The EU, Arab Union and African Union will put their heads together in the coming week to discuss positions and responses to the situation in Libya. Gaddafi could attempt to retake as much territory as possible in the meantime hoping for a stalemate. The to-and-fro action at Ras Lanuf suggests more a battle of attrition is occurring. If he stormed all the way to Benghazi, his lines of supply would be very long and exposed if a no-fly zone were imposed.
As long as Gaddafi can keep the action away from Tripoli and Sirte, his strength will remain but he can wear down the opposition. By now the opposition has become more sober and amenable to deliberate concerted action instead of stampedes. If they can get a no-fly zone and other help from the outside world, the end is not in doubt. The question only remains can either side wear down the other while the world gets its act together. If the no-fly zone had been imposed last week, likely a thousand people would be alive today who died in the clashes. Much damage to the infrastructure of the country could have been avoided. Nothing is gained by waiting and it is inevitable that some external force is brought to bear. Economic sanctions are almost useless with such polarization within Libya. Neither side is strong enough to quickly end the matter.
The more prolonged and inconclusive the action is the more likely extreme measures will be taken. For example, with all the to-and-fro action along the coast road, setting up ambushes will be inevitable with huge body-counts. If the fighting reaches Benghazi the possibility of avoiding casualties among non-combatants by bombing the desert will be greatly reduced. The world should not take the risk of Gaddafi bombing a city of that size. The bombs being used are not large but they could easily cause casualties among several adjacent buildings in a crowded city.
The one thing that has prevented Gaddafi’s bombers being more effective at Ras Lanuf where fighters have concentrated on the highways is that bombers have run across the highway at high altitude and speed rather than flying low and slow parallel to the highway. Gaddafi lost several planes to the anti-aircraft guns. In Benghazi that effect would be lost as almost every bomb would hit something important instead of sand. In the desert, fighters can disperse. In the city they can as well have cover making hand-to-hand fighting inevitable with high body-counts on both sides.
Whether by artillery/bombing or infantry the number of casualties seen up to now will be a drop in the bucket compared to what could happen at Benghazi if the no-fly zone is not implemented. Gaddafi’s son has said they are coming. The world should take him at his word and implement the no-fly zone as soon as possible. In addition, tanks, artillery and other weapons of mass destruction should be destroyed before they can be brought to bear more widely.