Geopolitics & Security
The Berlin Conference on Libya ended with a 55-point road map that should lead to pacification of the warring parties. The perception is that few things have diverged from what was decided in Palermo, in November 2018, in a similar meeting between the Libyan protagonists, albeit then with important absences, as a consequence the results were insignificant. The war tangled further, with new external actors and internal disillusions. So, will the Berlin Conference really be a small step forward a durable truce or even peace, as Chancellor Merkel said? It is desirable, but not so certain.
Haftar’s behaviour creates, in fact, new fears. He is still reluctant to give back weapons and taps of the oil wells of Cyrenaica. At least in his words, he intends to continue his control over the territory, even conquering the capital of Tripoli, controlled by his enemy al-Sarraj. It is not a coincidence that both did not sign any agreement in Berlin.
However, Haftar is old, tired and, according to observers close to him, is willing to speed things up, perhaps with an all-out military offensive if he does not get what his sponsors want from the international community.
Putin is the only guarantee that Haftar’s menace will not occur. Putin openly supports Haftar, at the same time as also being militarily and financially supported by Egypt and the UAE, not at all convinced of the holding of the last truce. It is useless to deny that if Berlin makes a small step forward through the global meeting of all the actors in Libya, it will be because Putin and Erdogan decided to attempt a change of that conflict during the inauguration of TurkStream, in Ankara on January 8th. Without that goodwill, the Berlin diplomatic carousel would not have started.
It demonstrates, once again, that the European Union as a whole, even with the United Nations, are unable to mediate and influence the complex and articulated internal and international situation of post-Gaddafi Libya without the strong intervention of Russia and Turkey. The future post-Berlin can not ignore the political wills of Putin and Erdogan, followed by those of the United States and, at a long distance, limping in a very scattered order, each on their own, by those of each of the European countries.
The explanation of the nascent 'dominance' of Russia and Turkey is all in what Putin and Erdogan managed and achieved in Syria, where European intemperance and Obama's hesitations gave rise to mistrust and even scepticism by the Middle Eastern (and later North African) actors regarding the United States’ leadership and the European Union’s role as an objective interlocutor.
A lack of trust that is dearly costing both in terms of political influence - to regain it, the USA do not hesitate to carry out operations such as the one against Iranian Qassem Soleimani - while Russia and Turkey, for some analysts - and how to blame them? – seem to be almost 'resolvers' or even 'stabilizing powers' in different crises or conflict areas.
Putin sees the possibility of expanding the Russian sphere of influence not only in the central Mediterranean sea (the Libyan port of Tobruk, already strategic for the Soviets during the Cold War, is a target), but also in Africa where Moscow has been on the rise for some years. This is why Putin invests in military support (not with troops but with weapons and private contractors) and in political mediation where, albeit in the presence of political crises or military conflict, Russia could set up its support bases.
However, in my opinion, the role of Erdogan and his ambitious plans could be even more dangerous for Italian security. A lot has already been written about his neo-Ottoman ambitions, but in Libya, and North Africa in general, such as even in the Balkans, a region that is never studied enough, Turkish dreams go far beyond.
Since Merkel and Sarkozy's refusal to bring Turkey into the European Union and the degeneration of the Arab springs from internal revolts to civil and regional wars, Erdogan has no longer made his ambitions’ secret, with Turkish and Islamist influence in the former Ottoman Empire’s territory. To achieve them, Erdogan has guaranteed open support for the Muslim Brotherhood, jihadist forces in the Middle Eastern scenario and, as we know, now also in Libya.
However, the Brotherhood is the main enemy of the Egyptian al-Sisi and his international allies. It is always accompanied by violent action of the Libyan Madkaliti brigades (a branch of Sunni Salafism) to which Gen. Haftar belongs. Once tolerated by Gaddafi as part of his anti-Brotherhood strategies, Haftar's Madkalites now feel legitimized to fight, with arms, other Sunnis supported by Erdogan’s Islamist inclinations and his claims to dominate Libya. Ultimately, there is yet another confrontation within the Sunni Muslim community that the Western world has difficulty in understanding because of its exclusive economist approach to all international crises. For this reason, it is not accustomed at all to internal conflicts in cultures other than its own. That's why the Libyan scenario has become much more complex and dangerous for Europe and consequently for Italy.
In fact, Turkey has been operating for some time a kind of soft power through the institution of cultural centers and the construction of mosques, from Africa to Europe, from Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan and, precisely, in the Balkans where the largest European mosque (among many planned) will be in Tirana, Albania, as result of exclusive Turkish funding. Not least, like Putin, Erdogan is also showing interest in Central Asia.
Erdogan’s Islamist ambitions thus have a very particular weight, in consideration of the fact that Libya, like other countries devastated by the Arab Spring aftermaths, does not even have a valid and shareable secular alternative among its countless economic, social and tribal realities. It is difficult to imagine a political process, arising from the people which lead to a lasting truce or even peace for Libya, that does not consider the Islamist inclination of Turkey and of other subjects now involved and in competition, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or the UAE.
Not least, European interlocutors aggravate everything because, even if they make declarations of good will and intentions, they continue to approach the Libyan chaos with exclusively economic concerns: first of all, the supply of oil at risk, followed by the threat of illegal migrants and the related costs for security and, for some countries, the loss of control of strategic resources or routes, such as the Greenstream pipeline. It is the case of France and its fear of losing not only Libyan oil, but also the control of the Nubian waters underlying the Libyan desert, that are channeled in the 4.000 km long the Great Artificial River of Gaddafi. A strategic infrastructure that from the subsoil of Cyrenaica brings drinking water to the Libyan coasts. The desire of the great French water corporations, Suez, Ondeo and Saur (which control 45% of the planet's fresh water), to privatize that strategic water supply was the main reason that led Sarkozy to attack Libya in 2011.
Nothing has changed since then, and Macron's anxiety about supporting Haftar proves it.
To bring about a change in the Libya conflict, the European approach needs to be ultimately and totally reversed. However, there is no adequate and sufficient knowledge, culture and political will to do it. Instead, European internal struggles (France and Italy, for example), to acquire strategic resources with huge economic and financial interests, abound. As al-Sarraj argued, Europe wasted too much time and is now struggling in a competition, with an already obvious result. The outcome of the coexistence in Libya between the Islamist drives of Erdogan and those of the political power of Putin will be less predictable. However, this is another chapter of a never ending story of confrontations in Libya.
Islamic Terrorism is commonly considered the greatest threat to European security today. This is due to many factors, external and internal to the European Union or even the European regional area. In my opinion, this is the most famous but not the most dangerous threat facing Europe today. Islamic radicalization, and its call to the jihad, is only one and a very particular threat, but other forces are now attempting to undermine the stability and security of all European countries, as well as those of other countries worldwide.
The success of jihadist terrorism to create panic and to impose newer and newer security and defence measures is due to many elements. Firstly, there is great and wide propaganda on the web posted by Islamic Jihadist groups, mainly Isis, but also al-Qaeda, that speaks about the main European capitals as future targets of their jihad or holy war. They incite their fighters, even the so called “lone wolves”, to act in their national countries against “infidels” in everyday life, wherever they are, and with every kind of instrument or weapon (such as knives, cars, trucks…). At the same time, their slogans speak of the conquest of Paris, Rome, the Vatican or Big Ben. These incitements are published on the Internet, on websites, even through periodical publications of jihadist reviews on line. They have an important role in the radicalization process of individuals much more familiar with navigation on the web- above all young Muslims even those outside Muslim regions - who can take the challenge and try to act.
This fact has created global attention of analysts and journalists, as well as national security agencies. However, like flywheels, this information feeds the public fear.
Even if it is important to never underestimate every kind of threat, however, this fear is easily utilized for different purposes by political parties, especially nationalists or “sovreignists” ones in many Western countries. In fact, Islamic Terrorism is often and erroneously associated with illicit immigration in Europe, mainly from North Africa and the Middle East.
Until now, only the terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Bruxelles (2016) have been carried out by people linked to Isis, and coming from non-European regions. All the other bloody attacks have been carried out by European Muslim citizens or of second or even third generation immigrants. The problem is not immigration but the integration process that doesn’t work.
In my opinion, other subjects must now be considered as much more dangerous than jihadism for European as well as for all other Western countries’ domestic security. I refer to the far-right extremist groups or even white supremacist organizations. Even if they have not committed important terrorist attacks yet, and for this reason they are not considered “terrorists” by national and international law, I consider them a new threat to the domestic and international security because of their subversive arguments, their hate of “enemies” – such as Jews, black people and those have ways of life different to theirs - very similar to those of jihadist groups, and also for their links with other subversive groups around the world.
However, European terrorist lists don’t contain far-right groups, maybe because this domestic threat is more complex than the jihadist one - due to social and economic failures common to all the Western world, and also because “far-right” is the common definition of some political parties that share the democratic participation in both European and American politics.
Nevertheless, their expressions of hate are very similar to an ideology: for this reason they could very soon become a global threat to the democratic system worldwide.