In its simplicity, the Obama administration believed Gadhafi’s talk about a coming civil war in Libya. In fact, Gadhafi’s rhetoric is famously cheap.
There is no basis for a civil war in Libya. At worst, the government is repressing the rebels, and not outrageously harshly at that. Both the EU and Egypt are concerned with economic fallout rather than the civil rights of Libyans: Libya supplies a sizable chunk of Europe’s oil imports and provides high-paying work to 1.5 million Egyptian laborers. The trouble in Libya is of American making: the protesters were encouraged by Mubarak’s fall.
Mubarak’s departure left a void in the Egyptian strategic thinking. On one hand, the generals want stability in Libya at any cost so that Egyptian laborers stay there; on the other hand, they did not allow Egyptian Bedouins to help Gadhafi’s troops at his request.
The US plan for an air blockade of Libya, ostensibly to prevent Gadhafi from attacking rebel towns, may backfire as the autocrat would be forced to bring ground troops into urban combat, which would be far bloodier. Splitting Libya into several states—another American plan—would be harshly opposed by the Arab street, which would rightly view that as a US attempt to divide and conquer Muslim oil wealth. Removing Gadhafi might not lead to civil war, but it would certainly cause destabilizing border conflicts between Bedouin tribes.
The Western image of a popular uprising in Libya is mistaken. Libyans are generally very supportive of Gadhafi, who uniquely among Muslim rulers distributed much of the country’s oil profits to his people, making them one of the richest nations on earth. This can be seen from the soldiers’ loyalty to his regime.
As usual, Israel is missing a great chance for a strong alliance. Right now, we should be lobbying in Washington on Gadhafi’s behalf. He is a highly independent ruler who can afford to break away from the Arab mainstream and establish ties with Israel.
Russia remains implicitly supportive of Gadhafi because of its arms deal with Libya. Likewise, Israel could shift the geopolitical balance in her favor by procuring weapons from Russia instead of the United States.