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How chaos in Libya can be an opportunity for Italy

by Alberto Negri

24 Exclusive content for IT24

Why is Libya important for the geopolitics of Italy and the Mediterranean?

The fall of Gaddafi in 2011 was the biggest blow to Europe since World War II: control of energy resources was lost, billions of euros worth of contracts went up in smoke (an estimated $50 billion over 20 years) and Libya's Southern coast became a trampoline to launch migrants, an influx that is accompanied by fears of terrorist infiltration.

The worst part of it is that Italy was forced to bomb the Colonel: as former foreign minister Franco Frattini noted, NATO had placed Italian state controlled oil company ENI terminal on the list of targets to hit.

While comparisons sometimes can seem a bit forced and harsh, Erdogan's Turkey took more than a year to agree to let the US use the Incirlik base against ISIS, and only with a clause that US airpower not be used to support Syrian Kurdish militias. Now, after the failed coup of July 15, any outrage committed by the Turkish leader is greeted with silence.
Abandoning our ally was perceived in the Arab world not as helping to foster a hypothetical democratic process, but a structural failure of foreign policy.

The consequences can be seen in the Regeni case and in relations with Egyptian general Al Sisi, the sponsor, along with the Emirates, France and Russia, of Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the war in Cyrenaica and aligned against Tripoli, where Italy has significant interests.

Perhaps in the case of Libya there was no other option. But the fact remains that Italy participated in thousands of air raids to topple a dictator who, only a few months previously, on August 30, 2010, we had received in Rome with major pomp. Something that we were quick to forget, but other weren't.

It's no consolation to stress, as did a report by the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, that Great Britain and France, along with the Americans, committed in Libya a disaster equivalent to the one in Iraq: we are well aware that these are our closest allies but also the worst possible friends. Blair and the French proved it before the fall of Gaddafi in a fierce competition with us: Sarkozy event went so far as to promise the Colonel nuclear reactors from Areva Group, which were later instead sold to the Saudis saving the company from bankruptcy.

According to the Committee, the Libyan action was taken without adequate planning. The risk to civilians of Gaddafi's repression was exaggerated and “it was obvious that Islamists would have take advantage of the rebellion.”

But the British Parliament left out something key: favoring the Islamists was part of the same strategy of using Jihadists to beat Assad in Syria that was put into practice by Turkey with Saudi money, Qatar, and the backing of the US, France and Great Britain, the biggest suppliers of arms to Arab monarchies.

This was the policy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to defend US interests and keep Russia and Iran under pressure. Ambassador Chris Stevens paid for this decision with his life on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi.

For the big powers, Gadaffi and Assad became chips to exchange to get the chessboard back into alignment after the Arab Spring.

A useful mantra to understand the Middle East is ‘follow the money and the oil.'

Then, naturally, things don't go as planned. In 2013, France and the US stopped bombing Assad, the Libyan government sank into factional strife, the Caliphate was born and expanded, inspiring attacks in Europe, Russia intervened, circumvented by the UN resolution on Libya, to use Libya to flex its muscles as a superpower, while the Saudis are losing the war against the rebel Houthi Shiites of Yemen.

Libya, where Italy has planted a flag in Misurata with a combined humanitarian-military mission to help the fight against ISIS, could now become an opportunity even in the chaos created by our allies.

The offensive by Marshall Haftar in the oil crescent region has returned political heft to Tobruk, obscured by the military campaign in Misurata against the Caliphate.

Only by considering both Tobruk and Tripoli can one reach an agreement, which will inevitably be based on oil and control of Lia, the sovereign fund with $67 billion invested (including stakes in ENI and Unicredit). Each of the rival governments’ foreign sponsors—Arabs, Turks and Westerners—also have economic and political interests in reaching an agreement: but first we need an end to the ambiguous and devastating era of “firemen who set fires” and snake oil salesmen.