A leader of a radical Italian party has indicated his support for putting Libya’s western region under a defacto Italian administration to keep his country’s economy afloat after leaving the euro club.
Simone Di Stefano, who is officially running for Italy’s presidential elections as leader of ‘CasaPound’, a right-wing political party, made the remarks on Twitter on Tuesday while chatting with his followers.
After posting a tweet calling on the Italian government to “immediately” leave the European Union, Mr Di Stefano received a comment from one of his Twitter followers asking whether CasaPound was welling to consider “the reoccupation of Libya and Ethiopia” to keep Italy’s economy afloat in case the EU chooses to punish it for leaving. “Yes,” he replied, adding that it is all about “protecting the resources of [Italy’s energy giant] ENI wherever they are” in both Libya and Russia.
The follower then asked how would CasaPound go about implementing the annexation of Libya, and whether the party’s approach will “make Libya an autonomous Italian region, or will it be a confederation modelled on Russia”. It was at this point Mr Di Stefano dropped his bombshell. “It seems premature to talk about it [now]. The action will be assessed according to the situation that will be found at the time. If I have to tell you today: a protectorate on Tripolitania, in agreement with Russia and then with the approval of Tobruk and of el-Sisi’s Egypt.”
Not satisfied by the answer, the follower reminded Di Stefano that “Tripolitania is not the richest area of oil. I am of the idea that if a Libyan mission must be, it must be total, that is, we must take it all. So OK Tripoli, but also Cyrenaica (where there is oil) and Fezzan.” To which Mr Di Stefano offered another shocking response: “One step at a time”.
This is not a joke. What you have just read did really happen. A presidential candidate of a western European country has publicly told his supporters that his foreign policy as president would include the occupation of a sovereign Arab state and plundering its oil resources to boost his country’s economy.
His comments couldn’t have come at a worse time for Paolo Gentiloni’s government which is already at the centre of a political storm in Libya over its decision to deploy additional forces to Misrata. The Italian parliament’s approval of Mr Gentiloni’s plan to send 100 soldiers to the Italian barracks in Misrata, which will bring the total number of its forces there to 400, has sparked an outrage in Libya on Wednesday. Libya’s House of Representatives (HoR), the rival government based in eastern Libya, and the National Forces Alliance, the country’s largest political party, have all issued statements condemning the move as violation of Libya’s sovereignty. Even the Tripoli-based, UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which many Libyans see as a puppet in the hands of the Italians, was forced to issue a statement under pressure from the Libyan public demanding Italy to clarify its decision to send more troops to Libya.
On the other side of the Mediterranean, the Italian government seems to be struggling to budge the issue. On Thursday its embassy in Tripoli chose not to address the problem and instead put out an ambiguous tweet about “mutual friendship and technical assistance”.
Italian politicians’ blunders with their former colony seem to be on the rise. Last month, foreign minister Angelino Alfano, chose 24 December, the 66th anniversary of Libya’s independence from Italy, to do a photo op with Italian troops aboard an Italian military ship in Tripoli harbour.
Three months earlier, as Libyan authorities and the UN were struggling to disband militias to replace them with proper state security agencies, reports in the Italian press revealed that a militia commander from Sabratha was paid €5 million by the Italian government to encourage him cooperate with Italy’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants to its shores.
Even before its recent shenanigans, Italy has always been widely unpopular across Libya due to horrific war crimes committed by its forces in the early twentieth century during its occupation to Libya which ended in 1952 after three decades of armed resistance led by Omar al-Mukhtar, whose legacy still lives as the symbol of a united Libyan identity.
Last night, Mohammad al-Barghouthy, chieftain of the Werfallah tribe, made a rare TV appearance to remind his fellow Libyans of their dark history with their northern neighbour and pleaded with them to be vigilant to the threat posed by Italy. "The occupation started first by claims that Italy wanted to help develop Libya through activities funded the Banca di Roma which have later turned into a military occupation of the whole country," warned Mr al-Barghouthy, citing Mussolini’s famous declaration about Libya being Italy’s “fourth shore”.
“A few of Misrata politicians think that they have made a deal with Italy to help them take the helm of Libya’s post-Gaddafi governments. But in fact, the Italians are just using them temporarily to access Misrata as a bridge through which they can set foot on Libyan soil. The Italians want to run the Tripoli government themselves, but they may cast some domestic extras as a façade,” a veteran Libyan diplomat who asked to remain unnamed has said after we approached him for a comment for this article.
And amid all this, it would be sensible to assume that domestic affiliates of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, couldn’t believe their luck thinking that Italy’s new military adventure will spare them the effort to recruit fighters. For history tells us that nothing can unite Libyans like a foreign aggression. A more recent history also tells us that terrorists have tapped into similar grievances in Iraq. They will certainly do the same in Libya if things continued on their current trajectory.