Troops loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s regime continued their advance toward the rebel stronghold of Benghazi yesterday, as the Obama Administration scrambled to mount a response at the U.N. Security Council, where it now apparently favors a more muscular approach to the crisis. Today the Obama Administration is reportedly pushing for a Security Council resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone and air strikes against regime forces that threaten Libyan opposition forces.
The Obama Administration has been widely criticized for ruling out military action unless it is first approved by the Security Council, a formula for endless foot-dragging and hand-wringing. European diplomats who met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the G-8 summit earlier this week were left with more questions about U.S. policy than answers. Clinton apparently stayed out of the policy debate and permitted Russia and Germany to block calls for immediate action in establishing a no-fly zone. One European diplomat complained: “Frankly we are just completely puzzled. We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States.”
While U.S. policy remains a mystery, there is no doubt about Qadhafi’s intentions. Today his air force struck at targets on the outskirts of Benghazi, including the airport. The regime also offered a cease-fire to allow the rebels to surrender, a ploy that reflects its growing confidence in the outcome of the struggle.
The Obama Administration’s Middle East policy also suffered a dangerous setback in Bahrain, where the embattled government rejected American calls for negotiations with the growing opposition forces. The government declared a state of emergency and yesterday cracked down on protesters in the capital of Manama, killing at least three protesters.
Bahrain’s ruling al-Khalifa family is known to be split between moderates such as the Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman, and hardliners opposed to concessions to the opposition, led by Sheikh Khalifa, who has been Prime Minister for 40 years. The hardliners, backed by Saudi Arabia, now have the upper hand, bolstered by the deployment of more than 1,500 troops from Gulf Cooperation Council allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to Bahrain on Monday. The Saudis have encouraged the Sunni al-Khalifa family to take an uncompromising stand because they fear that the demands of Bahrain’s Shia-led opposition will spill over to inflame their own Shia minority.
Bahrain’s crackdown and the Saudi-led intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council has led Iran to denounce the two Sunni-dominated governments and step up rhetorical support for Bahrain’s Shia opposition. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned of “dangerous consequences” due to the “foreign intervention,” and Iran’s foreign ministry blamed the United States for the crackdown.
Iran’s Defense Minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, warned that the Saudi intervention would have dangerous consequences: “Such moves will increase tension and undermine stability and security in the region.” A high-ranking general in the Revolutionary Guards with close ties to the Supreme Leader went further and proclaimed, “The Islamic revolution of the people of Bahrain has now entered the phase of jihad.” He emphasized the importance of “Iran’s support” in this struggle.