For Italy, good and bad news from Benghazi

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The good news is that after 108 days of captivity in Cyrenaica, the fishermen of Mazara del Vallo (Sicily) were able to happily return home. The trip to Benghazi by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio ended a serious and very embarrassing incident for our country.

The eighteen seafarers (8 Italians, 6 Tunisians, 2 Filipinos and 2 Senegalese) had been kidnapped at the beginning of September by the militias responding to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, one of the two main actors in the Libyan civil war. Supported by Russia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, at times by the USA and covertly also by France, over the last few months the star of the Libyan warlord had considerably tarnished, thanks to the several military setbacks collected on the battlefields of Tripolitania.

So much so as to provoke the irritation of Moscow and its powerful Wagner militias, which in the meantime are establishing the Russian presence in Cyrenaica. At the same time favouring the rise of the president of the parliament of Tobruk, Agila Saleh, today considered as the new leading political figure of the faction led by the field marshal.

In September, Minister Di Maio’s trip to Tripoli and then to Tobruk to meet the Libyans of the east and west, but not Haftar, anticipated by a few hours the chain of events that would have led to the seizure of Italian ships and crews, committed at that time in normal fishing off the Cyrenaic coast. As per tradition and despite the calls for the intervention of the Italian Navy, which maintains a strong naval presence off our (formerly) colony, Rome opted to follow the diplomatic route to end the dispute.

With the result to mobilize, 108 days later, the head of the Italian government and the de-facto leader of the main political force in Parliament in order to obtain the release of the inmates. In addition to casting the usual shadows on any counterpart granted to the Cyrenaics. It is worth reflecting on the fact that in early December the Ankara government obtained the release of a Turkish ship captured by Haftar’s patrol boats in just six days. It does not appear that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu were spotted in Benghazi at that time.

However you put it, the image of Conte and Di Maio summoned in Cyrenaica in the presence of the one who tries to overthrow the shaky government of Tripoli, supported in words by Italy and today in the full availability of the Turks, represents a hard blow to the prestige, credibility, and Italian deterrence capabilities in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. A basin that has been boiling for some time now only to become a place of open competition where our country has assumed a minimalist posture, trusting in the unlikely benevolence of its neighbours in order not to have to defend its own interests.

Put in systemic terms, therefore, the story of the kidnapping and liberation of our seafarers signals once more the Italian reluctance to think of itself as a maritime nation. As if we did not have nearly 8,000 kilometres of coastline and with the final result of not being able to exploit that formidable multiplier of strength, influence and wealth that is precisely the sea. To revive ourselves and regain the lost influence. Starting with Libya.