African and Arab neighbors of Col. Muammar Qaddafi say the fiery Libyan leader's military adventures have gone far beyond the nuisance stage and directly threaten both African and West European security.
Leading officials in this region warn that the Soviets, helped by the East Germans, have begun to use Libya as a "Trojan horse."
The Soviet purpose: subversion of pro-Western regimes in North, Central, and West Africa.
The warning was conveyed to this writer after he completed a two-week tour of Libya and neighboring Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
"You will see," said a member of the Moroccan parliament in Rabat, "the same patterns of control that you see in Ethiopia, in South Yemen, and Angola." In all three, Soviet and surrogate forces aided local revolutions. Now they strongly bolster the Marxist victors.
The Soviet arms buildup in Libya consists of several thousand tanks, combat planes, artillery, and other hardware purchased by Libya and stockpiled near Tobruk, but still under Soviet guard. Western defense analysts believe these may be Soviet stocks pre-positioned for a new world conflict, like those in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.
Says Tunisian Foreign Minister Hassan Belkhodja: "If the new Reagan administration in the US really wants to defend the free world, a good place to start would be North Africa."
"Cuba and Libya," he added in a conversation here, "have become, with Vietnam , major world centers of destabilization. Remember that you won World War II after you won in North Africa. That was decisive, a turning point strategically.
"You could lose World War III in North Africa," Mr. Belkhodja added, referring to the Soviet buildup in Libya.
"Remember that if North Africa goes under, West Europe may go under, too," the Tunisian foreign minister added.
High-ranking officials in Tunisia, Morocco, and even socialist Algeria -- which seems to regard Colonel Qaddafi as a rival of Algerian President Chadli Benjedid for leadership of the region -- all agreed that the new US administration would do well to pay closer attention to these trends:
* The Carter administration's ignoring of Syria in the Camp David peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt has helped to drive Syria into its tentative new union with Libya and into the defense pact signed recently with the Soviets.
Any new Reagan peace efforts in the Middle East ought therefore to pay special attention to Syria, and above all to the Palestinians. Colonel Qaddafi has consistently wooed them, although he is now on bad terms with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership of Yasser Arafat because of Mr. Arafat's interest in a negotiated peace with Israel.
* Colonel Qaddafi is moving rapidly into Central Africa. Since Oct. 19, between 2,000 and 3,000 of the best troops of his well- equipped 40,000-man armed forces have "leapfrogged" the towering barrier of northern Chad's Tibesti mountains aboard transport planes. They came in answer to a call from Chad President Goukhouni Woddei, whose forces are fighting Chad dissidents in a rapidly disintegrating country.
With air support from the MIG fighters and Tupolev bombers of Colonel Qaddafi's Air Force, they are operating out of the Chad capital, N'djamena, about 800 miles south of the Libyan frontier. They are close to Cameroon and Niger, black African states where Colonel Qaddafi's missionary version of Islam is strong. Niger already supplies uranium to Libya. There is said to be much more uranium in northern Chad.
* Tunisians are concerned that the Libyans may try a multiple repeat performance of last February's Libyan-based guerrilla raid against the Tunisian phosphate mining center of Gafsa.
After seeing US satellite intelligence photos of Libyan guerrilla-training camps and Libyan troop movements in the Sahara south of Tunisia, Tunisian Prime Minister Muhammad M'zali asked the US to expedite military aid in items like night sensor equipment. It also requested an easing of the terms on which US economic and military aid is provided.
President Habib Bourguiba's son and adviser, Habib Bourguiba Jr., conveyed Tunisia requests for easier sales terms and new equipment to Washington last spring. Prime Minister M'zali recently repeated them to US Ambassador to Tunisia Stephen W. Bosworth, citing the Libyan threat.
* Morocco and Tunisia are exchanging intelligence concerning Libyan operations and intentions. Since the latest Libyan thrust into Chad, leaders of Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, Sudan, Mali, and Mauritania have all expressed concern.
Some Africans have speculated to newsmen and diplomats that President Sadat of Egypt, Colonel Qaddafi's arch-foe, might move against Qaddafi if the United States, which has apparently restrained Mr. Sadat on several occasions since the Egyptian-Libyan "mini-war" of July 1977, ceases its restraint, or if Mr. Sadat ignores it.
* Algeria, where US energy requirements in oil and natural gas are an even bigger consideration than in Libya, has its own qualms about Colonel Qaddafi, apart from Western ones.
Despite complicity of high-ranking officials of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) in the Gafsa attack, Algerians now appear to fear that Colonel Qaddafi's growing direct military supply pipeline to the Polisario guerrillas fighting Morocco in the western Sahara could also threaten Algeria's vast Saharan territory -- though Algerians are one of the few African or Arab peoples not being trained in Colonel Qaddafi's guerrilla camps to overthrow their government.