Saving Libya and peace in the Mediterranean

Friday 24/04/2015

As news from Libya worsens by the day, the prospects for peace and security in North Africa and the Mediterranean region grow dimmer.
The irresponsibility, or impo­tence, with which the United Na­tions is handling the Libyan crisis is disconcerting. The joint state­ment of April 12th by five Euro­pean foreign ministers and the US secretary of state borders on the surreal and raises doubts about the seriousness with which Western leaders are taking the situation.
Libyans are dying and their country is becoming a migration bomb. Despite holding $113 billion of foreign reserves in 2014, Libya is losing $3.6 billion monthly in oil revenues and looming food short­ages are likely to lead to a humani­tarian catastrophe.
Meanwhile, in Morocco, Libyan national reconciliation talks are dragging on under the auspices of the special representative of the UN secretary-general. But these talks between the two main pro­tagonists — the legitimate govern­ment of Tobruk and the Islamist militia of Tripoli — risk becoming the problem rather than the solu­tion.
Indeed, the fact that they take place in Morocco revives Rabat’s rivalry with Algeria, which is angry at being left out of the UN process. In response, Algiers is hosting a diplomatic show of its own with other Libyan representa­tives engaging in negotiations that will only complicate the political imbroglio. Instead of counterbal­ancing foreign interference in the Maghreb, especially by Turkey and Qatar, Algeria and Morocco thwart each other and remove any chance for a regional negotiated solution to the Libyan drama.
The chaotic situation in Libya largely benefits the Islamic State (ISIS) and other forces progres­sively gaining ground and taking control of the country. On his re­cent visit to the United States, Ital­ian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sounded the alarm as his country is the most highly exposed in Europe to any ISIS threat emanating from Libya.
The current crisis in the Mediter­ranean could easily worsen in com­ing months, as thousands of mi­grants – 11,000 in one recent week – are launched, often by force, in a dangerous sea crossing. Their ports of embarkation — Sirte, Derna, and Sabratha — are all ISIS strong­holds. We don’t know the degree to which these refugees have been infiltrated by jihadists but there is no doubt that the immigrant flow offers ISIS a tempting weapon and thus represents a serious threat to the security of southern Europe.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni proposed air attacks on terrorist positions in Libya but re­ceived no response from his NATO allies. The deadly strikes that were efficiently carried out to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi are deemed to pose too great a risk to civilian populations. British Admiral Lord Alan West stretches typical British humour as far as to ask “Who is there to bomb in Libya?” as if the thousands of armed and heav­ily equipped ISIS fighters have miraculously become undetectable by sophisticated NATO monitoring instruments.
The signatory states of the joint statement of April 12th have the moral duty to intervene by whatev­er means, including military force, to put an end to chaos in Libya.
The first step should be a UN Security Council resolution calling for a militia disarmament plan under the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. It is only by taking away the weapons of the various militias that an irreversible negotiated solution is likely to be reached.
It is also the best way to show the determination of the Western pow­ers to fight ISIS because the armed confrontation will not be with the Libyan militias but with the foreign terrorist groups occupying Libya and part of the Sahel-Sahara.
War against the Islamic State must be fought now in order to save Libya and establish peace and security in the Euro-Mediterranean area.