French-Italian proxy war in Libya
26 February 2019
There are concrete material interests behind the sharp tensions between France and Italy, which in February led to France recalling its ambassador in Rome. In Libya, where dozens of rival militias have been fighting for supremacy since the 2011 NATO war, the two EU members are conducting a proxy war over control of Africa’s largest oil and gas resources.
While Italy backs the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli, which is also supported by Germany and the UN, France has sided with the National Army of Libya (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who presides over its counterpart in Tobruk. Egypt and Russia also back Haftar.
That this war is about oil interests and strategic influence in Africa is an open secret.
The “national accord government” of Fayez al-Sarraj, which has little influence outside the capital, controls the National Oil Company of Libya (NOC), in which the Italian energy group ENI has been involved for half a century. Italy has reopened its embassy in Tripoli and, together with the EU, is financing the GNA Libyan Coast Guard as Europe’s proxy border force to keep migrants away from Europe.
Haftar’s LNA had already brought the so-called oil crescent around Benghazi in the east of the country under its control last summer. In early February, it also took control of the oil fields in the southwest of the country, including the El Sharara oil field, considered the largest in the country.
The El Sharara field was occupied late last year by security personnel and local people protesting against the unity government in Tripoli and demanding higher wages and an adequate regional share of the oil revenues. It has been operated since 1994 by a joint venture…