Libya: pro-Turkish minister Bashagha ousted. An opening for Italy

(To Filippo Del Monte)
03/09/20

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's removal of the powerful militiaman leader and politician from Misano Fathi Bashagha from the post of Interior Minister of the Tripoli government has opened an unexpected window for Italy in Libya.

The Turkish military intervention in the Libyan conflict in recent months has rebalanced the front line allowing the Tripolini to first break the grip of Haftar's forces around the capital and then to liberate Tripolitania entirely by moving a few kilometers from the stronghold of Sirte. Politically, the presence of Ankara's troops in Tripolitania had meant the strengthening of the pro-Turkish party in the Sarraj executive and therefore of the "Muslim brother" Fathi Bashagha, a former military pilot at the time of Gaddafi, able to "recycle" first as a referent to Measured by NATO in 2011 and then as a political-military leader from Measur, particularly close to Erdogan. The Turkish origins of Bashagha's family helped to strengthen an already very strong political bond.

So while for Sarraj the Turkish soldiers who supported Libyan government troops and militiamen in operations against Haftar were more than anything else a useful support and, at the same time, an annoying source of foreign interference, for Bashagha they represented a point of reference, practically the pivotal and fulcrum of their political power and their "blackmail potential" within the government. Over the last few months, Bashagha's pro-Turkish line had expressed itself in the Turkish-Libyan agreement on the new EEZ, in the maritime convention on Misrata, in the strict rejection of any negotiation proposal coming from Cyrenaica and in the pressure to deal the final blow to the shaky Haftarian defense mechanism in al-Jufra and Sirte.

An exacerbation of the conflict, generated by a possible conquest of Sirte by the Tripolini, at this stage could not be hoped for by Sarraj who, due to one of the usual paradoxes of war and politics, risked being thrown from his chair for having conquered the victory on the field. This is one of the reasons that pushed the premier to oust the Minister of the Interior last Friday using the harsh repression implemented by the security forces against the demonstrators who took to the streets against the government in Tripoli since 23 August as a pretext.

Yet it was Sarraj himself in recent days to define "unacceptable" the behavior of those who were protesting, also speaking of the presence among the demonstrators of unidentified infiltrators and of armed men attributable to the Nawasi militias. Harsh criticism of Sarraj's work had come precisely from the Misano circles, in particular from the Al-Samoud militiamen of Salah Badi, while Bashagha, while preparing the repression, had in fact held a somewhat ambiguous conduct. Sarraj, who had asked the government to take serious measures against the demonstrations, then accused Bashagha of using an iron fist against the population.

If a politician like Sarraj - considered by many to be isolated, weak and lacking important international support - managed to "oust" a militia leader with strong support from the Muslim Brotherhood, of the more radical political-military components of Tripoli and, above all, of Turkey, cannot have done it alone. Everything suggests that behind this operation there is the hand of the United States of America - that through the contractors of Jones Group International ensure the personal safety of al-Sarraj - disturbed by Turkish politics in the region. One of the theoretical assumptions on which the Turkish strategic doctrine of the "blue homeland" is based is to avoid friction with the US for as long as possible to guarantee the projection area of ​​Ankara; however, none of the Turkish strategists have ever denied the fact that the moment of Washington's reaction to Erdogan's "assertive foreign policy" in the Mediterranean would come. It was all about figuring out how much time the Turks had left before the US "whiplash".

The forced stop of the Turkish-Tripoline forces in front of Sirte and the internal divisions in the Tripoli government have allowed to put a stop to Turkish claims. Assuming that reaching Misrata for the Turks still represents a political-diplomatic and military success, it is also true that today, to quote Gian Micalessin, Bashagha's ouster offers Italy an assist to return to play the game in the "Quarta Sponda".

The visit to Tripoli by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Undersecretary Manlio Di Stefano has perhaps opened a new phase for Italian action in Libya both from a political and an economic point of view. Sure, Di Maio and Di Stefano will not be the spearheads of Rome to counter Turkish aims in the wake of the US awakening, but the hope is that the men of the "career" of the Farnesina, those of the AISE and the "parallel diplomacy" of ENI will do their job.

In the circles of the Libyan capital, Italians still enjoy important support, Sarraj clearly asked Rome for economic and material support for the post-war reconstruction phase (from the Berlusconian peace highway to the works at the Tripoli airport are of possibility) and the factor not to be underestimated is that the preferential channel with Washington has never been interrupted.

A strategy based on the maintenance of traditional equilibrium in Libya - and therefore on the recovery of Italian pre-eminence, even political, in the country - is also functional for US designs and therefore is the best to follow without extravagant head shots and schizophrenia Here française. Economic diplomacy will play a fundamental role in this phase and that for the modernization of Libya, also with the construction of new strategic infrastructures and the reconstruction of those damaged by nine years of uninterrupted war, will be one of the dossiers to keep under control. At the same time, however, Italy will not have to be tempted only and exclusively by profit but it will be necessary to focus on a careful and refined reconstruction of its area of ​​political-military influence in Libya.

In other words, a way must be found to transform the tactical success achieved against Turkey - thanks to the intervention of others - in strategic victory.

Photo: Awstishur