Operation Odyssey Dawn, the war Nicolas Sarkozy wanted more than anyone else, began on March 19, 2011, after an “international coalition” of UN, EU, US and Arab countries met in Paris. It started dropping Tomahawk missiles on some 20 Libyan targets. Italy made seven military bases available. But Sarkozy was the first one to target Libyan government forces.
Was Gaddafi’s fall instrumental to cover up the Libyan funding of Sarkozy’s electoral campaign four years earlier? It’s a legitimate question, after Sarkozy was taken into police custody, pending an investigation into allegations his collaborator Claude Guéant had taken €5 million from Libya between the end of 2006 and the start of 2007.
Sarkozy first dragged the UK and US into the war, then Italy — in agreement with President Giorgio Napolitano, the Democratic Party and Berlusconi, who then authorized Italian bombings. The former French president craved the war. Hours before the first missile launch, he had already ordered French jets to hit Libyan tanks — to the joy of Libyan rebel forces, watching the attack on Qatar’s TV Al Jazeera.
Qatar played a crucial role in the attack that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, and was already fueling a Syrian uprising in the shadows. On March 19, just after noon, five French jets took off from the Saint-Dizier base for the Libyan mission. According to Sarkozy, two Rafale, two Mirages and an Awacs radar jet “prevented Gaddafi’s forces from attacking Benghazi.” In fact, French jets did not target other jets — but tanks and hundreds of Libyan soldiers. “Finally, France gave the Libyan people hope,” cheered a spokesman for Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council.
That same day, news broke that several districts and even a hospital had been bombed in Benghazi, capital of the so-called “17 February Revolution.” Witnesses described the dozens of dead and thousands of terrified civilians trying to reach the Egyptian border. Rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil immediately called for Sarkozy’s help, who was itching to attack.
“The bombing of all Benghazi districts is underway,” said Abdul Jalil, giving Sarkozy the green light. “There will be a catastrophe today if the international community doesn’t enact the UN Security Council resolution.” The alleged devastating saturation bombing was Abdul Jalil’s invention. Journalists who then entered Benghazi soon understood that the “regime’s attacks” had actually caused very little damage in town.
It all started in Benghazi just a month earlier, seemingly following riots in Egypt and Tunisia and mass protests in Yemen and Bahrain. On Feb. 16, dozens were wounded and two people died during a demonstration against the arrest of a human rights activist. A “day of rage” was called the day after. Protesters were joined by the families of hundreds of inmates who had lost their lives in the repression of Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison revolt, where prisoners demanded the liberation of their lawyer. Other demonstrators joined in. They directed most slogans against rampant corruption.
Police forces reacted brutally. At least seven people died that day, and the death count grew exponentially in the following days as clashes spilled over into Derna, Tobruk and the rest of eastern Libya — creating a second Libya stretching to the Egyptian border.
On Feb. 17, Benghazi and the other municipalities of the “17 February Revolution” set up a “Libyan National Council.” One of its first acts was to protect the validity of the West’s oil contracts. A few hours later, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon ordered two jets to take off and bring humanitarian assistance to Benghazi. Sarkozy had already decided for war, and for Gaddafi’s end.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.