Western countries are urgently considering a number of options for intervention in Libya, ranging from military operations to diplomatic initiatives and stepped-up humanitarian assistance. The overall aim, according to the US, Britain and France, is to prevent further violence against civilians by the Libyan regime, facilitate a peaceful transition to democratic rule, and bring to an end the 41-year reign of Gaddafi. The momentum behind intervention is growing because the fighting that began last month shows no sign of ending, amid indications that better-armed regime forces may be gaining the upper hand. Aid agencies say the humanitarian situation is worsening, with shortages of food, fuel and medicine reported. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, warned this week of possible carnage if the violence develops into a civil war. As a result, political pressure on western leaders to do more is rising. But the international community, and in particular the 28-member Nato alliance, has not yet reached a consensus on the best course of action. All are fearful of involvement in another war with the Afghan conflict still raging. Western governments are mindful of the Iraq war, and are worrying about the ramifications of renewed intervention in a Muslim country. Regional organisations such as the Arab League and the African Union have failed to take a lead, while the emerging powers, principally China, are keeping their heads down. Increased intervention could decisively swing the battle in favour of the rebels. Or, if mishandled, it could strengthen Gaddafi, alienate Muslim opinion, and undermine the credibility of the revolt. So what to do? No-fly zone This is the most discussed of the military options. In theory such a zone could cover all of the country, or just the major coastal cities, or notional corridors for transporting relief supplies. Britain and France are pushing this, and Arab League and Libyan rebel leaders are in favour. But the zone would be difficult to set up and dangerous to enforce, and would probably work no better than similar schemes in Bosnia and Iraq. Covert operations Western countries, with the US in the lead, could make life difficult for Gaddafi in a number of ways without directly engaging him militarily. These include cyber warfare attacks involving the jamming of military signals, communications and ground-to-air radio and the disruption of telephone and computer networks. The US and Israel have (alleged) proven expertise in this area, as shown by the success of the Stuxnet bug that disrupted Irans nuclear programme. Intelligence gathering and sharing through satellite surveillance and intelligence sources on the ground is another way of quietly supporting the opposition. Daalder says Nato awacs (airborne surveillance planes) have been ordered to provide round-the-clock coverage of Libya to have a better picture of whats really going on in this part of the world. The US national security agency, the worlds leading eavesdropper, is surely already providing electronic intercepts of Libyan leadership conversations which could be shared with opponents. The insertion of special operations forces is another option, though it will never be discussed in public. The extensive covert ops experience of eliminating Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan could be applied on specific Libyan battlefronts, if so desired. In such a case the SAS would not be deployed as tame escorts (as happened in eastern Libya last week) but as silent killers. Assassination of the heavily guarded Gaddafi is probably too difficult, and in any case politically problematic. Intelligence sharing and other non-violent covert methods of assisting rebels and helping end fighting are useful tools. Soft power The remaining, simpler options are easily the best and easiest to choose. They include coordinated international diplomatic efforts to talk to opposition leaders, build personal and political ties with the Benghazi council, advise on organisation and outreach as rebel-held territory expands, and help create a roadmap towards a post-Gaddafi, democratic future. Guardian