Fears over the sea: Italians fret about both Islamic extremists and immigrants

Commenting on IS’s advance, the foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said that, if a UN peace initiative failed, “the issue needs to be raised with the United Nations to do something more.” That was enough for IS’s radio station in Mosul to brand Mr Gentiloni the representative of a “crusader Italy”. Undaunted, the defence minister, Roberta Pinotti, hinted the next day at what “something more” might be. Italy, she said, was ready to lead a coalition to crush IS in Libya: “We have been discussing it for months, but now an intervention has become urgent.” The prime minister, Matteo Renzi, warned against “hysteria”.

Wholly out of character with Italy’s cautious attitude to military involvement, such statements reflect pent-up frustration over the failure of Italy’s allies to address the deteriorating situation in Libya. Yet, as became clear in the UN Security Council on February 18th, Italy’s friends are averse to intervention (see article). So are many Italians, who are mindful of the way they are seen as Libya’s former colonial masters. When Mr Gentiloni repeated in parliament that time was running out for a diplomatic solution, the Five Star Movement, a populist left-wing party, said Libya could become Italy’s Vietnam.

The threat from IS is linked to a surge in immigration from Libya of asylum seekers and others. More than 6,000 people have fled from north Africa so far this year, twice as many as a year ago.