Rome strengthens its alliances with the GNA and Turkey in the face of the polarization of the two sides in the civil war

Italian Foreign Minister visits Libya amidst tension with Egypt

PHOTO/AP - Fayez Sarraj, Prime Minister of the GNA, receives the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, in Tripoli on June 24, 2020

Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio travelled to the Libyan capital Tripoli on Wednesday on a "relief" trip in the face of growing tensions between the two blocs in the civil war, the Government of National Unity (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and the National Liberation Army (LNA) commanded by Marshal Khalifa Haftar. On the agenda for the visit are meetings between Di Maio and Sarraj, as well as with his foreign counterpart, Mohamed Tahar Siala and Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga, according to Italian agencies Agi and Ansa. 

"When I started working in Libya, the objectives were and still are three: to guarantee our geostrategic interests, to ensure the unity of Libya and to make sure that this conflict ends," Di Maio said recently when asked about his trip to Tripoli.

Rome, which has always supported the GNA, being the only European country to do so officially - as France and Greece have openly opted for the rival faction - considers Libya "a priority", as "the most important issue concerning our national security", according to an Italian Foreign Ministry source in the daily Messaggero. "We cannot afford a partition of the country. That is why we went first to Ankara, a (diplomatic) channel that we have always kept open," the source said, referring to Di Maio's 19 June trip to Turkey, where he met his Eurasian counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. 

On the agenda of the meetings is, first of all, the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the GNA and Rome in 2017, by which the Italian Government committed itself - with technical and technological means - to support the Libyan military forces and, in particular, the Coast Guard, to control the flow of migrants who wanted to reach Community territory. It is worth mentioning here that within the framework of the agreement, which has recently been extended until 2023, Tripoli has received from Rome and from the EU Trust Fund for Africa more than 100 million dollars, destined for training, boats and equipment.

Secondly, the solution to the Libyan civil war, which began in 2011 after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Italy welcomed the military victory that the GNA won in the capital three weeks ago, which had been under siege for the previous 14 months by the LNA. Since then, it has moved closer and closer to Sarraj, even signing agreements on the future stage to be opened in the country after the "stabilization", and in which, according to the ANG, Haftar has no role. In fact, last week, the first meeting was held between the Italian Army and Sarraj's forces to begin the task of clearing the mines that the LNA had placed in its withdrawal from Maitika/Mitiga Airport. In addition, an Italian consortium will be responsible for the reconstruction of this infrastructure, a project valued at EUR 79 million.

Thirdly, Di Maio is also scheduled to travel to the town of Misrata, 180 kilometres east of Tripoli, where there is a hospital with 300 Italian soldiers, according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu.

Fayez Sarraj, primer ministro del GNA se reúne con el ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Italia, Luigi Di Maio enTrípoli, el 24 de junio de 2020

Rome has also approached Ankara, Sarraj's invaluable ally after the victory of the GNA. On June 13, the Armed Forces of the two countries were conducting joint military exercises in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. "We are aware of the critical role played by Italy. We are grateful to them, they played a balanced role. They did not stand by the coup leader Haftar like other European countries and showed sincere efforts for a ceasefire and for the political process," Cavusoglu said at the joint press conference with Di Maio in Ankara. "Libya must not pose a security threat to Europe. A UN representative needs to be appointed as soon as possible. We want a lasting ceasefire in Libya," the Italian minister responded, in a message in which Rome implicitly dismissed the initiative presented by Egypt to resolve the crisis in Libya and opted for the roadmap proposed by the United Nations, which, it should be recalled, sponsored the founding of the GNA in 2015.

The country led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an ally of the LNA, proposed a solution to the civil war on 5 June, which included the cessation of hostilities and the departure of foreign mercenaries from Libya. It was immediately supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, France and even Russia, but was rejected outright by Turkey. Since then, the tension between Cairo and Ankara has escalated to such an extent that Al-Sisi gave the order to deploy the Army to the border with Libya, with the capacity to intervene in that country quickly if required. In fact, the president assured last Saturday that, if the forces of the GNA advanced on the strategic city of Sirte, coveted for its oil resources, it could provoke the "direct" intervention of his Army. At the time, the GNA declared that Al-Sisi's message was a "declaration of war.

"The situation is very delicate. In addition to the clash on horseback in the Mediterranean involving the east-west axis of Turkey-France, there is the weight of the fierce declaration of Cairo, which has threatened to enter Libya militarily if Tripoli (and the Turks) do not stop the last phase of the counter-offensive, the reconquest of Sirte," explains analyst Emanuele Rossi in the Italian daily Formiche.