Italy-Libya: Conte’s Faux Pas
In an attempt to turn back the clock, the Italian government tried to bring the warring Libyan factions to the negotiating table through a plan drawn up and spearheaded by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta.
In an attempt to turn back the clock, the Italian government tried to bring the warring Libyan factions to the negotiating table through a plan drawn up and spearheaded by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta. The plan involved Italy power brokering a deal between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and, surprisingly enough, Fathi Bashagha, the newly appointed GNA Defence Minister.
One could only interpret this as an Italian attempt to catapult Bashagha to ‘strongman’ status in the West, thus balancing the equation between Tripoli and al-Rajma (LNA HQ).
Despite the GNA's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Miitig trip to Rome on Monday, April 15th, where he met with Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and requested the Italian government cut all diplomatic ties with Haftar, Italy gave no attention to his lobbying efforts and proceeded with their plan by sending the Deputy Chief of Italy’s External Intellegince Agency (AISE), Gen. Gianni Caravelli, to Tripoli on Tuesday, April 16th.
Gen. Caravelli met with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Defence Minister Bashagha to discuss the plan at hand. At the same time, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, in Abu Dhabi for bilateral trade talks, was tasked with securing the UAE’s support for Italy's plan in Libya, thus pressuring Haftar to the negotiating table.
This last minute manoeuvring was to no avail as neither the UAE nor Egypt plan on allowing a ceasefire to a conflict that they deem to be a regional one. Libya Desk reached out to a source close to the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, commenting that neither of the two previously mentioned arabic countries would allow the conflict to end without an “outright defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood cell’s among the GNA forces”. Furthermore, the assignment of Bashagha to the post of Defence Minister was not received well by the Libyan National Army and its foreign backers, who interpreted it as a prequel to an eventual Musrata coup in Tripoli. As of this writing, all upper-echelon financial and security posts in the GNA are held by Musrati officials.
Libya Desk Comment
Although Italy is known for its farfetched tactics, often lacking clarity in its ‘long-term’ assessments, this was a particularly dangerous move.
The GNA alliance is already a weak one, united solely due to the threat of mutual assured destruction at the hands of the LNA. If Italy succeeds in propping up Fathi Bashagha as the new face of western Libya instead of Sarraj, they risk revolt from Tripoli and Zintan militia that will likely lead to a collapse of the current coalition.