Ghaddafi and Son
Ghaddafi has his own flamboyant and attention-seeking stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He is a one-stater who, having been badly burned in the past, appears to want to be seen as pragmatic and peaceful in the western press. Never mind that his proposals are demented and would result in mass death, destruction and chaos in Israel and the region if anyone were mad enough to implement them... . Of course, despite wanting to appear to be pragmatic, Ghaddafi and his regime are staunch enemies of Israel.
In recent years, Ghaddafi's regime has made efforts to paint his son, Saif al-Islam, as a moderate pragmatist who should be welcomed as a voice of wisdom and common sense (never mind that the Libyan state is among the world's most repressive dictatorships, and that Saif al-Islam sits at the center of this dictatorship). Saif al-Islam's press statements in the wake of the ship drama project a sane, pragmatic image, to an extent that actually surprised me.
'Do you want the grapes or to kill the vineyard's guard?' To tell you the truth, we want the grapes and we got them – so there's no reason to cause any problems.
The problem was not a naval conflict with Israel, but rebuilding Gaza and helping our Palestinians brothers.
Of course, the man also spreads nonsense about Gazan conditions and about Israel. We're not talking about a man who really cares very much about the truth. But I'm slightly impressed that he's willing to dismiss the idea of mindlessly attacking Israel for its own sake. In a region where ludicrous flights of romanticized genocidal fantasy are the norm, this is an unusually rational stance.
The Ghaddafi regime has won a huge tactical PR victory - a much bigger win than I expected them to secure, and clearly much bigger than Ghaddafi ever hoped to secure. At the same time, Egypt has come out significantly ahead and Israel achieved its objective. The UNRWA received a windfall. Hamas, which has been demanding that the Libyan ship dock in Gaza, looks mildly stupid.
What Libya Won
* The Libyan regime received a lot of press attention (especially for the Heir Apparent).
* It spun itself as being more moderate and stable than Turkey. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a very difficult feat, but Erdogan has watered down Turkey's reputation significantly, and Libya was very quick to take advantage.
* It showed itself to be more effectual than Iran, Hezbollah and its fellow Arab states, who for all their talk, have not yet launched any ships.
* It gets to play the hero in Gaza, and should therefore look good in the Arab media and certainly in the west.
* It looks good at the UN, because it's funding Gaza repairs via the UNRWA.
* It allowed Egypt to act as intermediary between Israel and Libya (I'll come to this in a minute).
* It made Israel look aggressive, particularly while the navy was shadowing the ship and nobody knew what would happen, without looking aggressive itself.
* It got Israel to sign off on a Libyan initiative in Gaza.
Ghaddafi accomplished all of this at the low price of a ship, a bit of cargo and the promise of about $50M to the UNRWA (assuming that the money actually flows, and assuming that this is not money that Libya had already promised in the past but witheld). I'm sure that Ghaddafi's staff are celebrating.
What Egypt Won
I think that this outcome pleased the Egyptians very, very much. Egypt was able to exercize its skills as mediator and, in a matter of a few days, achieved an agreement that satisfied both parties and settled a looming diplomatic/military crisis. At the same time, Egypt's influence with respect to Gaza was mildly strengthened.
On the world stage, the Egyptian government positions itself as a regional diplomatic heavyweight, a regime whose opinion cannot be discounted. It positions itself as a mediator that can facilitate otherwise "impossible" agreements between Arabs and Israelis, a mediator that is essential to the peace process. This repuation has taken some blows in recent years. Iran and Hamas have consciously taken aim at Egyptian diplomatic prestige and at Egyptian influence over Gaza, and Egyptian influence and prestige have been battered by the obstructionism and hostility of an obnoxious little statelet (Gaza).
The Libya-Egypt/Egypt-Israel agreement allowed the Egyptian government to demonstrate both its skill as a mediator and its ability to bring Israel to the table. Egypt can claim an unexpected diplomatic win, one that has no downside for the Arabs. Furthermore, in doing the two-part Gaza deal with Egypt, Libya tacitly acknowledged that Gaza lies within Egypt's sphere of influence.
The fact that the flow of aid is going to filter through UNRWA instead of being handed directly and openly to Hamas embarasses Hamas somewhat, and Cairo must be smiling about that; Hamas has been sticking its finger in Mubarak's eye, and there is no love lost between the Egyptians and Hamas.
So this looks like a huge win for Egypt. In only a few days, Egypt settled a crisis, negotiated an agreement between two states that don't talk to each other, beefed up its diplomaic resume, received acknowledgement of its influence over Gaza and embarassed Hamas. Mubarak and Suleiman have every reason to be happy with this outcome.
Egypt evidently had mediation assistance from Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff, but Ghaddafi Jr. only mentions the Egyptians.
What Israel Won
Israel's interest was always to keep the ship from running the blockade. Israel wanted to set a precedent, according to which any real aid vessels will unload at Ashdod or, failing that, somewhere else, and the aid must flow into Gaza via controlled channels rather than confronting the Israeli navy.
Israel certainly isn't worried about a $50M influx of aid via the UNRWA. The amount of money sloshing around in Gaza already dwarfs $50M.
Ghaddafi is a murderous tyrant and a very strange man. His regime is one of the worst in the world. But I'll tip my hat, this once, to whomever handled this situation on their side; I can appreciate Olympic-caliber gymnastics.
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