More than a week after the United States air strike on Libya, its impact inside that country and on its neighbors is coming more clearly into focus. Growing repercussions in the Arab world are already adversely affecting US interests, analysts say. And despite European Community measures against Libyan diplomats decided upon Monday, the Western alliance appears seriously divided.
The April 15 US action succeeded neither in killing nor in overthrowing Col. Muammar Qaddafi. No Libyans and few foreign diplomats and newsmen this reporter spoke to doubt that these were the aims. US officials deny this and say that the raid was intended to punish Libya for its alleged support of terrorism.
The next logical US effort, many in Libya believe, would be a covert assassination or coup attempt by US or US-supported forces. It would presumably be masked as a Libyan venture, they speculate.
Expected revolts or uprisings do not seem to have taken place. In fact, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi helped spirit him to safety outside Tripoli after the strike. The colonel has avoided public appearances since then, apparently fearing a new US attempt on his life.
Some analysts discounted press reports yesterday that suggested Qaddafi's control was slipping. The Times (London) reported yesterday that Qaddafi was now serving as nominal leader of a five-man junta. The report said that ``the formation of a new collective leadership . . . may well have been taken to prevent the possibility of a coup.'' The junta members it named included Qaddafi's deputy, deputy chief of staff, inspector-general, and Army commander in chief.
Analysts say Qaddafi has long been part of a collective leadership, and that yesterday's report does not necessarily indicate a major shift in the power structure. These junta members are longtime loyalists who have held positions of power since aiding Qaddafi's 1969 takeover.
But there have been signs of grumbling in the Libyan armed forces over the unpreparedness of air defenses. The small Libyan Navy is said to have complained that the Air Force has provided no air cover. And high emotion over civilian casualties -- 37 slain and 93 wounded, says Qaddafi's deputy, Maj. Abdul Salam Jalloud -- has added to a kind of patriotic 'elan, which, temporarily anyway, adds to Qaddafi's image.
The 73,000-man regular armed forces headed by Col. Abu Bakr Yunis Jaber, a Qaddafi companion in the 1969 coup, seem completely loyal for the moment. What is much less certain is the extent of their control over the smaller and more lightly armed People's Army (militia).
Most uncertain of all are the ``revolutionary committees'' -- mostly half-educated young men who have been known to arrest Libyans or foreigners arbitrarily and seize property.
``If Tripoli Airport is closed by any new fighting,'' said a foreign ambassador in Tripoli, ``there's no way of being sure if we could get foreigners out to the Tunisian frontier. The revolutionary guards control parts of the road and they may not obey anybody.''
As long as Qaddafi survives, both the armed ``regulars'' and ``revolutionaries'' are likely to give him their loyalty, analysts say. But if the US or other foes eliminate him, chaos could follow. The 300,000 or more foreigners living among about 3 million Libyans might be in danger then, though for the present they seem safe.
[Libya yesterday told an estimated 300 foreign journalists to leave the country but insisted it was not in retaliation for Western European governments deporting Libyan students and diplomats. Journalists were told they had to leave by Friday. At first it was thought that only American and West European journalists were obliged to leave. But officials said they wanted all foreign journalists out and that the hotel was needed for a visiting delegation.]
Diplomats' reports in neighboring Tunisia say that the Tunisian armed forces have been on high alert since the strike. Libyan information media have accused Tunisia of allowing the US to use its airspace. The Pentagon denies this. Demonstrations against the US and Tunisia broke out last week, mainly because Tunisia was virtually the only Arab nation not to condemn the US raid.
As Libya and radical Arab allies tried to convene an Arab summit, certain envoys of Qaddafi made it known that Tunisia may be ``punished'' if such a summit fails to take place or to take vigorous anti-US action. According to informed sources in Tunis, the US and France secretly reassured President Habib Bourguiba on Saturday that they would help defend Tunisia if Qaddafi should attack.
Meanwhile in Libya, 5,500 Britons, about 4,500 Italians, 2,000 West Germans, about 4,000 Soviets, and nearly 1,000 Americans (most of them well-protected and well-paid employees of Libya's National Oil Company), await news of their future.
``Both President Reagan and [British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher will bear a large amount of responsibility for safety of the foreigners here,'' said one European diplomat. Mr. Cooley, a former Monitor Middle East correspondent, is an ABC staff correspondent in London.