On the face of it, the violent intervention of the West in Libya deserves praise from supporters of freedom and human rights. However deeper examination raises doubts about the actions' values and their expected results.

Parts of European support for the action stems from a commitment to humanitarianism. But the lack of any serious efforts to prevent mass slaughter and rape in sub-Saharan Africa raises doubts about the purity of motives to intervene in Libya. Europe has self-serving interests to stabilize Libya, specifically to prevent undesired refugees from flooding their borders. Libya's vast oil reserves also play a role. Lastly, military intervention is "cheap," in terms of risk to Western soldiers, who are able to fight from the air.

The weight of realpolitik interests in deciding on intervention in Libya will not escape the eyes of Arab-Islamic observers. Even the participation of Arab forces won't quell the idea in large parts of the Arab-Islamic world that this is mainly neo-colonialist aggression.

The absence of Western action against rulers of other Arab countries who repress civic revolts, when the West is interested in them staying in power or isn't willing to risk soldier's lives, will further entrench the idea.

Meanwhile, the transformation of Libya into a tranquil democratic state is far from assured, and the precedent of military intervention will not deter other rulers from violently repressing rebellions.

However, the action in Libya can encourage uprisings in other Arab (and non-Arab ) states and also advance reforms. The results of such developments cannot be predicted, with the exception of a distinctive process of increasing levels of social energy in Arab countries. But the intervention in Libya may easily direct such energy against the West, because of an image of neo-colonialism and a desire to force its values on Islamic societies. An uptick in anti-Western terror is a distinct possibility.

Even graver is the expected lesson Arab rulers will take from the Libya episode, that they need weapons to deter Western action. Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi surely regrets having abandoned his nuclear weapons program. If he had weapons of mass destruction, or at least the perception that he had them, the West would have backed off, no matter how despotic his regime, so long as he did not pose a serious threat to them.

Others will not repeat his mistake. The action against Gadhafi will harden the will of Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Other rulers too will learn from North Korea that nuclear weapons protect a tyrannical regime against forceful action from abroad.

The situation would be different if the action against Gadhafi did herald a new global order in which world powers intervene in other countries, including the use of force, to prevent mass killings, advance human rights and inhibit the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Israel has a strong interest in such a world order, which fits the values of Judaism and assures its security, even at the price of peace settlements which don't fully satisfy Jerusalem. But a new world order is extremely unlikely at the present time. Therefore Western action against Gadhafi may easily cause more harm than good.

Concerning implications for Israel, it is better for the country not to take a stand. Surely there is no room for sympathy for Gadhafi, but is it far from clear that those taking his place will be less hostile.

Even more determined Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons are definitely bad for Israel. And the overall increase of the energy levels of Arab societies, which is a sure consequence of various forms of "street action," are very likely to hurt Israel unless we change our statecraft toward advancing a comprehensive Middle Eastern peace settlement.


The writer's book, "Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses," will be published in May by Routledge.