CAIRO, June 18 (IPS) – Developments in Libya have raised fears among Egyptian analysts and political figures of the possible break-up of the North African nation into two warring halves. To support the assertion, they point to longstanding Israeli designs — supported by the western powers — to balkanize the Arab states of the region.
“Libya could be split in two, with Gaddafi staying on in the west of the country and a revolutionary government loyal to the western powers in control of the east,” Mohamed al-Sakhawi, leading member of Egypt’s as-yet-unlicensed Arabic Unity Party, told IPS.
For three months, Libya has suffered internationally-sanctioned air-strikes by the western NATO alliance, launched with the stated aim of supporting the ongoing popular uprising against the Gaddafi regime. Revolutionary forces based in Ben Ghazi now hold most of the country’s eastern half, while forces loyal to Gaddafi continue to control the country’s western half from the capital Tripoli.
Yet the fact that NATO — despite its overwhelming air superiority — has so far failed to dislodge the Gaddafi regime has led many local observers to question the western alliance’s intentions.
“The western campaign against Libya wasn’t undertaken to protect human rights or foster democracy,” said al-Sakhawi. “It was launched with the aim of breaking Libya up politically so as to prevent the unification of three revolutionary Arab states — Egypt, Libya and Tunisia — which together might pose a threat to Israeli regional dominance.”
Walid Hassan, international law professor at Alexandria’s Pharos University, agreed for the most part, saying that NATO — with Israeli encouragement — “hopes to replace Gaddafi with rulers loyal to the west in advance of breaking the country into small statelets, as they are doing in Iraq.”
“The primary objective is to weaken the Arab states of North Africa, which, if they ever united, would represent a potential threat to Israeli and western interests,” Hassan told IPS. “Libya’s significant oil wealth, of course, constitutes a secondary reason for the intervention.”
Al-Sakhawi pointed to the region’s century-old legacy of balkanization at the hands of foreign powers.
“The 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France drew artificial borders across the region and fragmented the Arab world into nation states,” he said. “And in recent years, the drive to further balkanize the Arab world — by Israel and the western powers — has only accelerated.”
Egyptian analysts point to several proposals written to this effect by Israeli strategists, the most well known of which is a 1982 treatise entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s.” Written by Oded Yinon, then a senior advisor for Israel’s foreign ministry, the essay explicitly calls for breaking up the Arab states of the region along ethnic and sectarian lines.
“The Zionist plan to politically fragment the Arab Middle East so as to keep Arab states in a perpetual state of instability and weakness has been well known for the last three decades,” Gamal Mazloum, retired Egyptian major-general and expert on defense issues, told IPS.
While the Yinon document does not devote much space to Libya, it talks in detail about the need to divide Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon into small, ineffectual statelets.
“The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas… is Israel’s primary target on the eastern front in the long run,” the author writes. For Yinon, oil-rich and ethnically-diverse Iraq — which he describes as “the greatest threat to Israel” — constitutes a chief target.
“In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines… is possible,” he writes. “So, three states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shiite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”
As for Egypt, Yinon calls for breaking the country up into “distinct geographical regions.” The establishment of an independent Coptic-Christian state in Upper Egypt, he writes, “alongside a number of weak states with very localized power and without a centralized government…seems inevitable in the long run.”
Yinon goes on to mention Sudan in similar terms, describing it as “the most torn-apart state in the Arab-Muslim world today… built upon four groups hostile to each other: an Arab-Muslim Sunni minority which rules over a majority of non-Arab Africans, pagans and Christians.”
According to Mazloum, political maneuvering in recent years by Israel and the western powers — both overt and covert — appears to conform to this strategy of balkanization.
“Israel and the US have both helped break up Iraq by encouraging the emergence of an independent Kurdish state and fostering Sunni-Shiite division,” he said. “And in Sudan, Israel actively contributed to the war between north and south by providing the latter with weapons and military training.”
Notably, southern Sudan is set to declare independence from the northern Khartoum government next month in a move that will officially split Africa’s largest country in two.
“Israel has an interest in breaking up Sudan and instigating sectarian strife in Egypt so that the latter is faced with crises on both its internal and external fronts,” said Mazloum. “Israel and its western patrons are determined to keep Egypt — the most populous Arab nation by far — in a state of perpetual weakness so that it cannot aid the Arab cause in places like Palestine and Iraq.”
Earlier this month, Mohamed Abbas, a leading member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Coalition Council (RCC), likewise warned of an ongoing “conspiracy” aimed at breaking Egypt into three petty states. The RCC consists of several political movements that played prominent roles in Egypt’s recent Tahrir Uprising.
“This conspiracy is part of a wider scheme to fragment the Arab states — as has happened in Sudan, is happening in Libya and has been attempted in Iraq — in order to render Egypt so weak that the Zionist entity will be sure to remain the dominant power in the new Middle East,” Abbas was quoted as saying by independent daily Al-Shorouk on June 4.