The role-playing in Lybia

There’s no more choice between Serraj and Haftar: which side we need to take in a strife whose prize is not just Tripoli?

There’s no more choice between Serraj and Haftar: which side we need to take in a strife whose prize is not just Tripoli?

Lybia, Serraj and Haftar: there’s no more choice
Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

It is very easy to commit mistakes in the choices related to international politics, in particular the ones regarding our national security. At the same time, it is instead extremely difficult to openly recognise them when necessary to avoid further troubles. Or, it is even more complicated to try to fix adequately our wrong choices, if there is a way to do so in a way to avoid the consequences of our previous actions. In Libya, since the beginning of the strife between the two factions that – despite the Covid-19 pandemic – are still fighting in the outskirts of Tripoli, we made a tragic mistake supporting the Prime Minister, Serraj. It is necessary, however, stress the fact that we effectuated that choice when it appeared as obliged, especially in order to remain adherent to our traditional foreign policy alignments. Indeed, we have to consider that since the beginning the UN considered the Tripoli’s government as the only legitimate one, and that for us it has always been natural to adhere to the UN position, almost in a rigid and dogmatic way. Even if such a position appeared, since the beginning, in potential contrast with our national interest.

Our strict adherence to the so-called international legal framework, together with other factors, gave us also an hope to effectively play a role guide in the management of this issue. A role that would have been substantial and not merely formal, recognised as such by all the direct and undirect parts in cause. Then, for a while, there is also been present the illusion that our deployment could have been able to defend ENI’s interests, threatened, in theory, by the French company Total. Finally – maybe our most important concern – we thought that our support to Serraj would have consented us to better control the flows of illegal immigrants, who mostly depart from Tripolitania and not from Cyrenaica.

At the end of the day, after some years of constant support to Tripoli, we now face a conflict where there more numerous, intrusive and demanding undirect actors – following a partial discredit to the eyes of Libyans and of the international community, due to our production of ambitious, but ineffective, diplomatic initiatives. Our main sin, in this context, has been probably represented by our incapability to add to our diplomatic action, abstractly valid, concrete forms of support to ensure a potential agreement.

In other words, we did not want, or we proved unable to, promote an European action – since an only Italian intervention would have been both unrealistic and insufficient – able to bring in Lybia a reasonable number of Boots on the ground in order to discourage any temptation to disregard what would have been formally agreed. Our only excuse is the objective difficulty to do so within an European Union concentrated only on its north-eastern border and where the only middle-sized power remained after the United Kingdom abandonment, France, has the absolute priority of concentrating its forces in the defence of what remain of its influence in francophone Africa.

However, thanks to our inaction, the Libyan stage, once an anarchic scene of local, religious, and tribal militias, has become in these years one of the main theatres of the current strife for global Sunni leadership. Indeed, the last months events have tragically demonstrated that there is no more choice between Serraj and Haftar – which are by now no more than minor figures of a puppet exhibition – but, instead, between two way more complex and articulated deployments which are now fighting at the doors of Tripoli. Two sides that make their moves with extreme unscrupulousness and clear and defined strategies. For the sake of an even enhanced intricacy – and not just for us, but also for the EU –, one of the main contenders, Turkey, is a friend/enemy with which we share NATO membership and decades of common policy, while its opponent, Russia, is an enemy/friend whereby we never shared anything formally but, for energetical interest, we would also like to approach in some ways.

However, despite the current situation and even though Tripoli could fall in any moment, we Italians remain nearly immobile, after having focused our efforts, for months, in the construction of a European naval force – which have quite vague tasks and objectives. We do not even realise how, with the Turkish and Qatari support, the Muslim Brotherhood is advancing in Tripolitania – the territory of our “proxy” Serraj. The Brotherhood is a formation that has a political wing, but it also maintains parallelly, and quietly, a terroristic and fundamentalist characterisation. If this presence will really take place in Tripoli, this could represent for the Muslim Brotherhood a steppingstone to destabilize the whole Maghreb – which is already afflicted by various problems of political instability.

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