As Libya descends into utter chaos, Italy became the last Western nation to close its embassy. It turns out Italian diplomats aren’t the only ones fleeing North Africa for safer shores, as a wave of some 2,000 “migrants” (as France24 describes them) hit the water in evidently unreliable boats, ran into trouble between Libya and the Italian island of Lamepdusa, and had to call for rescue from the Italian navy.
The French news outlet reports that more than 900 migrants total were picked up in the Mediterranean. Italian coast guard found themselves threatened by an unidentified group of men– ostensibly those organizing the flight to Italy, demanding possession of the vessels the coast guard emptied of its terrified passengers.
“Migrant” would seem to be this report’s term of art for “refugees,” and it is easy to understand why they are trying to flee Libya. Not only are the usual militia gangs blasting away at each other, but the Islamic State has entered the fray as well, making a big splash with the videotaped beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, abducted after they came to Libya looking for work.
The intensity of Egypt’s response to those beheadings gives some hope that the Islamic State will have a hard time taking over Libya, but even with them out of the picture, a land of warlords and crossfires would remain. Even what remains of the central government in Tripoli is an ugly mess, with a new insurgent legislature calling itself the “General National Congress” usurping power from the regular parliament. Libya’s nominal government welcomed Egypt’s action against ISIS, while the GNC denounced it as an act of “aggression” which “violated Libyan sovereignty.”
This has produced a tidal wave of Libyans rolling into Italy – they are expecting over 100,000 refugees from North Africa this year. The Italians are also concerned about Islamic State terror attacks on their soil, having noticed that Islamic State propaganda often speaks of conquering “Rome” – by which they might be referring to the massed military forces of the non-Muslim world, although the actual, literal city of Rome becomes a temptingly close target if Libya falls to the caliphate.
Italy has therefore signaled its willingness to lead a multinational European coalition against ISIS in Libya. “We have been discussing this for months, but now it has become urgent,” said Italian defense minister Roberta Pinotti, as quoted by Newsweek. “The risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defence needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us.” Pinotti has expressed concern that ISIS jihadis could enter Italy disguised as Libyan refugees, much as jihadis from the Syrian front have been penetrating eastern European countries.
Newsweek reports that French President Francois Hollande and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have called for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the Libyan crisis, so Italy might well get its wish. There’s a clear and growing consensus that the Islamic State cannot be allowed to take Libya.