Foreign relations / History of Italy / Security and defence

Italy and the Middle East

In the fascist era, Italy dreamt of becoming the paramount Power in the Middle East.

During his official visit to Israel, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tried to maintain a balanced position between his host and the Powers which had just concluded the nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement, which is anathema to the Israeli Government, was signed also by the European Union after having being negotiated by its “Minister of Foreign Affairs” Federica Mogherini, a protege of Mr Renzi.

The tightrope walking by Mr Renzi is somehow a symbol of the Italian policies towards the Middle East, a complex theater which has always exacerbated the typical ambiguity of Italian diplomacy.

During the Cold War, Italy was firmly entrenched in the Western camp, but it was also perceived as pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab, perhaps as a result of the focus on the Middle East of the fascist regime, which hoped to exploit the weakening of the British Empire and the discontent against it to build its own, oil-rich sphere of influence.

In 1985 the Italian troops garrisoning the US base of Sigonella, in Sicily, nearly opened fire against the US Special Forces to free a group of Palestinese terrorists which had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro, officially because no Italian warrant of arrest had been issued against the men. It was probably the most serious clash between Italy and the United States in all the Cold War, and significantly it had its roots in the Middle East.

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