Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Iran and stability: A tale of two worlds

A recent enquiry being conducted by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Senate concerning newly arising threats to the Middle East’s security and stability is turning into a tale of two worlds.

This past week, the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Italy Hamid Bayat was offered a stage before the Committee in order to broadcast his nation’s anti-West vitriol. He depicted the Shia theocracy as just and perfect while portraying the West – especially the United States of America and Israel – as wallowing in dissipation.

According to Bayat, Iran’s foreign policy “pursues multilateralism, peace, dialogue and fights against terrorism.”

Only two Italian Senators (both from opposition parties) attempted to challenge the Iranian envoy: Manuel Vescovi (Northern League) and Lucio Malan (Forza Italia) while those from Italy’s Five Star Movement (MS5) and center-left Democratic Party (PD) governing coalition remained silent.

Paradoxically, seven days earlier Israel’s Ambassador to Italy Dror Eydar was treated with hostility and confronted on a wide range of issues by the same committee. Its Chairman, Vito Rosario Petrocelli, a senior figure of the M5S, requested information about Israel’s nuclear programme and caused a diplomatic incident when he was heard saying off-mike that the Jewish State poses a “nuclear threat.”

In contrast, Bayat was allowed to denounce U.S. President Donald J. Trump to the Committee for repudiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the International treaty signed by Iran and the P5+1 to restrain Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian ambassador said that the U.S. “has committed a breach of trust.” Again, the Senators remained disgracefully silent. As the conservative commentator Gabriele Carrier highlighted in the daily Italian online newspaper Formiche, the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency released on June 5 states that Tehran has increased its stockpile of enriched uranium by 8 times.

Moreover, the committee failed to confront Ambassador Bayat on Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East and beyond: No inquiry and concerns into Tehran’s state sponsorship of terrorism or its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, which was formed by the Quds Force unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were raised. Additionally, they failed to question him on a recent report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that revealed Hezbollah’s network of drug trafficking, money laundering and terror financing between Latin America and Europe.

The Italian senators also missed an opportunity to grill Ambassador Bayat about Iran’s support of the Houthis in Yemen’s war, its involvement in Syria’s bloody, nearly decade-long civil war and its funding to terrorist groups such as Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Ambassador Bayat also paid lip service to human rights, accusing the West of double standards: “Iran is criticised – he explained – but there are powerful neighboring countries that are immune from criticism despite their repeated violations of human rights. I call on Italy for an impartial debate on human rights.”

The dystopian climate reached a climax when Senator Alberto Airola (M5S) pointed out that he had been Vice-Chairman of the Human Rights Commission. Claiming to be an “expert” on the latter, he responded with a sentence that defies common wisdom: “I too call on Italy to uphold and respect human rights. Perhaps, we are not top notch either. I say to Iran.”

Another conservative pundit Federico Punzi commented on the online Italian daily newspaper Atlantico that the Committee investigation seems like it was designed to coincide with the foreign policy agenda of the M5S. The M5S have very radical views vis-à-vis international affairs. They accuse Western liberal democracies of “neoliberalism” and of fostering inequality. Yet in doing so, they embrace authoritarian regimes that disregard not only international law and agreements, but also human rights.

These distortions of the policymaking process are at once incredibly naïve and deeply cynical and ought to be reversed. The populist agenda may appeal to Italians’ anger at a corrupt and inept political mainstream, but it will harm the country’s credibility vis-à-vis the International comity of nations. Populism may soon disappear, but the long-term damage of rash policies will stay.

About the Author
Bepi Pezzulli is a Solicitor specialised in International law and a foreign policy adviser covering Israel, the UK and the US. Currently, he is Executive Director of Italia Atlantica, a think-tank based in Rome, Italy. In 2018, he published "The other Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), investigating the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. He is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; and a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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