Giovanni Giacalone
Eyes everywhere

Italy’s ambiguity is out of place: clarity of position and action is needed

The October 7th massacre against Israeli civilians highlighted a series of incontrovertible aspects: first of all, Hamas is a terrorist organization, without distinction between political and military wings. They are terrorists, period.

Secondly, Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis and Iraqi Shiite militias are pawns of the Iranian regime, which is equally evident, and they are attacking Western targets.

Third, Iran and its proxies want the destruction of Israel, the destabilization of the Middle East and part of Tehran’s terror strategy is to use the Houthis, a Yemeni terrorist group, to target maritime commercial traffic in the Red Sea to damage the economies of Western countries.

In all this, there is also Turkey, under Erdogan’s control, to strengthen the anti-Israel axis, constantly welcoming the leaders of Hamas and defining terrorists as “liberators”. Nothing new obviously, for those who know Erdogan and his Syrian and Palestinian jihadist sympathies.

However, there is a further aspect that concerns the October 7th massacre and the subsequent events: that is, the need to decide which side to take, whether on the side of Islamist terrorism spread by Iran and proxies or on the side of those who want to stop it.

Boaz Ganor, director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, has always illustrated how a clear and objective definition of terrorism, free of ambiguity, is needed and he proposed one: “Deliberate attacks against civilians for political purposes”.

This aspect is critical, otherwise we risk falling into ambiguities linked to particular political-strategic interests that do not allow a common international line in the fight against terrorism.

About all this, it is difficult not to ponder about the latest events linked to the Italian government: the very recent visit of Prime Minister Meloni to Turkey to meet Erdogan and the statements of the Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, regarding the cease of weapon deliveries to Israel, as already well reported among other things by the Times of Israel on January 21st.

As exposed by Al Arabiya, Italy and Turkey are aiming to boost the value of trade between their countries to $32.7 billion (€30 billion) by 2030 from around €25 billion currently, according to an official briefed on the talks. Additionally, the defense deals between the two countries could include Italy’s Leonardo SpA, which works on aerospace and security globally.

So, while Italy immediately ceased weapons shipments to Israel starting October 7th (as stated by Tajani), the Meloni-led government is willing to implement defense deals with Erdogan, who defined Hamas terrorists as “liberators” and who is clearly siding with Ismail Haniyeh’s terrorist organization.

Additionally, another topic on the Meloni-Erdogan agenda was illegal immigration, with both governments looking at a deal with Libya to strengthen collaboration. According to Italian media, the three nations could sign a deal on immigration before summer. Where will that lead to? Probably to Erdogan blackmailing Europe through the southern immigration route, like he already did with the eastern route.

Regarding Tajani’s statement on the blocking of the supply of weapons to Israel, there are a few thoughts to be made. In the last decade, Italy was responsible for about 5% of Israel’s military procurement, as reported by Walla. Therefore, a very small percentage which makes the whole delivery block irrelevant to Israel’s security.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, among the ceased shipments are 30 Alania Irmaki M-346 jet trainers, and seven AW119 helicopters from the Italian company Leonardo, in addition to the training of the IAF’s new helicopter pilots.  Yes, correct, Leonardo SpA, the one included in Italy’s potential defense deal with Erdogan.

However, shouldn’t Italy be pondering about defense deals with Turkey, considering Erdogan’s bombings of the Kurds? What about his position on Hamas? And how about his systematic crackdowns against the political opposition and the media?

In addition, it’s worth recalling that Italy shipped loads of weapons to Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion. Apparently, when it comes to Israel, things are different.

The topic is not over, because the Italian government also expressed itself on the Houthi issue as Tajani stated that “Italy does not take part in attacks against the Houthi, but promotes a European response”.

It is yet unclear what such a statement means, just as it is hard to understand what the European response could be, and how it could differ from the US-led operation that Italy pulled away from. Especially, if such a response does not foresee military strikes against the Houthis. What are Italy and Europe planning to do? Politely ask Teheran to tell the Houthis to stop it?

The US and EU’s inability to launch a joint naval mission in the Red Sea was criticized by Admiral Luigi Binelli-Mantelli, former chief of the Italian armed forces, indicating it as “a sign of weakness in dangerous times”.

Admiral Binelli-Mantelli also added: “…this (the Houthi-Iran offensive) is not simply aimed against Israel, it’s a direct challenge to all Western countries, testing our determination and cohesion to protect our economy and our common values and way of life”.

Unfortunately, Rome is yet ambiguous. After all, the Italian authorities have done nothing to stop the hateful propaganda carried out by a well-known Palestinian militant who glorified jihad, defined the October 7th attacks as “self-defense”, praised Hamas bombmaker Yahya Ayyash and Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s Iranian liaison eliminated in Beirut on January 2nd. It is unclear why nothing has been done, since measures have been taken by the Italian authorities against individuals sharing pro-Isis propaganda. Isn’t Hamas classified as a terrorist organization by Italy?

In conclusion, the October 7th massacre inevitably led the international community to decide which side to take. The masks have fallen (the UN is a prime example). There are no more shades but only black and white. Clear positions and actions are needed.

About the Author
Giovanni Giacalone is a senior analyst in Islamist extremism and terrorism at the Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues and Managing Emergencies-Catholic University of Milan, at the Europe desk for the UK-based think tank Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism, and a researcher for Centro Studi Machiavelli. Since 2021 he is the coordinator for the "Latin America group" at the International Institute for the Study of Security-ITSS. In 2023 Giacalone published the book “The Tablighi Jamaat in Europe”.
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