it wants in Egypt — things can evolve. So, this is very serious and very important.
Colin: Is there any evidence Iran is involved?
George: Well, Iran has been said to be supplying things to Hamas, but there is a difference in supplying things to Hamas and controlling Hamas. Hamas is most dependent on Saudi Arabia, but Hamas, more than anything else, is a self-contained organization pursuing its own interests.
What will be interesting to see, however, is what Hezbollah does up in the north. Hezbollah is dependent on Iran and is highly influenced and even controlled by Iran. And the Iranians very much want the position of being the most dynamic and aggressive force in the region. We have this event going on in Bahrain, we have other events in the western littoral of the Persian Gulf. Iran, showing itself to be more aggressive against Israel rather than other countries, put Saudi Arabia in a very difficult position and potentially undermines other regimes in the region. This is the perfect moment for the Iranians to attack. We see no evidence at the moment of any movement by Hezbollah toward launching an attack, and Israel certainly is not going to unilaterally go into Lebanon at a time when it’s facing Hamas, but the situation has suddenly become enormously difficult. And the things that have been happening in Bahrain and in Egypt suddenly coalesce into the Israeli question I think in a way it hasn’t been there for quite a while.
Libya is a sideshow to this. Now the question is going to be whether Hamas continues these attacks are not, and that’s simply not clear. But we’re watching very carefully to see what’s going to happen with these attacks — whether they escalate and whether Israel is going to decide to respond.
Colin: George, thanks very much. And, of course, STRATFOR will be monitoring this closely. That’s Agenda for this week, for me Colin Chapman, until the next time, goodbye.