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“Libya is on the brink of collapse. If the UN asks, our troops are ready to help the country”, says Gentiloni (La Repubblica)

Is Italy gearing up to tackle the war that’s looming on our doorstep? I visited the Farnesina to ask the new foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni. The minister comes from a culture of pacifism and disarmament, a culture dramatically placed in question by the flames licking the entire southern coast of our sea. Starting with our very close neighbour, Libya.

Minister Gentiloni, will intervention in Libya become inevitable, sooner or later, to prevent terrorism and piracy from taking over the country once and for all?

“We must not repeat the error of putting boots on the ground before we have a political solution we can support. But a peacekeeping intervention, strictly under the UN’s aegis, would see Italy engaged in the front line. As long as that was preceded by the opening of negotiations towards new elections, negotiations guaranteed by a government of ‘wise men’. In the absence of which, sending troops in would also risk worsening the situation. We’re working on it with the countries of the region and with the United Nations”.

Do we need to review the West’s non-engagement strategy in fighting IS? Is that why Obama has removed the Pentagon chief?

“We don’t know why Hagel was removed. In Iraq, the USA and the coalition that we’re a member of are taking steps to block the Daesh advance. We’ve chosen not to call it IS, because we’re also witnessing a clash between two visions of Islam and must be careful not to tar everyone with the same brush. The undertaking we’re talking about here also falls to Italy, naturally, with its 8000 kilometres of coast. But Europe as a whole must tackle this threat. We can no longer delegate these matters to the Americans, who are, after all, strategically less interested than us in the fate of the Middle East”.

Should the photo-montage of the black Daesh flag on the dome of St. Peter’s be taken literally?

“I think it’s more part of a self-image aiming at hegemony over Islam, an attempt that we must help to thwart. The ‘foreign fighters’ – the European militia members who can also become a serious threat here at home, are a part of this. We need to join forces, as is happening in Kobane, where the Kurdish resistance wouldn’t be possible without the Western airstrikes”.

Can Iran be part of this larger alliance? Does Italy take a favourable view of continuing the nuclear talks with Tehran?

“It’s impossible to imagine a balanced framework for the region without involving Iran, not just in view of our shared interest in stopping the Daesh, but also in view of Tehran’s influence on the Shia communities. It’s not easy, as the nuclear talks have shown. But the door is still open”.

And Israel, with the new law on the Jewish nature of the State proposed by the Netanyahu government. Is that heightening the tension?

“It’s not my place to judge legislative proposals that regard the Knesset, with whichever wording eventually emerges. But one thing is sure: one fifth of the Israeli population is composed of citizens of Arab origin, who must enjoy indisputable equality of rights”.

Italy sells arms to, and urges financial investment from, the Gulf countries. Countries that are extremely rich but ambiguous, with the vision of a totalitarian Islam…

“To answer you, I’d look, rather, to Egypt, a great country that undoubtedly has its internal contradictions on the question of human rights. And yet in recent months it has performed a function of stabilisation and even pacification”.

So containing the Jihadist threat once again implies western support for dictators, as was the case before the rebellions in 2011?

“Definitely not. We haven’t forgotten human rights, and the Tunisian experiment shows that an alternative is possible. Going back to the crisis in Libya, we’re certainly not shedding any tears over the fall of Ghadaffi. Defeating him was sacrosanct. But after that?”

After that there’s the existential dilemma of a war on our doorstep. Napolitano has criticised the “ingenuous visions” of rejecting and cutting back the “military instrument”

“It’s true that we’ve cultivated the illusion of a tranquil future world where peace has been established. But we now know that we can no longer delegate our responsibilities to the Americans. Libya is a vital interest for Italy, in view of its closeness, the drama of the refugees, energy supplies… It’s no mere chance that we’ve opened our Embassy in Tripoli, which supplies irreplaceable logistical support for the UN mediation”.

But does Libya still exist, or has the disintegration of the state transformed the country into a territory left in the hands of the warlords and piracy?

“Even if we were to simplify and describe Libya as a country split in two between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, you need to realise that neither side can prevail over the other in military terms. Libya’s central bank is still operating, it’s paying public sector workers’ salaries throughout the country, using the gas and oil revenues that ENI is continuing to pay into it. We have not resigned ourselves to the disintegration of Libya. We’ll play an active role to help achieve a unitary political transition to which a possible military peacekeeping presence would be subordinated”.

Is this like the era of the Spanish Civil War, a clash between two opposing visions of the world?

“I’d prefer to say that it’s two opposing visions of Islam that are clashing. We cannot remain neutral in the face of this drama, nor can we worsen it by confusing Daesh with the Muslim Brotherhood, or the mosques with the Palestinian National Authority – in short, by pretending that it’s all the same thing”.