If you recall in 2011 it was France, not the US, which did the most politically to get the NATO war on Libya started. The immediate reason was that Sarkozy thought it would boost him politically at home, additionally France had few deals with Gaddafi in place and wouldn’t lose much if he fell — it could only gain. Italy meanwhile was the NATO power most opposed to war, even more so than Merkel’s Germany, precisely because it had lucrative oil and gas deals with Gaddafi.
Today history is repeating itself. Italy is the foremost backer of the western-installed government in Tripoli (GNA) with which it is tied with oil and gas deals, while France has been increasingly backing the eastern Libyan forces (LNA) of General Haftar against it.
France’s relationship with Haftar started when Paris was looking for a way to cointain the jihadists its own war against Gaddafi had unleased (and on whose side it fought in 2011) and who were spreading from Libya into the former French colonies of Chad and Mali.
Italy meanwhile cared less about the jihadi fallout of the 2011 war, and more about the migrant fallout. Without Gaddafi and a functioning Libyan state to act as Italy’s border guards, Libya became a staging point for hundreds of thousands of African immigrants yearly whom Italy does not want. Rome was therefore prepared to work with whomever was in Tripoli to try to get them to put the border controls back up, regardless of how friendly they were to Islamists, or powerless to confront them.
The result today is that two NATO powers are engaged in a proxy war against each other, albeit it isn’t clear that Italy is helping Tripoli militarily (the French are providing Haftar with intelligence to aid his battlefield victories). The western-installed GNA government in Tripoli in any case does not have an army of its own but rellies on various independent tribal and Islamist militias to prop her up.
Good reading on the subject:
- Stratfor, September 2018: France and Italy Each Go Their Own Way on Libya
- Middle East Monitor, January 2019: Libya turns into battleground between France and Italy
- Reuters, January 2019: Italy’s Salvini bashes France over Libya role in new diplomatic spat
- Gulf News, February 2019: How France and Italy fuel Libya’s war?
- Sputnik, April 2019: EU Parl’t Head Reminds France About Role in Gaddafi’s Overthrow Amid Libya Chaos