ROME — Italy would weigh participating in any military intervention to keep forces from the Islamic State group from advancing in Libya should diplomatic efforts fail, Italian officials said Monday.
The Italian defense minister has said Rome could contribute 5,000 troops to such a military mission. But Premier Matteo Renzi sought to dispel the notion his country already decided on military operations if launched under the auspices of the United Nations. Renzi told the private TG5 TV news "the proposal is to wait, so the U.N. Security Council can work with a bit more conviction on Libya" diplomatically.
U.N.-sponsored efforts must involve "all the players, the local tribes, African Union countries, Arab countries, the Europeans," Renzi said.
With Libya's security rapidly deteriorating, the number of migrants who set out in smugglers boats from Libyan shores toward Italy has surged. On Sunday alone, Italian authorities rescued more than 2,100 migrants and refugees, many of them fleeing the Syrian war. Italian intelligence officials have warned for weeks there would be a surge in sea arrivals as Libya unravels.
Rome fears IS advances could increase risks that terrorists, mingled among boatloads of migrants, could reach Italy from Libya, a few hundred kilometers (miles) across the Mediterranean.
According to Italian intelligence, IS recently made gains in Sirte, a major Libyan coastal city, without actually controlling it, Senate Defense Commission President Nicola Latorre told The Associated Press.
Political support for Italian military involvement grew as Egypt carried out airstrikes against IS strongholds across its border in Libya after the extremists beheaded Egyptian Christian hostages.
"From how things are evolving in Libya, frankly, it's difficult to imagine a scenario different from a military kind of international intervention," said Enrico Zanetti, a Cabinet undersecretary.
Latorre said that military "measures of containment" would be evaluated but cautioned against viewing any such action as "war."
On Thursday, the government will brief Parliament about Libya.
Italy on Sunday became the last Western country to shut its embassy in Tripoli. Many Italians work in Libya in oil, gas and construction sectors.