if ur sending the AC and gib fighter to hit SZ 96 then ur hitting 97 with what? a DD, cruiser, and 2 air? hardly enough to sink SZ 97 with a full scramble i would think
sz91 Cruiser + Gib fgt to sz96
dd, cruiser, AC, fgt, tac sz98 to sz97
+add the UK bmb and maybe a fgt and don't forget that you'll take the 2 first hits on your AC. Then you got decent odds.
Even if you NCM the CV/CR through to join the French fleet, you will lose it on the Italian counter and they can preserve their air superiority and probably a BB and CR. That Italian Bomber makes a world of difference when you allow Italy to combine its two fleets. And you expose Egypt/N.Africa to 2 Trn worth of units = bad.
Withdraw behind the Suez, you can effectively get blocked behind it and give up the Med to Italy. I don't like free NO's for Italy, especially with 2 Trn moving freely between Italy and N.Africa / Middle East.
Granted the UK faces Sealion more often than not and cannot replace units in Africa easily, but anything to hinder the Italians for a US invasion is infinitely more valuable so that the US does not have to spend IPC on more offensive naval units than it needs to. More boots on the ground = bigger gains for the Allies.
Thats why I attack SZ97 because Italy can give up its capital fleet by not scrambling or face losing 2 Ftr, 1 BB, 1 CR = 52 IPC worth of setbacks if it scrambles. All the while you deny the Med NO to Italy for at least a turn, and prevent it from taking Greece which is another territory it needs for a NO. If you are feeling particularly brave, you can send that Trn with an Inf on it into Greece to make life harder for the Italians and force the Germans to deal with it, but you likely lose the Trn in the process. Although 12 IPC for losing 7 IPC may be worth the investment.
Personally I try to hit Italy as hard as possible early. It has a hard time generating IPCs if it cannot utilize its Trns early, and if you take 2 of them away you're winning the battle, regardless of the cost.