The local assembly of the northern Italian region of Liguria (one of Italy’s 20 devolved governments) has approved a motion to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization tout court. The motion was presented by the political group Cambiamo (Let’s Change) led by Liguria’s Governor Giovanni Toti and was approved with 18 votes in favor, with 11 abstentions. As a result of the vote, Governor Toti has been granted the power to include the issue on the order of business at the next national conference of Italy’s regions and moreover, to put it before the country’s national Parliament in Rome.
Failing to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is one of the European Union’s most resounding foreign policy failures. In July 2013, the EU – albeit in a contradictory manner – stated that Hezbollah is indeed a terrorist organization, but only partly. Brussels theoretically split the organization, adding solely its “military wing” and not its “political wing” to its black list of terrorists. To date, Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organization in Israel, the United States (1997), Canada (2002), the Netherlands (2004), Great Britain (2019), Argentina (2019), Paraguay (2019), Colombia (2020) and Honduras (2020), as well as by the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Recently, Germany (2020), Lithuania (2020) and Estonia (2020) have followed suit.
Italy has managed to dodge the issue until now. However, over time il bel paese has become a crossroads for Iranian spies and illegal trafficking linked to Tehran. The containment of Hezbollah’s activities in Europe, facilitated by Italy’s neglect, has been on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda throughout the Trump administration. Most likely the newly established Biden administration will reopen direct talks in relation to Iran vis-à-vis Italy, taking advantage of the new political climate. Yesterday, the former President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi was appointed to form a new government to replace that of Giuseppe Conte, which was highly criticized within domestic Atlanticist circles and by international allies of appeasement with Iran.
To justify Italy’s ambiguous stance, Italian politicians often emphasize the country’s role in UNIFIL, the United Nations mission in Lebanon, which is under Italian command. Banning Hezbollah – they argue – could put the latter and Italy’s diplomatic relations with the Lebanese government at risk. This argument is groundless however. After banning Hezbollah, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas proceeded to visit Beirut in the aftermath of the explosion at the Port of Beirut this past August and continues to maintain strong diplomatic relations with Beirut.
Israeli Ambassador to Italy Dror Eydar called Liguria’s Governor to express appreciation for his region’s motion to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Governor Toti took the opportunity to reiterate his friendship and support of Israel to Ambassador Eydar and to congratulate the Israeli government in its most effective fight against the COVID pandemic, especially its vaccination campaign that has already reached over half the population.
Governor Toti deserves credit for his gambit. It is unusual to hear an Italian politician not only praise Israel publicly, but also cite it as an example to emulate.