BOB LEVIN April 28 1986


BOB LEVIN April 28 1986



Long after the sleek U.S. bombers had disappeared from the Libyan skies and the grim cleanup had begun, there was a sense— drowned out by the conflicting cries of outrage and rejoicing—that what had happened was almost inevitable. As far back as 1981 President Ronald Reagan had threatened to take “swift and effective retribution” against terrorists. And for Reagan, no sponsor of terrorism has seemed more threatening than Libya’s Moammar Khadafy. Over the years Reagan has singled out the mercurial leader for name-calling and sanctions and, last month, for a show of force that ended in a brief battle over the Gulf of Sidra. Khadafy has responded with taunts of his own— and, according to Washington, with new acts of terror. Last week, locked in a test of wills, Reagan finally opted for escalation: a 20-minute bombardment of what U.S. officials called terrorist centres in Tripoli and Benghazi—the largest American bombing raid since the Vietnam War. “Today we have done what we had to do,” Reagan said after the attack. “If necessary, we shall do it again.”

Kill: The predawn raid, according to Western diplomats, killed more than 100 Libyans, including many civilians, and left jumbles of rubble and burnedout cars (page 26). Two U.S. airmen died when their plane was shot down. Among the Libyan dead, officials in Tripoli said, was Khadafy’s adopted 15-month-old daughter, who was killed in the deliberate bombing of the colonel’s fortified home-and-headquarters compound just outside Tripoli. Two of Khadafy’s sons were seriously injured. Officially, the United States said that it had not tried to kill Khadafy himself. But late last week The Washington Post quoted unnamed U.S. officials who said that killing the Libyan leader was precisely what Washington intended. “We hoped we would get him,” said one source, “but nobody was sure where he would be that night.” According to another official, the National Security Council had even prepared a statement calling Khadafy’s death “fortuitous.”

For almost two days after the bombing Khadafy was not seen in public, and rumors spread that he had indeed been killed. Then, late Wednesday he appeared on Libyan television. Wear-

ing a white military uniform and sitting before a map of Africa, the colonel condemned both Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who allowed the Americans to use Lakenheath and Upper Heyford airbases in Britain for some of the bombers used in the assault. Calling Reagan a “murderer of children,” Khadafy vowed to continue “our incitement of popular revolution.” But he told Americans: “We will not kill your children. We are not like you.”

Crisis: There were also reports of a possible coup. For days after the raid machine-gun fire ricocheted around Khadafy’s Tripoli headquarters in skirmishing that apparently pitted members of the regular Libyan army against Khadafy’s civilian Revolutionary Guards. Some U.S. intelligence sources said that Khadafy may have fled Tripoli for the desert, his frequent

retreat in times of crisis. By week’s end, however, the apparent factional fighting seemed to have diminished— and Khadafy appeared on TV in Tripoli, comforting victims of the U.S. attack.

Shot: In the worldwide debate that followed the raid, the attack was described as either a timely blow against terrorism or a dangerous adventure doomed to increase it. The day after the raid, Libya launched a retaliatory—but unsuccessful—missile attack on a U.S. radar station on Italy’s tiny Lampedusa Island, 175 miles north of Tripoli. In Sudan a communications technician with the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum was shot in the head and seriously wounded. White House officials said that they suspected Libyan involvement, and at week’s end the United States began to evacuate some of the 300 dependants of embassy employees. In addition, the bodies of three kidnap victims in Lebanon, also shot in the head, were found in the

mountains east of Beirut. A nearby note described the three as a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operative and two British intelligence officers. It said they were killed in retaliation for the British-based U.S. attack on Libya. But Lebanese authorities later said the victims were two British teachers and 62-year-old American librarian Peter Kilburn, the first kidnapped American killed in Lebanon’s 12-year-old civil war. And episodes elsewhere fuelled the atmosphere of crisis.

‘Deaths’: In London a woman was arrested while trying to board an Israeli airliner with a bomb hidden in a suitcase. A British television journalist was kidnapped in Beirut. A bomb went off in front of the U.S. consulate in San José, Costa Rica, injuring five people. Bomb threats interrupted business at several government offices in Washington and at the United Nations Security Council in New York. And around the world angry protesters chanted anti-American slogans. In response, security was tightened at U.S. installations and offices worldwide, and many Europe-bound Americans hastily changed travel plans. Concerns about possible reprisals also affected foreign workers in Libya, including as many as 1,300 Americans who had ignored Reagan’s January call to get out, and 1,000 Canadians. Said Gemma Zecchini of Hamilton, Ont., who teaches English in Libya: “If I have to die a thousand deaths like I did in the air raid, I’d like to get out.”

Ostensibly, the raid was a reprisal for the April 5 bombing of a West Berlin discotheque which killed an American soldier and a Turkish woman and injured 230 people. Reagan said Washington had “irrefutable” evidence— presumably from an intercepted radio message to the Libyan People’s Bureau, or diplomatic mission, in East Berlin—that Khadafy had ordered the bureau to carry out an attack against Americans. U.S. intelligence apparently learned of its exact nature minutes too late to evacuate the disco. American officials also maintained that the air strike was justified as an act of “self-defence” against future Libyan attacks. Those, according to U.S. intelligence, had been planned against other American diplomatic and commercial targets around the globe.

The bombing of Libya was widely

supported in the United States, where it seemed to fulfil an urge for revenge against the man whom Reagan called “the mad dog of the Middle East.” According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 77 per cent of Americans approved of Reagan’s raid. Also sup-

porting the attack were Britain, Israel and, to some extent, Canada. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney supported the objective of eliminating terrorism, but he added that he “deplores the loss of innocent life.” But most U.S. allies

were openly hostile to the assault, which took place only hours after European Community (EC) ministers had called for “restraint on all sides” (page 27).

Western Europe has traditionally been the target of terrorist attacks, and France and Spain, concerned about the danger of reprisals if they were involved in the U.S. assault, refused to allow the American warplanes to overfly their territory, forcing the planes to make a 1,100-mile detour to reach Libya.

The raid affected superpower relations as well. The Soviet news agency, Tass, denounced the attack as a “barbarous and totally unjustified ag-

gression” against a sovereign state, and added that Moscow would help strengthen the defences of its Libyan ally. In response, Washington charged that the Soviets were ultimately to blame for the growing violence. U.S. officials said that they advised the So-

viets and the East Germans of an impending attack on Libya one week before the disco bombing but that neither country did anything to prevent it—a charge which the Soviets described as a “cynical lie.” But perhaps

the most diplomatically damaging aftershock from last week’s U.S. attack was the Soviet postponement of a critical May meeting between Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Secretary of State George Shultz, at which plans were to be made for a superpower summit in Washington this year. Shevardnaze’s action could scuttle the summit or delay it.

Reagan has clearly

decided that risks must be taken to combat terrorists, whose power to

frighten—and kill—has spread alarmingly in recent years (page 24). Western intelligence agencies state that Libya is not alone in sponsoring terrorism. Among Arab countries, Syria

and Iran are both involved, but they are regarded as stronger and less diplomatically isolated than Libya—in short, less vulnerable. And Khadafy has carved out a special niche as a kind of merchant of menace, bankrolling or arming national liberation

movements in an estimated 45 countries, including Chad, Egypt and Lebanon, and donating arms to Italy’s Red Brigades and the Irish Republican Army.

The former signal corps captain, who seized power from King Idris in 1969, subscribes to an exotic blend of Moslem, Marxist and utopian thought, along with visions of pan-Arab unity which he adopted from Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. But in the West those beliefs have only heightened his image as a mystical madman—and a dangerous one.

Strained: Some critics contend that Washington has exaggerated Khadafy’s significance. Michael Hudson, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Washington, argued that the American “fixation” on Khadafy “has distracted us from paying attention to really important political issues in the Middle East.” But whatever the case, U.S.-Libyan relations, seriously strained since the Carter administration, reached a crisis level following the Dec. 27 terrorist bombings at the Rome and Vienna airports. Claiming that Libya had been involved, the

United States imposed economic sanctions against Tripoli and sent the Sixth Fleet to cross Khadafy’s “line of death” in the Gulf of Sidra, the territorial waters over which Libya claims sovereignty. When the Libyans re-

sponded with missile fire late last month, the Americans blasted back, killing about 150 Libyans. Then, in early April a bomb blew a hole in a U.S. airliner over Greece, and four people, including a baby girl, were sucked out to their deaths. Washington siispected Khadafy of supporting that operation— and the one three days later at the Berlin disco.

Restrict: After the Berlin bombing, U.S. of-

ficials said that they had the intelligence-gathered evidence to prove a Khadafy connection. Armed with this information, Reagan began to consider the approach long advocated by Shultz and other advisers: a direct strike against Libya. The attack would be

based on the doctrine of “proportional response.” An approach conceived by national security adviser Vice-Admiral John Poindexter, proportional response attempts to match the force of the reprisal with that of the terrorist attack. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had reservations about the assault on Khadafy, was out of the country when Reagan and his advisers laid their plans, but eventually supported them.

Still, the attack, code-named Opera-

tion Eldorado Canyon, was delayed while Washington used its disco-bombing evidence to try to enlist support from allies against Khadafy. Meeting last Monday at The Hague, ministers from the 12 European Community

countries did decide to reduce the size of Libyan embassies and restrict the movement of their diplomats and nationals. In return, they wanted Washington to forgo its attack. But that same night 18 supersonic F-llls, whose sophisticated electronic equip-

ment makes them well-suited for precision bombing in the dark, took off from their British bases, flying over the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and avoiding French and Spanish airspace. They were joined by about 15 planes from the carriers America and Coral Sea in the Mediterranean, and at about 2 a.m. the U.S. force zeroed in on Libya.

There, they flew into an intense missile attack. The aircraft countered by firing dozens of high-speed, antiradia-

tion missiles at Libyan missile sites. Meanwhile, the attack force dropped laser-guided bombs on Libyan targets, hitting a missile site and an airbase at Benghazi and, in Tripoli, a military airport, a port facility, Khadafy’s Bab

el Aziziya barracks and residential neighborhoods. Twenty minutes later the planes streaked away—except for one F-lll, which was reported later to have crashed into the ocean in a ball of fire, taking its two crewmen with it. In England, one returning airman called the operation “the greatest thrill of my life.” One who did not fly on the raid said: “There was disappoint-

ment among the guys that Khadafy survived. The first question I asked was, ‘Did we get him?’ ”

Shock: The answer was no. But Khadafy’s daughter Hana sustained a concussion and internal injuries and died a few hours later. Two of his six

sons—Camis, 3, and Sef al-Arab, 4— were left with serious percussion wounds, and his wife, Safiya, suffered shock. In an upper-class residential neighborhood hit by the bombing, about 10 houses were destroyed.

Bombs: Just minutes after a U.S. spokesman announced the bombing in Washington, dump trucks rolled onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to block roadways against a possible car-bomb attack. But the flurry of security measures was most evident in Europe. The

U.S. army clamped a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew on 225,000 soldiers, and U.S. guards in West Germany checked for bombs under cars using mirrors attached to long handles.

‘Worried’: In Tripoli, where about 53,000 Westerners work, mostly in the Libyan oilfields, diplomats said they were advising their nationals to stay indoors. The Italian government was even weighing the possibility of removing both Britons and its own 8,000 nationals. Michel Tessier, a Canadian vice-consul normally based in Tunisia, said that he had no reason to expect retaliation against Canadians, but he added that about 350 Canadians had expressed a desire to leave. “People are definitely worried,” Tessier said. Still, in Stony Plain, Alta., Douglas Watt, a Canadian oil worker who left Libya after the raid to attend a funeral, said that he is planning to return. “The people I work with are good people,” said Watt, 35. “All Libyans aren’t crazy people.”

In the Commons, Opposition Leader John Turner questioned why Canadians should be working in Libya at all.

“We are indirectly supporting the economic infrastructure of that government by allowing Canadians to stay in that country working for it,” said Turner. “We ought to take a stronger stand.” New Democratic Par-

ty Leader Ed Broadbent criticized the government’s position on the U.S. attack. “Mr. Mulroney’s statement was systematically ambiguous,” said Broadbent.

“On one hand he says the government supports efforts to counter terrorism—which everyone in the world does— and on the other hand he says he doesn’t necessarily support the means used by the Americans.” As for Defence Minister Erik Nielsen’s statement that the attack was justified because “the U.S. was

left with no option but military action,” Broadbent stated: “Now they have Mr. Nielsen taking the hard and direct line of supporting the use of military force. I think it’s a completely inconsistent position.”

In Congress the attack on Libya won broad support. Even liberal Democrat-

ic Senator Edward Kennedy, usually a strong Reagan opponent, said, “I think all Americans would stand with the commander-in-chief at this moment.” Most U.S. newspapers were also sup-O

portive. “If there were such a thing as due process in the court of world opinion,” said an editorial in The New York Times, “the United States has prosecuted and punished [Khadafy] carefully, proportionately— and justly.”

Some observers, however, say that

the United States has established a dangerous precedent. “What will they do for an encore?” asked Paul Noble, chairman of the political science department at McGill University in Montreal. “Will everyone who opposes the United States be zapped?” Other experts say that the American raid will only help Khadafy to consolidate support at a time of growing Libyan discontent. The drop in world oil prices cut the country’s export revenues from $22 billion (U.S.) in 1980 to $9 billion last year, and the standard of living has declined as well. Over the past year there have been two reported coup attempts, which ended in imprisonments and executions. Lisa Anderson, a political science professor at Columbia University in New York, said that Khadafy remains vulnerable to a coup, but she added, “Ironically, he is surviving now largely because of the escalating American campaign against him, which has rallied patriotic Libyans to support a regime they otherwise dislike.”

Violence: Khadafy’s opponents in Libya are of several stripes—some moderate, oth-

ers pro-Soviet and still others Islamic fundamentalists. One way or the other, however, Reagan is clearly intent on trying to arrange for Khadafy’s downfall, while the Libyan leader

taunts him. “What we essentially have is two publicity hounds competing for your attention,” said Faris Bouhafa of the Washington-based American Arab AntiDiscrimination Committee, a privately funded group of Americans of Arab descent. “This whole debacle between Libya and the United States is so far removed from the real problems of the Middle East that it has almost become a sideshow.” Sideshow or not, the

U.S.-Libya clash is a

dangerous—and deadly—business, a spiralling cycle of violence in the world’s most volatile region.