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Libya Intervention – What are the Risks for Italy?

A Libyan Warship

As you may well know, a multi-national coalition force has started paving the way for the set up of a no-fly zone over Libya.  Once the no-fly zone has been established, it should become more difficult for Gaddafi’s forces to attack civilian targets and to quell the uprising he is facing.

In response to the threatened intervention, which has now become real, Colonel Gaddafi has threatened to bring conflict to the whole of the Mediterranean region.

Are Gaddafi’s threats simply the ravings of a madman, or something more sinister? Can Gaddafi attack Italy, for example? After all, Colonel Gaddafi must be feeling that his friend Silvio Berlusconi has betrayed him, and so at least some of the disconsolate dictator’s wrath may be directed towards Italy.

I was curious, so I decided to take a look at what Wikipedia says about Libya’s military capability, and see whether Gaddafi could translate his threats into actions.

The short answer seems to be that it is highly unlikely Gaddafi could mount an attack on Italy. I’ll explain why.

In the main, Gaddafi’s weapons are outdated and he simply does not have missiles – that anybody knows about, which are capable of hitting Italy. This assumes that missiles are launched from Libya, not from ships, submarines or aircraft.

Scud Missiles

Gaddafi’s army does have some aging Scud surface to surface missiles, but the range of Libya’s Scud-Bs is 300 km (186 miles). This is not enough to hit the Italian island of Lampedusa, let alone to reach Sicily or targets on the Italian mainland.

Could Libya launch missiles from submarines or ships?

Lybia has 6 ex-Soviet Foxtrot class submarines, although none seem to be operational, and even if they were, in their standard specification, these subs cannot launch missiles. They can, or course, shoot torpedoes, and this could pose a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean – if any of Gaddafi’s subs do actually work, that is.

Libya’s Warships

Potentially the biggest threat to Italy comes from Lybia’s fleet of warships. This fleet is not huge, but some of of the warships are relatively modern. Perhaps the greatest threat to Italy comes, rather ironically, from the 4 Assad class corvettes, Italy sold to Libya.

These warships have early generation Otomat long range missiles which can hit targets 60km (40 miles) away. Later generation Otomat missiles have more sophisticated guidance systems and can strike targets at a range of 180+ km (111+ miles).

Still, despite this capability, to actually hit anything in Italy, Libya’s warships would have to get mighty close to Italy’s shore to be able to launch missiles. This is not likely to happen in view of the amount of US and UK naval fire-power sitting off Libya’s coastline at the moment.

A Libyan Warship
A Libyan Warship

Libya’s Aircraft

Libya’s air force is extensive, but also rather antiquated. In addition, the current attack on Libya has been targeting aircraft and air bases.

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In the unlikely event that any of Gaddafi’s aircraft were to get off the ground, they would soon face much more modern American, French, Danish, Spanish and UK air hardware. This means that while it is not totally impossible, it is highly unlikely that Libya’s aircraft would be able to get close enough to bomb or to launch airborne missiles at Italian targets.


In the past, Col. Gaddafi has been known to sponsor terrorist activities, which included the Lockerbie bombing and even mining the Suez canal.  It is possible that Gaddafi may attempt some kind of clandestine attack on Italy, if he can organise it.

So, should Italy be worried about attacks from Libya?

Probably not. But being wary for the next few months or so might be a good idea.

Are you in Italy? Does the conflict in Libya worry you?

More information:

Wikipedia Information on Libya’s Armed Forces and Military Hardware –

Libya’s Army

Libyan Navy

Foxtrot Class Submarines

Libyan Air Force

Image credit:

Eugenio´s Warships – 213


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