Naval and air power are the keys to victory in the war on terrorism. The greatest American victory in the war on terrorism utilized naval and air power in a coordinated effort against Libya. In the current war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, we can see that Israel has learned this valuable lesson and is relying on its air power to win this war against terror. Israel began its air campaign on December 27, 2008, and its ground forces were initially held in the background. Ground forces were eventually deployed strategically and judiciously, which is the ideal way to back up naval and air power. The Israelis deployed ground forces for a limited time and for a limited purpose; to destroy or diminish the ability of Hamas to conduct terrorist attacks against Israel including the ability to launch rockets against Israel. Israel did not repeat the mistake the United States made in Iraq. Israel did not occupy the area and install a government that would be friendly to Israel.
The American Experience
In 1981, Libya was a major threat to the United States and a major supporter of international terrorism directed at the United States and the West. Qaddafi made bombastic claims that threatened freedom of the seas, and publicly called for terrorism against the United States. The successful operation against Libya should be used as a model for future operations in the war on terrorism. Political and military leaders must also learn the lessons of the Iraq War. Ground forces are to be deployed only as a last resort, and their objectives and the number of soldiers it takes to achieve those objectives must be severely limited.
Former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger provides an excellent account of the Libyan operation in his book Fighting For Peace. The following description of the operation against Libya is taken from that book.
Qaddafi claimed he controlled the entire Gulf of Sidra, which lies between Tripoli and Benghazi north of Libya, and everything in the Gulf of Sidra should be considered Libyan Territory. He even claimed jurisdiction for an indefinite number of miles northward of the Gulf of Sidra.
On August 18, 1981, the United States was conducting operations in the disputed waters. Two Navy F-14s were attacked and responded by shooting down two Libyan planes. The confrontation ended there.
In March 1986, Qaddafi made another attempt to close the Gulf of Sidra. He renamed it “the Zone of Death,” and threatened to destroy any American ship or plane that penetrated it.
On March 21, 1986, the U.S. began a long planned exercise. The Libyans fired missiles at our aircraft and their patrol boats approached our naval units. The Libyans were humiliated as they suffered heavy casualties and the U.S. did not have any casualties.
Qaddafi turned to terrorism. On March 28, Qaddafi released a formal statement asking all Arabs to attack anything American. On April 5, Libyan-employed terrorists exploded a Libyan bomb in a West Berlin establishment. The bomb killed a Turkish woman and an American serviceman and injured 200 people including fifty American personnel.
The U.S. responded with a devastating attack by Air Force F-111 fighter-bombers and many carrier-based planes. More than one hundred planes were employed. The U.S. chose four terrorist connected targets and a fifth to protect our forces. Libya suffered heavy losses and its terrorism capabilities were reduced.
The U.S. operation against Libya must be considered a great success, as it transformed that country from a fierce enemy of the U.S. to a minor player in world affairs. The U.S. accomplished more with this operation than it accomplished in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the massive commitment in these countries.
Relations between the two nations have been improving since the strike against Libya. Libya has been deterred from launching terrorist attacks agaisnt the United States. Apparently, Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and the Libyan government realize that terrorism against the United States is a disastrous policy.
In 2003, Qaddafi agreed to abandon his quest for weapons of mass destruction, and renounce terrorism. Qaddafi even agreed to compensate the families of the victims of terrorism. These improvements allowed Libya to become an acceptable member of the international community. In 2004, the United States and Libya restored diplomatic relations. In 2007, Libya gained a seat on the U.N. Security Council without opposition. On November 21, 2008, the New York Timespublished an article entitled “Qaddafi Son Says Libya Wants to Invest in the United States.” Libya would like to improve relations with the United States by investing in American corporations and sending thousands of students to study in the United States, a son of the Libyan leader said. Libya is becoming even more peace-loving and pro-American, and is actually moving toward a constitutional democracy. Serf al-Islam el Qaddafi a son of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi said that he expected a constitution providing for democratic elections would be established by September 2009, the 40th anniversary of the revolution that brought his father to power. He said he expected Libya to change its central government to a model which is similiar to the American Government. There will be a strong central government with ties to powerful regional and local governments.
The Current War in Gaza
The Israelis have two objectives, to destroy the ability of Hamas to launch terrorist attacks against Israel, and deterrence. Naval, air, and ground forces destroyed a great deal of the military infrastructure of Hamas, and significantly reduced its terrorist capabilities. Now that the ground forces have a very limited role, Israel must rely on its air power to deter future terrorists attacks by Hamas. Israel now has a very strong deterrent, as Israel can repeat the devastating air raids of December 2008.