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PARIS (Reuters) - The West's intervention in Libya should make repressive leaders in the region rethink their suppression of street protests, according to the celebrity philosopher who nudged France into spearheading the action.
Bernard-Henri Levy, a flamboyant intellectual and catalyst for President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to back Libya's rebels, said "the coalition bombs falling on Libyan military sites are also Swords of Damocles over the heads of other dictators."
Levy, an avowed pacifist, told a briefing with foreign media that he believed the coalition campaign should be over in weeks despite slow progress made by the ragtag forces seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi.
He said he hoped a successful outcome in Libya could preempt any further Western military action in the region, where an "Arab Spring" of unrest has spread rapidly since uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
"If the operation in Libya is a success it will have the effect of an intervention -- a virtual one perhaps, but an intervention nonetheless -- in Syria," he said.
France, traditionally wary of armed foreign interventions, is at the forefront of the international response to political unrest across North Africa and the Middle East.
It carried out the first strikes on Gaddafi's forces three weeks ago and is now engaged in helicopter attacks in Ivory Coast, a former colony.
Syria, another former colony, is posing another dilemma for Sarkozy. Dozens of civilians have been killed in the army's suppression of protests against President Bashar al-Assad has run into the dozens.
"If Gaddafi wins, then Bashar al-Assad will go to the end of his madness. If Gaddafi is beaten, I think Assad will understand he has to negotiate," Levy said."
A well-known figure in France famous for his bouffant hair, permanent tan and designer open-necked white shirts, Levy was instrumental in Sarkozy's decision to recognize formally the opposition national council, the first foreign leader to do so.
Part of a crowd of trendy leftist intellectuals that regularly dines at the Elysee with the conservative president and his ex-model wife Carla Bruni, Levy telephoned Sarkozy last month from Benghazi after a meeting with the rebels.
He told Sarkozy he believed France should listen to the movement, then briefed him further on the situation once back in Paris -- earning himself the stripes of an unofficial presidential adviser and a flurry of media attention.
A dyed-in-the wool leftist who says he would never vote for Sarkozy in an election, Levy shuns the idea that he is now a key Libya adviser to a man whom critics say lacks the intellectual weight of past French presidents.
"I did not advise him, I just said I thought it would be in France's honor (to recognize the rebels)," Levy said.
After France's initial acknowledgement of the opposition, rebel supporters hung French flags across Benghazi, making it hard for France to not take a leading role, he added.
"I told Sarkozy that if blood starts to flow in Benghazi then it will splash the French flag."
Levy, who is in continual telephone contact with the rebel transition council in Libya, said arming the rebels should be a last resort if all else fails -- but he acknowledged some weapons were already being smuggled to them overland.
"I have confidence, with some reserves, in the people of the transition council. I am confident, although anxious too," he said. "I will do everything I can in the days ahead to explain that I think it is disgusting to suggest (they) are al Qaeda. It's not true to say they are inspired by radical Islam.
Editing by Jeffrey Heller