Too little, too late. Any international effort to “bring peace” to Libya is now a commitment which, in all likelihood, will not lead to new positive results in that area.
Let us analyse the situation: about 6,500 Isis militants are estimated to be present in Libya, twice as many as we thought just a few days ago. Their number, however, is growing rapidly.
The “Caliph” Al Baghdadi is transferring to Libya and Tunisia, by land or even by sea, all the terrorists who, thanks to the Russian victories and the victories of Bashar el Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, do no longer succeed in reaching the Isis territory from the Syrian and Turkish borders.
Currently Bashar’ Syrians are a few tens of kilometres from Raqqa, the Caliph’s “capital city”.
Al Baghdadi’s cells, however, were already present on the Libyan territory before the Syrian comeback and Russian presence, while Gaddafi’s fall immediately paved the way for jihadist groups such as Ansar al Sharia, that killed the American Consul in Benghazi in September 2012, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that Sirte’s Colonel had repressed in Southern Libya.
At least 36,000 “foreign fighters” from 120 different countries may have arrived in the Isis territory.
Therefore Al Baghdadi’ strategic logic is clear: to turn Libya into the starting base to bring war – and not just terrorism, which is a specific war strategy – into the Eurasian peninsula, by using a sequence of actions which, in all likelihood, will be at first real terrorism, then the manipulation of the large Islamic minorities present in the EU, as well as the massification of the confrontation, and finally the beginning of a guerrilla warfare inside Europe.
The fact whether Libya’s “unity” government is established or not is of little importance for the self-proclaimed Caliph.
What is important is that it shall have no real power in the region and it shall not really unite all the many “kabile“, namely the tribes, that Gaddafi had harshly placed under his sole command.
If there is a European intervention – or, to be more precise, a French, Italian and British one, with US support – the sequence of events will become even more predictable.
There will be a call for help by the Libyan unity government, which will not necessarily dispel discord and silence diverging interests within it, as well as a resolution of the UN Security Council, the organization that former Italian President Cossiga dismissed as “useless”. Later the military will come, possibly under an Italian joint command, with a view to “training” the local police, with some Special Operations Forces’ initiatives.
Once again, too late and too little.
Joining Britain, France and Italy together in a peace-enforcing operation in Libya is politically possible, but scarcely sensible from the operational viewpoint.
It is worth recalling that the UN “peace operations” doctrine was devised when Islamic terrorism or, rather, the jihad, had not yet appeared on the horizon.
For Isis, Libya is the second front of its particular jihad, as well as the basis for controlling oil – which was the source of Libya’s wellbeing during the dictatorship – and to use its wells and sell smuggled hydrocarbons, also thanks to the decrease of the oil barrel prices and the cover of some producing countries which “mix up” their oil with the one bought on the jihad black market.
Isis has a global strategy, while Europe has none.
Furthermore, the United States have clearly shown they do not want to deal with the Middle East any longer, and the European Union is split into at least two internal fronts on immigration, while Great Britain, which should also participate in the operations on the Libyan ground, is slowly but surely walking out of the European Union.
Today an old story, at the origin of Islam itself, is repeating itself: when the Prophet Muhammad died, the Byzantines and the Iranian Empire were exhausted by a long war with each other, and it was easy for Caliph Abu Bakr to conquer the Iranian empire and its capital Ctesiphon, then head to Egypt and from there up to Andalusia.
The divisions among Christians fostered the arrival of the first jihad and many Eastern Christians, treated as heretics by the Byzantine Basileus, preferred the new Arab regime to the Eastern Empire’s repression.
By easy comparison, we can say that today the divisions between Westerners and their internal weaknesses will favour, God forbid, the arrival of this new jihad.
Hence, reverting to current times, Italy does not want the migrant boats along its shores, and this is the reason why it wants to take action to “bring peace” to Libya.
It is too little. We need to manage the destabilization of the whole Sahel region which produces migrants – destroying boats is a naive spite. You can rest assured that they have the money to buy them back.
The oil issue does not seem to be particularly interesting for the current Italian decision-makers, who have “a blind faith in the progress” the newly elected Iranian reformers are supposed to foster but, as Voltaire used to say, “in spite of facts, people are often hard-headed”.
In Iran, Rowani’s reformers won the majority, with 92 seats; the “independent candidates” obtained 44 seats and the candidates who are against the P5+1 agreement on Iran’s nuclear issue won 115 seats which, if we consider the 39 ones which will go to second ballot in April, make the victory of the supporters of the agreement with the West less remarkable than we may think.
Not to mention the fact that, thanks to his political victory, Rowhani will soon dictate his conditions to the West.
Basically France does not want operations in Libya. It is already present in the Sahel region; it is carrying out counterterrorist operations on its territory and now it also operates in Senegal and Mali; probably it has not the strength to well manage the situation on the ground in Libya.
By the way, do we want to support the “national unity” government in Tripoli or combat Isis?
Great Britain will participate because it wants to try and recover a part of the Mediterranean. It will not succeed, but it certainly does not want France and Italy to regain the “fatal shore” in Libya.
Three diverging interests for the three countries which should fight together.
The United States will launch drones, which have no family and above all do not vote, and will do very little else.
Once again, too little, too late.
Just to put it in my usually brutal terms, a more widely strategic logic – and not a propaganda-demagogic logic, need to be used again in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
If the United States walk out of the region, and I do not think that the new President will be more interventionist than Barack Obama, the small and no longer medium-sized European powers shall find a new global player.
Alone they will never succeed, with the results we do not even want to imagine.
China could be the new global player, in connection with Israel, with whom it has excellent relations. It has also a strategic relationship with the Russian Federation, which is already operating in Syria against Isis.
China is the ideal global player: it has stable and excellent relations with all these countries; it has the technology, including the military one, to change the situation on the ground, and it can also put pressures, without being affected and constrained beyond an acceptable limit, on Iran and Saudi Arabia. China is also in connection with the Jewish state, its stable reference point for the most advanced technologies.
In his recent visit to the Middle East, Xi Jinping has built a broad political project and, after carrying out a cleansing exercise within the CCP and the Chinese companies – just think of the recent elimination of the top managers of China Telecom and high fashion – the Chinese CCP Secretary will be very powerful, as and probably even more than Mao.
Hence, the Libyan framework shall be seen in its Mediterranean context, which is now a unified strategic theatre.
As all similar armies, Isis, which is a terrorist-jihadist group, operates in the name and on behalf of one or more States.
They want some things, but they say so in a more polite way: they want Libyan oil; they want a government – in Tripoli or Tobruk, it does not matter – entirely subordinate to their interests; finally they want to use this “liquid” phase of jihadist terrorism to wipe out the autonomous Maghreb States which are friendly to the West (and Russia).
Namely Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and, with a different module, Egypt, which is also a world choke-point thanks to the Suez Canal.
The European Union shows structural weaknesses which suggest a rapid geopolitical and economic decay. The United States are undergoing their cyclical isolationist phase – hence the Sunni world wants to conquer the Maghreb region so as to threaten and intimidate Europe, flood it with immigrants and control it with the North African oil which will shortly compete with the Russian (and Iranian) oil.
Therefore, if we do not start again to think big, we will not even solve the peace-enforcing operations which we have been dragging on since the cold war.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France