Italy has been trying for years to retake the diplomatic initiative that it lost in Libya after the overthrow of Gaddafi, but all their attempts fall in broken sack. The latter has been produced by the hand of transalpine Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, also leader of the 5 Star Movement, who has promoted a European Union dialogue group in Tripoli. Nevertheless, the new offensive starring Libyan rebel marshal Jalifa Hafter has returned the dispute to the war plane and it has blown up any peace initiative. In reality, the EU diplomatic strategy has been failing since Bernardino León left his position as UN special envoy for Libya in 2016.
In a gesture to save the face, the Italian Foreign Minister managed to meet at least yesterday in Brussels with his counterparts in the United Kingdom, France and Germany to address this issue. Di Maio said that “the summit to be held in Libya will not occur because security conditions do not allow it.” The night before the Italian Foreign Minister had found it next to the High Representative of the EU, Josep Borrell, at a dinner in Rome. Last Saturday, Marshal Hafter bombed a military school in Tripoli and on Monday announced that his troops had taken the important enclave of Sirte, controlled so far by the Government of Tripoli, recognized by the UN. At this time, both sides dispute the city, key for its geographical position and its oil reserves.
But while fighting continues, in a multilateral war like Libya, key decisions are played in other scenarios. Not in the European, as Italy would have liked. Yesterday’s official EU statement states that “the continuation of external interference is fueling the crisis.” Although, the fundamental actors are now Turkey and Russia. Ankara supports the Tripoli Government and in recent days he has officially announced the sending of troops to the ground; while without the collaboration of Moscow it would have been impossible for Hafter to advance again. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin dispute their influence in foreign territory, while this Wednesday they meet in Istanbul. The reason for the meeting is the inauguration of a pipeline that will transport Russian fuel to Turkey through the Black Sea, although the Libyan front will undoubtedly be on the agenda.
Meanwhile, also this Wednesday Foreign ministers from France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus are invited to Cairo to continue making progress in the negotiations. Saudi Arabia relies on Russia, France, Egypt and the Arab Emirates to support Hafter. Although it does not seem that the Cairo summit will boost the Italian initiative, which supports the Government of Tripoli and waits in vain for the European Union to turn to its company. The radically opposite position of France and the reluctance of the United Kingdom prevent it. On the Italian side are Turkey and Qatar.
Therefore, when eight years have passed since the fall of Gaddafi the EU is still divided and tumbling in Libya, where other powers have long since taken the helm. The issue of the North African country will return to the Brussels agenda on Friday, but right now all negotiating attempts come too late. In the last hours both the Executive recognized by the UN and the rebel forces have reported that Sirte is in his possession, although from Tripoli some sources indicated, according to Reuters, that they were retiring to avoid a “bloodbath.” Halfway between Benghazi – Marshal Hafter’s bastion – and the Libyan capital, Sirte is considered the gateway to Tripoli. From there, rebel troops would have shot at the Misrata militias, which serve as a shield for the capital.
Sirte is the cradle of Gaddafi and some time after they killed the dictator, it fell into the hands of groups affiliated with the Islamic State. If so far it has been controlled by the recognized government, it was because countries like the United States put more effort to snatch this judaism from the jihadists. Hafter launched into the conquest of the country in April of last year, although his offensive stagnated. Sirte’s take can now unbalance the situation on his side.