Colonel Gaddafi may have had his own, Libyan, reasons for taking his surprise decision. But he must also have been aware that it would remind his fellow-Arabs of their collective weakness in the face of an assertive American superpower. After all, the Libyan leader had seized power in 1969 as a champion of a radical form of Arab nationalism. He'd seen himself as the political heir of the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who had captured Arab hearts with his defiance of the West and his calls for Arab unity.
But those heady days are long gone. Now each Arab state is left pursuing its own self-interest. Even the idea - put forward by a number of Arab officials - that the Libyan move puts pressure on Israel to abandon its undeclared nuclear programme is based more on hope than realism. Israel has no such intention; nor is it under American pressure to do so. The Arab state that will now feel uncomfortably isolated as a result of Colonel Gaddafi's decision is Syria. It too stands accused by Washington of developing weapons of mass destruction, as well as supporting groups the Bush administration regards as terrorist.