Instant View: Italy calls for halt to hostilities in Libya. Is Gaddafi going to beat NATO?
We need clarification on exactly what the Italians mean. But champagne corks will nonetheless be popping in Gaddafi’s bunker.
News has just broken that Italy is calling for a halt to the military campaign in Libya. Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, was quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) as urging "an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities" in remarks to the Italian parliament.
Italy’s commitment to the operation has been looking shaky all week after Frattini said on Monday that with the accidental bombing of a civilian area of Tripoli over the weekend NATO was “endangering its credibility”.
But the notion that Italy might now want to end the operation altogether will come as a massive blow to NATO in general and David Cameron in particular.
Cameron has staked a large amount of his international credibility on the Libya campaign and Italy is the biggest NATO country in close proximity to Libyan territory.
It is true that we need further clarification on what the Italians have in mind. Do they envisage some sort of deal with Gaddafi? Do they mean a permanent ceasefire or a temporary one?
But either way, it is clear that a player of fundamental importance to the Libya campaign is making a very public display of breaking ranks with Britain and the other NATO countries that are heavily involved.
My view has long been that the Libya campaign had serious flaws mainly due to misplaced deference to the dubious machinations of international law.
The need to get a United Nations resolution authorising the operation meant that we went in too late, and also that the rules of engagement were made too onerous.
We should have been able to send in ground forces to kill or capture Gaddafi, something that would have allowed us to finish the Libya campaign in weeks if not days.
Since UN Resolution 1973 explicitly forbids this, we’ve been involved in this campaign for months. And I would have added that we could easily be there for years but with the latest developments out of Italy, that may not now happen: not because we’re heading for a quick victory, but because we might be facing the prospect of a quick defeat as NATO resolve collapses.
It was always questionable whether the Libya campaign was really in our strategic interests since it has diverted our attention from far more important matters such as the Iranian nuclear programme.
But once we went in it was necessary to win (and do so convincingly) in order to preserve Alliance cohesion and send an unambiguous message to the West’s enemies that our resolve and our capabilities are strong.
After Franco Frattini’s comments today, that is not the message we are sending.
We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.