In 1973, four years after Muammar Qaddafi
came to power, Libya
claimed the Mediterranean
's Gulf of Sidra
as territorial waters. If one drew an imaginary line from Benghazi
on the eastern tip of Libya to the western tip at Misratah, the Gulf of Sidra was pretty much south of that line. Libya reasoned this was the equivalent of Canada's Hudson bay
and no one would deny Hudson bay was Canadian territorial waters.
When Qaddafi came to power he made America remove its airbase near Tripoli
. Without an air base in North Africa (and all that North Africa oil begging to be defended), carrier operations took up the slack. Qaddafi responded to America's growing influences in the middle east, for example deposing the Iranian government and installing the Shah, by trying to keep America out of the Gulf of Sidra.
Few recognized Libya's claim to the Gulf of Sidra, notably America's Sixth fleet
. In the 1981, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi announced foreign ships and aircraft were not free to enter the Gulf of Sidrah, notably the ships and aircraft of America's Sixth fleet. Qaddafi proclaimed the vector from Benghazi to Misratah his fearsome "Line of Death" and anyone foolish enough to cross said Line of Death would be met by the full wrath of the Libyan airforce, three very old MiG fighters.
Unwilling to kowtow
to a man Reagan labeled as an international pariah
, America's Sixth fleet crossed Gaddafi's Line of Death whenever it got the chance.
Oddly enough, although by international agreement territorial waters
is defined as 12-miles from your shores, America in the '70s itself claimed a 200-mile exclusionary zone. Qaddafi's Line of Death was entirely beyond the 12-mile limit but well within America's unilateral principle of a 200-mile exclusionary zone. So do as I say but not as I do because you don't have a Sixth fleet.
In August 1981, the US Sixth fleet began staging exercises in the Gulf of Sidra. Qaddafi sent two Su-22
s to "monitor" the exercises. Two American F-14
s were dispatched to escort the Libyan fighters away from the exercise area when, surprisingly, one of the Su-22s fired a Soviet-made Atoll
missile at the F-14s. The F-14s evaded the missile, responded with Sidewinder
missiles, and easily down the Libya fighters.
In 1986, the Libyans tried it again, dispatching two MiG 25
s, again losing those two. America responded to that attack by sinking some Libyan patrol boats and attacking a few coastal Libyan radar facilities.
Qaddafi, realizing his own military was ineffectual against America (not to mention against neighboring Chad
when Libyan tanks proved no match against Chadians in Toyota pickups armed with shoulder-launched anti-tank rockets), turned to terrorism in revenge, authorizing the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin disco frequented by off duty American military personal.
"Line of Death" today is mocking used by people to indicate some area one should not go, or else face ineffectual repercussion
"Look, I'm going to be busy in the kitchen and what I'm cooking is a surprise. Whatever you do, do not cross my Line of Death and enter the kitchen, got it? If you do, you'll be banished to the couch with a glass of wine and the TV remote!"