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Antonio Tajani: “A dangerous spiral, we will mobilise the G7 countries” (Corriere della Sera)

Foreign Minister Tajani: “I spoke at length with my Iranian counterpart. The existence of Israel cannot be questioned”.

On Friday afternoon, while he was on the motorway from Verona to Milan, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani – who had been in constant contact with Prime Minister Meloni, Minister Crosetto and Undersecretary Mantovano since last night – had an important telephone conversation: he entered a service area and sat in his car on the phone for 50 minutes.

Minister, you spoke with your Iranian colleague Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Many European Ministers and President Biden himself had made appeals like you to avoid an Iranian reaction. All to no avail. The Iranians attacked.

“It was a long conversation. We had spoken several times before, in 2022, about the release of Alessia Piperno. Now the situation is much more complicated: the first news arriving about the attacks in progress does not allow us to fully predict what will happen in the coming days. One thing is certain and I say it clearly: no one will be able to question the existence of Israel; the world shall commit itself to the survival of the Jewish State.”

What had you asked of your Iranian colleague to try to curb retaliation?

“I had asked him to convince his government to show moderation and a sense of responsibility. I had reminded the Minister of the EU countries’ unanimous condemnation for the attack they suffered on the consulate in Damascus. I did so because the retaliation that started last night could set a very dangerous spiral into motion: the next few hours will be crucial.”

What had he replied?

“Our analyses, the same as those of the international press, told us that a retaliation was likely. I had tried to assure my Iranian colleague of Italy’s commitment, also as G7 Presidency, to peace and to avoid a widening of the conflict in the Middle East. I reminded him that Italy is in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza to allow aid to reach the Palestinian civilian population and the release of Israeli hostages. This is a decisive moment to return to a peace dynamic in the region.”

How do you fear the crisis will evolve at this point?

“I hope Iran will stop but it is too early to say. We will need to understand how long the attacks will continue; what damage they will cause; how deep they will have been carried out and on which targets. It is clear that the dynamics in the region are now undergoing a surge, an acceleration that could be very dangerous.”

Yesterday Iranians had also seized a merchant ship in Hormuz.

“It was a first sign of escalation, of the will to show they have military capabilities and the will to show off their power. When I spoke with the Minister the ship had not yet been stopped, otherwise I would have asked for it to be released immediately and for its crew – among whom there are no Italians – to be protected.”

Can Italy do anything?

“First we will mobilise the G7 of which we hold the Presidency. We cannot give up political action, which must run in parallel with the evaluation of the intensity of Iranian military action and the damage caused. The first objective is to throw water on the fire. Our thoughts go – first of all  to the Gaza Strip, but also to the Lebanon where we have 1,100 soldiers, on the border between Israel and the areas where Hezbollah is present: we act in every way for their safety and we have received guarantees from Iran that there will be no repercussions. We do not want a spiral that politics may no longer be able to control.”

What consequences would a conflict have for Italy?

“Italy is at the centre of the Mediterranean: a new crisis would be a tragedy I do not even want to imagine. Even now the Red Sea region is in crisis: it may seem like a very distant area, but a large part of our exports pass through the Suez Canal. The government, however, is ready to manage any kind of scenario.”’

What should an Italian do in areas at risk?

“Since 7 October we have asked Italian citizens to avoid unnecessary travels to the region: it is essential to always continue to consult the Foreign Ministry website, and download the related app. Our embassies and the Foreign Ministry are in the front line and always available. The region would be disrupted for days in the event of a massive military attack, and air links would be affected. Unnecessary travels should be avoided categorically.”

Is there an increased risk of terrorism?

“We have strengthened controls of sensitive targets, we are very careful to protect communities that could be exposed to the risk of acts of violence. There is a risk of “lone wolves” and a risk of acts of emulation.”

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