Libya, the risks for the energy security

(In collaboration with Termometro Politico)

Since the fall of Gaddafi, in 2011, Libya has gradually slipped into chaos and the current situation does not seem to show any improvement. The policy framework is fragmented, marked by the increase of domestic tensions. After the 2014 elections, the country has been divided into two political areas.

On the eastern side, the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, which is established in the city of Tobruk and claims the support of secular and democratic political parties. On the western side, in Tripoli, the self-proclaimed “national salvation government”, led by Omar al-Hasi, is backed by the powerful Misrata militias and groups of Islamic inspiration. Each of two governments is supported by a coalition of militias and local warlords, but getting a cease-fire is complicated, because the control of the two governments on these militias is labile.

This situation has had a devastating impact on the Libyan economy. The production of gas and oil, the only natural resource of the country, is falling. The unemployment rate is high. The humanitarian emergency and medical increase migration flows. Libya is a failed State, that has lost its state unity, and ISIS has taken advantage of the absence of a central government.

The interests of the forces in field

The two-adversary governments and Islamic terrorist have much more substantial interests: oil and gas. The proceeds from the sale of oil and gas strengthen the opposing coalitions and could fuel the oil black-market managed by jihadists, if ISIS advanced. The block of extraction activities, refineries and Libyan oil ports are the unchallenged weapons used by factions that continue to make war to each other and, as it happens in Iraq, ISIS militants are investing the revenues from oil into illegal trafficking to finance their Islamic State. The two major oil terminals, Ra’s Lanuf and Sidra, have been closed because of the bombings. With its historical presence in Libya, Eni is active in two offshore sites and in the onshore fields of Wafa and Elephant with the Libyan National Oil Corporation, which could decide to stop the production of crude oil, if accidents were to increase. The Italian hydrocarbon giant has invested huge resources in Libya, signing agreements for both gas and oil exploitation until 2040. The reserves are mainly concentrated in the Sirte Basin, in north of Libya, where the liquefaction plant of Brega is located. From here, the Eni GreenStream pipeline connects the Mellitah Gas Compression Station to the Reception Terminal at Gela, in Sicily. The GreenStream is the only channel that supplies Italy, absolute beneficiary of Libyan gas. Italy is exposed on two fronts: oil and gas supplies and the ISIS threatens, but these should also concerns the Libyan governments, if they want revenues to keep financing their conflict. This is the reason why they protect the terminals of Eni, which has not abandoned Libya.

The alliance between terrorists

The instability of Libya could push the Caliphate to absorb terrorist organizations of the Sub-Saharan Africa and to forge ties with several African branches of jihadism, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria or the jihadists of Mali. United Kingdom, Germany and Spain are attentive to the dynamics of terrorism. France has called for a UN Security Council meeting and approved of Egyptian military reaction, backed also by Russia, to clean jihadists out from Cyrenaica, where the French Total has the highest investments. It remains to assess the position of the other countries of North Africa. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have an interest in stopping the advance of the jihadists for geographic reasons and avoiding contagion, even though an act of war could fuel extremism present at home. Turkey is cautious and ambiguous in relation to the Caliphate. The United Arab Emirates is an unfailing partner and a more support would come by Shiite Iran worried about the success of the Sunnis ISIS.

The West’s strategy

Recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan teaches us that the allies need a strong and shared strategy that involves local forces against the jihadist presence in Libya as well, although the United States maintain a low profile. Stopping ISIS is a priority, but it is even more important to promote the dialogue between warring parties and bring together the different souls policies of Libya under a central power, in order to protect energy resources, and not make the same post-Gaddafi mistake, leaving Libya in a state of anarchy. The only way forward seems to be the convening of the UN Security Council, but the power vacuum risks to play in favor of the terrorists.

Federica Fanuli

Master’s degree in Political Science, European Studies and International Relations (University of Salento)

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