By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - Italy warned on Wednesday that Western military intervention in Libya could worsen an already volatile situation in which some 5,000 Islamic State (IS) militants in the country are seeking allies from local forces.
Italy would be prepared to provide military forces only at the request of a long-delayed Libyan national unity government and after parliamentary approval, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told parliament.
Referring to IS by its Arabic acronym Daesh, Gentiloni said the government would not be tempted by the "drum roll of war".
"To whomever uses the threat of Daesh, which is a real threat that we must defend ourselves against, to invoke military interventions, we respond that military interventions are not the solution," Gentiloni said. "They could even make the problem worse."
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon last month gave the White House a plan for up to 40 air strikes against IS in Libya but that plans are on hold pending diplomacy.
Western intervention without a request from a national unity government could push local Islamist militias into the arms of IS, Gentiloni said.
The United States and the European Union have said they agree with Italy that deeper military involvement will require a request by the Libyan government.
Italy said last week it had sent some 40 secret service agents to Libya, with an additional 50 special forces operatives set to join them.
Efforts to establish a U.N.-backed unity government in Libya have been stalled by resistance from hardliners, prompting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to warn on Tuesday that rival Libyan factions do not have an "infinite" amount of time to make a deal.
Parliament would have to sign off on the use of military force and without a U.N.-backed government in Libya Renzi would likely encounter resistance even within his own Democratic Party.
Italy has been more cautious than its U.S. and French allies. The United States launched an air strike on an IS training camp last month and France has conducted surveillance flights and sent military advisers. U.S., French and British special forces are also present in the country, officials and media have said.
Gentiloni said targeted and "proportionate" strikes against IS should not be ruled out in the name of national security, but added that the eventual use of force should not seen as the only way to help Libya.
"It's not fighting terrorism that will stabilize Libya. Mixing up self-defense with Libyan stability is not helpful," he said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by Philip Pullella and Toby Chopra)