The border war between Egypt and Libya has aroused criticism and concern throughout the Arab world, where it is seen as benefitting only Israel. From here, however, it looks more like a parochial conflict between two feuding governments that is not likely to affect the collective Arab position in the struggle with Israel.
If the Egypt-Libya clash has regional implications the region is North and East Africa, where the war has polarized the radical and moderate camps. Egypt has the support of the anti-Communist governments in Sudan and Chad. Libya is backed by Ethiopia.
Algeri's President Houari Boumediene is probably the only national leader in the region with sufficient stature to try to bridge the frowing gap between the rival goups.
His mediation induced President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to call off military actions against Libya, but only after Sadat was satisfied that his forces had elminated any Libyan potential for striking back into Egypt, obsevers here believe.
Editorial commentary and radio broadcasts around the Arab world have deplored the fighting between two Arab states as detrimental to the entire Arab cause. They have generally refrained from taking sides. Even the Iraqis, who share Libya's opposition to any form of negotiated settlement with israel, supported mediation of the dispute.
The fact is that Libya was not a factor in preparations for a Geneva Middle East peace conference or any other dealins with Israel that involved the confrontation states Egypt, Syria dn Jordan. There appears to be no reason why the thrashing that Sadat's troops apparently have given to the forces of Col. Muammar Qaddafi should affect the Arab-Israeli situation one way or the other.
The Sadat who sent his bombers to smash Libyan airfields is not the Sadat of the 1973 Middle East war but the more recent Sadat who has been willing to use his armed forces to influence events in Africa. It is the Sadat who sent Egyptian pilots in Zaire and concluded a defense pact that commits him to fight alongside Sudan in the event or war with Libya or with the Marxist government of Somalia.
Egyptina newspaper, which reflect the government's thinking on international affairs, said today that the clash with Libya was only an unfortunate diversion from the struggle with Israel.
"Every Egyptina," said Al Ahram, "recognizes that the place for the concentration of our armed forces is on the Eastern and not the Western border."
Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmi said Sadat had sent messages to other Arab heads of state regretting that "the Egyptian armed forces should have been obliged to repulse an aggression of being able to devote themselves fully to their first and only mission, namely preparing for all eventualities concerning the liberation of Arab territories held by Israel."
Today's newpaper commentaries agreed that Sadat had restrained himself against Libyan provocation for a long time and had acted only when he had no other choice.
There are strong indications that the Egyptians had been preparing for this for some time. The planes and troops used in the operations were already on station near the Western border, not moved there on short notice in response to Libyan assaults.
Sadat warned last year, in one of the many earlier periods of Egyptian-Libyan tension, that Qaddafi "will not escape from me." It was reported at that time that Egypt was moving troops to the Western border, in what diplomats in Libya said was a successful attempt to intimidate Qaddafi and force him to tone down his anti-Egyptian activity.
"Have you ever heard of just plain hatred between two men," an Eastern European observer asked today. "You can't imagine that Brezhnev and Carter would take their countries to war because they don't like each other, but this is on a different level."
He said he thought the dispute was based on animosity between Sadat and Qaddafi, not on ideology. It is a fact, however, that tension has increased steadily in recent months as Qaddafi moved ever further into the Soviet sphere of influence, received a long visit from Cuban President Fidel Castro and supported the leftist government in Ethiopia.
Sadat has made it clear that he opposes the spread of Soviet influence, which he views as a direct threat to his own government and that of Sudan. In addition, there is hardly any aspect of government - social policies, economy, foreign affairs, dealing with the Israelis, the role of Islam in the state - on whihc Sadat and Qaddafi agree.
There were no further reports of military action today after Sadat's announcment yesterday of a ceasefire by Egyptian forces. The Libyans still have not responded directly to that or committed themselves to observing a cease-fire. If the Egyptian accounts of the military encounters are anywhere near accurate. Libya is not in a position to come back for much more.