Ex-airforce chief says no UAE planes in Libya

The UAE will not send military forces to Libya because of a dispute with western nations over Bahrain, a former Air Force official says.

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ABU DHABI // The UAE is not deploying military forces to Libya because of disagreements with the west over Bahrain, the former commander of the Air Force said yesterday.
Maj Gen Khaled al Bu-Ainnain said the disagreement stems from a conviction in the Gulf that Iran is interfering in Bahrain's affairs, and instigating protesters. He added that Bahrain's security is a priority for the Gulf and the UAE.
The Gulf countries are certain that Iran is involved in the protests in Bahrain, he said.
"The GCC is supporting Bahrain, and they were not happy at all with the European and American attitude," he said. "They think it's a matter of a civil movement, a matter of democracy. It is much beyond it."
He continued: "What's going on in Bahrain is much beyond our western allies to understand it. It is a complete conspiracy of the Iranians in the region."
Gen al Bu-Ainnain also said the main reason for the UAE's decision not to deploy troops to Libya is "because the Europeans and Americans in particular don't realise the amount of the threat available in Bahrain".
He also said the shifting American response to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt shows clearly that America is confused about changes in the region.
"Let's go back and see the European and especially the American attitude toward Tunisia, how many positions in a few days," he said. "On Egypt, how many official statements in three, four weeks."
"Almost every week once or twice they changed [their] mind. What does this mean?" asked Gen al Bu-Ainnain. "They don't know what's going on."
So far, only Qatar has pledged Arab warplanes to the coalition that is enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya, where rebel forces have posed the biggest threat ever to Col Muammar Qaddafi's four decades of rule. This is despite the fact that Arab support for the measure was crucial to the UN resolution authorising military action against the forces of Col Qaddafi's regime.
The UAE, along with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led the call for a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to the regime. With Turkey, the UAE has deployed humanitarian aid such as food and medical supplies, and has set up camps for refugees along the western border with Tunisia.
Late yesterday night, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, told reporters that "the UAE is fully engaged with humanitarian operations. The UAE remains committed to the importance of action in support of UN resolution 1973."
Speaking of the situation in Bahrain, Sheikh Abdullah added that "the UAE, and the GCC remain committed to supporting the initiative being led by His Highness Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain. The support from the international community, and in particular the United States, for that process, can only have a positive effect."
Since the passage of the UN resolution, French warplanes have bombed military targets in Libya, and the US has attacked Libyan air defence facilities.
Arab participation in the enforcement of a no-fly zone was seen as crucial by western diplomats and officials who pushed for the UN Security Council resolution. Without Arab support, the resolution could otherwise be seen as a western-backed attack on a Muslim nation. That notion would have played into Col Qaddafi's propaganda.
Gen al Bu-Ainnain said the UAE was initially planning to deploy 24 fighter jets to Libya - two squadrons of Mirage and F-16 warplanes.
But in a statement yesterday, the UAE responded to speculation surrounding its involvement in Libya by saying that its participation is confined to humanitarian aid.
"The UAE is assuming its humanitarian role within the framework of brotherhood and friendship with the Libyan people," Juma al Junaibi, the foreign ministry's undersecretary, said in a statement on Monday night.
Gen al Bu-Ainnain said the UAE may be willing to reconsider that position if the west's stance on Bahrain changes.
"UAE is willing, they have the means, they have the capability, they have the good will towards our Libyan friends and people," he said. "We have no problem at all, this can be changed, maybe."
The general was speaking on the sidelines of a conference at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in the capital yesterday.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the former secretary general of NATO, offered a plea at the conference yesterday for Arab nations to lead the coalition against Col Qaddafi.
"The United States and its European allies did not act, and did not want to act without the support of the Arab world, and quite rightly so," said Mr Scheffer, who said he was "making a plea for an active participation by Arab nations in the enforcement of the Security Council resolution."
Gen al Bu-Ainnain compared the chaos that could be sown in Bahrain to Lebanon, and questioned why Iran was painting the Peninsula Shield forces as foreign troops.
"This is not acceptable at all by the Kingdom of Bahrain leadership and by the GCC," he said. "This is an issue of sovereignty."