There are clear indications of rivalry between Italy and France for influence in Libya; the recent battles over oil fields seem to reflect this.
Libya was once an Italian colony, while most of its neighbours to the south and west were French colonies. Aguila Saleh Issa, the president of the Libyan House of Representatives, said the return of European colonisation to Libya is unacceptable. “Thousands of Libyans,” he said,” sacrificed their souls to expel the Italians from their lands in the first half of the century.”
Given the fragility of the current government in Libya, many people now see their country as a cake targeted by those hungry to grab the biggest slice. Essa Abdelmajid, Head of Toubou Congress, said “The main rivals for Libyan resources are France and Italy.”
Last year, Rome welcomed 50 tribal leaders from the south of Libya, then France invited members of northern tribes to visit Paris. A Libyan intelligence officer says: "When Italy entered what France considers its own sphere of influence in the south, President Macron responded by hosting Al-Serraj and Haftar.” Italy said it wanted to solve problems between the tribes, especially the Toubous and Oulad Suleiman tribes, to help them restore security and reduce migration flows from Africa to Europe.
Any overseas military presence in Libya provokes serious dissatisfaction among Libyans; as one official with the army says: “Libyan people oppose having any foreign military activity on our soil, and this is our decision.”
Italy sent troops to Libya and an official source there says the Italians are eying up military bases such as one at Sidi Bilal, as well as Abu Aisha airport to the south of Tripoli for military aircraft maintenance.
France has a military base in the area of Mudama, about 100 kilometres from the border with Niger. An observer pointed out that one favourite route for migrants goes past the base, but the French have done nothing to intervene. His view is that European countries, and the five countries in the Security Council, are looking after their own interests and actually do not want stability.
In the second half of the last century there was conflict between France and Libya over a uranium-rich area on the border with Chad which has now developed into a competition between Italy and France for wealth in the south, especially oil, gas, gold and uranium.
While Italy seems to be more concerned with preventing migration from Libya, France is focused on combating terrorism. According to military sources, Paris has been involved for more than a year in providing intelligence support on fighting terrorist groups, as some of the extremist leaders who were fighting against French influence in Mali and Niger have sought refuge in Libya, mainly in the cities of Benghazi and Derna. Belmokhtar, one of the best-known terrorist leaders is believed to be hiding in southern Libya and some of his aides are in the east of the country.
Could Al Jadran attack on oil ports be influenced by the Italians?
Militias affiliated with Ibrahim Al Jadran attacked the oil exporting region in the Sirte Basin earlier in June. It is known that Haftar, backed by the parliament has been enjoying good relations with France for the past couple of years.
A security official in Tripoli says Italy benefited politically from Ibrahim Al Jadran’s attack on the oil ports by weakening France’s allies in the East. He says, “I think that Al Jadran’s operation didn’t target just the oil exporting regions, but tried to divide the tribes supporting Haftar, saying Al Jadran’s attack coincided with a call he made to tribes led initially by Haftar in order to weaken him and French influence in the East”.
A member of the Al Jadran tribe named Abdullah Mohamed said: “Members from the western tribes are fighting on Haftar’s side. I think Al Jadran’s goal was to split the tribesmen who primarily support Haftar in the east and south of the country.”
Mohamed argues that these attempts didn’t hinder Haftar’s progress in securing the support of his tribesmen;, “Yes, we have large number of soldiers from the Al Mugharba tribe in the 32 sector, but this allegiance is not tribal. We focus on acquiring soldiers from tribes such as Al Gaddadfa, Warfla, Terhouna, Awaqeer as well as Al Furjan and many others.”
In a military raid last month, Al Jadran was kicked out of the western region and after some time, it appeared that opposition forces from Chad collaborated with Al Jadran’s forces in the attack on the oil exporting regions. An official security source says: “This collaboration has angered France, because those Chadian forces work against their ally president Idris Deby of Chad”.
Al Jadran’s forces ended up scattering in Misurata where there are many Italian soldiers occupying almost half the airbase in the city.
A military official said, “Al Jadran is well known to a large number of Western officials from his time in control of the oil crescent from the time of Gaddafi through till 2016.”
Outlawed Groups Trade in Protecting Oil Pipelines
An official working in the secret services in Tripoli thinks European countries pay large amounts of money to armed militias and tribesmen to secure the oil pipeline that transfers oil from Merzak basin in the deep south to the Mediterranean coast up north, and secure other oil pipelines.
Local outlaws take advantage of the international rivalry to steal Libya’s natural resources. An official says, “Armed forces seem to be active in west and southwest Tripoli to make large amounts of money through securing oil and gas pipelines, or to trade in those natural resources through local dealers on the Mediterranean”.
A militia leader close to the Rayayna Line in Zentan, south west of Tripoli, said “We are in charge of opening the oil pipe after it was shut down by an unknown group. This pipe feeds into oil exporting ports to Italy”
Each militia vehicle carries a 23-millimeter missile launcher. The militia leader doesn’t provide details on the strength of their arsenal or who tasked them with the protection of oil pipes.
Other militia were spotted two weeks ago travelling towards Malita port from the Warashfana region; Malita is the main gas exporting port for Italy.