“To combat terrorism, we need to be united. Including the political forces, and by working with the representatives of over 1.2 million Italian Muslims who have every interest in isolating and defeating the small fundamentalist minorities who support the terrorists”. Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is analysing the global offensive of terror, from Tunisia to Somalia, from Kuwait to France, as he gets ready to leave for Jerusalem. His meetings tomorrow [Monday 29 June 2015] with the Palestinians, and on Tuesday with the Israelis, “will enable us to evaluate the chances for a resumption of the peace process. If some people think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is less central right now, they’re making a mistake. We need only consider the risk of a failure to resume the talks enabling Islamic fundamentalism to take ownership of the Palestinian cause. And that would be a disaster”.
The attacks in France show some failings in the anti-terror effort. The attackers had precedents but we not being monitored. Are we sharper in Italy, or luckier, or are we not a target?
“The risk concerns all of us, not just France. Rather than delude ourselves or pat ourselves on the back, we’d be better off redoubling our efforts for greater security and placing our trust in the professionalism of our intelligence community and our forces of law and order”.
Is there a risk of terrorist infiltrations on the migrants’ boats?
“We can’t rule that out in theory, although for now we have not had any specific reports. The numbers arriving are very high, but no higher than in 2014. The flow of migrants will not go away – it needs to be managed and regulated. Taking an alarmist approach isn’t good for the country”.
Europe isn’t helping us. The quotas have run aground. What’s to be done?
“We expect Europe to make a contribution that’s in keeping with its civility and its civilisation. The dance of adjectives on relocating migrants – obligatory, voluntary, binding, consensus-based – does not seem to me to be appropriate to the times. The decision to agree to take in 40,000 of the asylum seekers who landed in Italy and Greece is a limited step but one with a high political value. Not doing even that much would mean rejecting any role for Europe. Italy is fighting to prevent that from happening”.
In the meantime, ISIS is attacking. In one day, attacks in 4 countries and around one hundred deaths…
“I don’t believe in the theory of a unified command of terrorist operations, an operational HQ that ordered a coordinated attack. Our response, however, must be fitting for a global challenge”.
By strengthening the anti-ISIS coalition on the ground?
“The coalition can be strengthened. Results have been achieved: the Da’esh [ISIS] attack in Kobane did not succeed. I hope that in the coming weeks we’ll be able to re-take Ramadi, in Iraq. Overall, Da’esh controls less territory than it did last autumn. Italy is helping the people fighting on the ground. We’re the leading nation in training the Kurds in Erbil, in Iraq. We can help the Kurds in Syria too, starting with the humanitarian plan. If we look at the challenge as a whole, another two factors are no less decisive. First: averting the overlapping of two conflicts and two parallel terrorist threats, the intra-Sunni campaign by Da’esh against governments and the great majority of Sunni communities. And the conflict between Shias and Sunnis. From this perspective, the massacre in the mosque in Kuwait City is very dangerous”.
And the second factor?
“The battle within the Islamic world between Da’esh and the Arab governments and Islamic regimes. The resistance of a front line country like Tunisia is decisive. We need to keep our focus on the Mediterranean, a focus that means helping the countries in greatest difficulty and ensuring that no more crisis regions are added to the existing ones of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. For Italy, the Mediterranean isn’t just about history and culture. Alongside Europe and the United States, it’s also one of our three principal trading regions. We’re the Mediterranean countries’ 4th commercial partner, after the United States, Germany and China, with trade approaching 50 billion and largely in surplus”.
Was the massacre in Sousse a mortal blow for tourism?
“In the immediate term Tunisia’s tourism industry will suffer an inevitable blow. So our economic and political support is all the more important. Tunisia is the only country that, with its political pluralism, has kept the promises of the Arab Spring, and it is the most closely targeted by the fundamentalist threat. A threat to which it has always reacted with firmness, first by outlawing Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, and now with President Essebsi’s unprecedented decision to close certain mosques that are thought to be propaganda centres for terrorism. It is not our place to judge Tunis’s decisions, but I can say loud and clear that Italy is at President Essebsi’s side with his courageous determination to combat fundamentalism. And not just in words”.
How, in concrete terms?
“After the attack on the Bardo museum, Italy decided on a partial cancellation of the debt and at the same time launched cooperation projects, with France, for Tunisia’s regions, especially those in the interior. That commitment needs to be stepped up and certain major projects, like the Tunisia-Sicily cable planned by Terna and the Tunisian electricity company, need to be completed. And there’s more. We need to help other exposed countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon. Jordan suffered a ferocious attack by Da’esh when one of its coalition pilots was burned alive. And both countries are subject to enormous immigration pressures as a result of the Syrian crisis”.
Libya is another black hole. What’s the situation with the United Nations resolution that would authorise targeted actions against the people smugglers in Libyan ports?
“There’s a positive approach from the countries of Europe and the United States and, as I’ve seen for myself, a constructive one from Russia and China’s foreign ministers and ambassadors to the UN. The step that’s needed, however, is and remains the request from the Libyan authorities, linked to the negotiations going on in Morocco. If a single government is set up, it will be easier for that request to be made. If not, we’ll go on working in any case to that end”.
Italy and Europe are facing not just ISIS, but also the very hard negotiations on the Greek debt. Does the referendum announcement by Tsipras signify a breakdown?
“Interrupting the talks and calling a referendum was a serious gamble by Tsipras. Incomprehensible, and I hope not irreparable”.
Another thorn in Italy’s side is the case of the marines [held in India], which has been dragging on for nearly three and a half years. Italy has opted for international arbitration. Can we hope, pending the verdict, that Salvatore Girone will be able to come home to Italy?
“The first significant step now that we’ve decided to resort to international arbitration is to request interim measures, a step that we will be taking in mid-July – technically, 15 days after notification. At that point the tribunal will announce its verdict in a matter of weeks. We will ask for Massimiliano Latorre to stay in Italy, and for Girone to come home from India. The decision on our request will be the tribunal’s first important judgment in the case”.