Italian Naval Vessels Enter Libyan Waters Amid Backlash
On 2 August, the lower house of the Italian parliament voted by 328 to 113 in favor of the mission to send Italian naval vessels into Libyan waters, while the upper house voted by 191 to 47. The same day, the Commandante Borsini – an Italian naval patrol boat – entered Libya’s territorial waters, en route to Tripoli, according to the Italian navy. Commandante Borsini arrived in Tripoli on 3 August with a group of experts for a five-day working visit. It departed on 6 August after the Italian experts and technicians aboard the warship had “assessed the needs of the Libyan Navy” and is expected to be replaced by a second vessel today. Italy had initially hoped to send six ships into Libyan territorial waters, but the plans had to be scaled back following protests from Tripoli.
On 2 August, the Italian coastguard also seized a boat operated by a German NGO, Jugend Rettet, one of the five out of eight NGOs operating search and rescue missions that did not sign up to the new code of conduct introduced by the Italian government, on the order of Sicilian magistrates on suspicion it had aided illegal immigration.
Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said “(We will) provide logistical, technical and operational support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions.” A Libyan navy statement said, “The initiative comes as a continuation of the strengthening of technical, combat and training cooperation between the Libyan side, represented by the naval forces, the coastguard and their counterparts from the Italian side.”
Following the move, on 2 August the House of Representatives (HoR) issued a televised statement rejecting any agreements made by the Head of the Presidential Council, Fayez al-Serraj, with Italy regarding the stemming of illegal immigration in Libyan waters. The HoR announced that Serraj’s request is illegitimate as first it violates the Libyan laws because such agreements must be made by the legislative body (the HoR) and second it violates Libyan sovereignty. According to the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Facebook page, Khalifa Haftar ordered his forces to repel “any naval vessel that enters national waters without permission from the army”.
Haftar’s LNA does not have the capacity to prevent Italian vessels from entering waters off the coast of western Libya, however ongoing political rapprochement efforts between Serraj and Haftar could make attacking Italian vessels a high-payoff tactic for both hard line spoilers and LNA loyalists, and therefore possible.