B.H. Levy: the man who waged a War in Libya
BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY, 62, a Zionist French philosopher is the man behind the French and American War on Libya, and he admits doing so freely and at leisure.
In the space of roughly two weeks, Mr. Lévy managed to get a fledgling Libyan opposition group a hearing from the president of France and the American secretary of state, a process that has led both countries and NATO into waging war against the forces of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
It was Mr. Lévy, by his own still undisputed account, who brought top members of the Libyan opposition — the Interim Transitional National Council — from Benghazi to Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 10, who suggested the unprecedented French recognition of the council as the legitimate government of Libya and who warned Mr. Sarkozy that unless he acted, “there will be a massacre in Benghazi, a bloodbath, and the blood of the people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France.”
After persuading Sarkozy, Mr. Lévy, gives Mr. Sarkozy sole credit for persuading London, Washington and others to support intervention in Libya.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is very famous in France, to the extent that he is known simply as B.H.L., a brand name of his own! A man of inherited wealth, a socialist whose trademarks known most for his strong support for Israel and a continuous desire to meddle in Foreign politics.
His flamboyant advocacy has annoyed many in the past, including the current foreign minister, Alain Juppé, who seemed largely excluded from Mr. Lévy’s Libyan initiative. Mr. Lévy negotiated directly with Mr. Sarkozy, with whom Mr. Lévy has an extremely complicated relationship going back to 1983.
It is an extraordinary tale, about which neither the Élysée Palace nor the Foreign Ministry wished to comment, other than quietly urging a grain of salt. Mr. Lévy was in Egypt at the tail end of the Tahrir Square uprising, went to the Libyan border but had pressing business in Paris. But on Feb. 27, before returning to North Africa, he called Mr. Sarkozy, asking if he was interested in making contact with the rebels. He was, so Mr. Lévy rented a plane and flew to Marsa Matrouh, the Egyptian airport closest to Libya.
On March 3, Mr. Lévy attended an early meeting of the council with Mr. Jalil in Benghazi in a colonial villa by the sea. He made a little speech about liberty and justice, said that Mr. Sarkozy was a political descendant of Charles de Gaulle, and asked if they would like him to call Mr. Sarkozy and try to arrange a meeting.
Unsurprisingly, they said yes, but first insisted that France “make a gesture.” Mr. Lévy called Mr. Sarkozy on an old satellite phone and Mr. Sarkozy agreed. On Saturday, March 5, France issued a press release, largely unnoticed everywhere except in Benghazi, greeting the formation of the transitional council.
OVERNIGHT, Mr. Lévy said, French flags festooned Benghazi, with a huge tricolor on the court building serving as opposition headquarters. On Sunday, Mr. Lévy drove the 10 hours back to the airport and flew back to Paris, and on Monday morning called Mr. Sarkozy on a better phone line and went to meet him. They agreed, he said, to keep the initiative a secret, even from the Foreign Ministry, though Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain was informed Wednesday evening.
On Thursday morning, a Libyan delegation, headed by Mahmoud Jibril, the de facto foreign minister, sat with Mr. Lévy in Mr. Sarkozy’s office. There Mr. Sarkozy agreed to recognize the opposition as the legitimate government of Libya, which shocked other European capitals and the French Foreign Ministry alike. He agreed to exchange ambassadors and to bomb three airports when he could.
According to Mr. Lévy, Mr. Sarkozy said he would work on getting international support and a United Nations Security Council resolution, but if he failed, he and Mr. Cameron might go ahead anyway with the mandate of the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union. Mr. Sarkozy swore them to secrecy on this “Plan B,” but told them to speak of everything else as they liked, Mr. Lévy said. He said Mr. Sarkozy told them, “My resolution is total.”
Convincing Washington was crucial. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was coming to Paris for a Group of 8 foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, March 14, and wanted to meet Mr. Jibril. The Qatar Embassy facilitated his travel from Doha, Mr. Lévy said, and he went to Bourget airport to pick him up for a scheduled 4 p.m. meeting with Mrs. Clinton. But the Élysée had not been informed, and Mr. Jibril was held for two hours, until 5 p.m., before he was allowed into France. The meeting was rescheduled for 10 p.m. at Mrs. Clinton’s hotel after a Group of 8 dinner at the Élysée.
Mr. Lévy brought Mr. Jibril, who was staying with him, to the hotel, spent a few minutes with him and Mrs. Clinton, then left the room as the two spoke for nearly an hour. Afterward, Mr. Jibril was disconsolate, believing that he had failed to sway Mrs. Clinton. He insisted on leaving the hotel through a back entrance, to avoid waiting journalists.
At Mr. Lévy’s apartment he, Mr. Hertzog and Mr. Lévy, all of them depressed, stayed up until 2 a.m. on March 15 writing an appeal to the world, what Mr. Lévy called “our last card.” But they did not issue it, and at 3 p.m., Mr. Sarkozy called Mr. Lévy to say that “the American position is shifting.”
Mr. Sarkozy then hit the phones, Mr. Juppé flew to New York and by the time of the Security Council vote, on Thursday, March 17, Washington voted along with France and Britain for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya to protect the civilian population, while Russia and China abstained. That night, Mr. Sarkozy called Mr. Lévy to tell him, “We’ve won.”