Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Italy, it’s time to call Hezbollah for what it is

The United States has denounced Hezbollah, the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shia political movement and militia, for maintaining weapon warehouses throughout Europe, and in particular, large stockpiles of ammonium nitrate throughout the continent, including in Italy. The accusation comes six weeks after the massive blast that hit the port of Beirut on August 4, which was caused by an explosion of ammonium nitrate.

During a videoconference with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Ambassador-at-Large and the U.S. Department of State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales said, “I can reveal that such [Hezbollah weapon] caches have been moved through Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. I can also reveal that significant ammonium nitrate caches have been discovered or destroyed in Italy.”

Sales added that this activity is still under way. According to the analyst, Hezbollah has been stockpiling ammonium nitrate on European soil in order “to conduct major terror attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem it necessary.”

This past July, a number of organisations, including the AJC, signed a “Transatlantic Declaration” asking the European Union to reverse its stance and take a tougher line against Hezbollah. The position of the EU is ambiguous however: Brussels has designated Hezbollah’s military arm as a terrorist organization, but not its political wing. The UK and Germany are the only two European countries to have declared the movement a terrorist operation tout court.

Italy should follow the lead of Berlin and London vis-à-vis Hezbollah. Rome has a vested interest at stake: National interests dictate it to defend its diplomatic integrity lest becoming a “buffer state” of Islamic powers that sponsor terrorism.

As the new world order takes shape, no one in Rome seems to understand its timing and importance. The new Middle East designed by the Trump Administration requires Italy to take a clear-cut position. The recent signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain has consolidated these countries in a mutual battle against Iran and political Islam, particularly that advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the past few years, Turkey, which provides aid and support to the Muslim Brotherhood, has expanded its influence throughout the Mediterranean basin at Italy’s expense. In a major coup for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Istanbul will build two military bases in Libya, one at Misrata port and another at Al-Watiya air base. The first will be a naval base in the form of a port with permanent assault capabilities, reconnaissance and auxiliary aircraft storage, while the second will be an air base equipped primarily with unmanned aerial vehicles.

Standing on the fence diminishes Italy’s political goodwill and harms its economic security. From the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) Pipeline, there is too much to lose and very little to gain from political ambiguity. It is imperative that Italy join the front against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood by recognizing Hezbollah for what it is – a terrorist organisation. The cost of idle may prove astronomical.

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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