“Let’s not call it war”, says Minister for Foriegn Affairs Paolo Gentiloni on a flight to Brussels for the monthly foreign ministers meeting. The agenda was to be immigration, but that has changed since the massacres in Paris. The minister urges caution in the use of certain words. “We are in the forefront in the struggle against Daesh, the self-declared Islamic State, especially in Iraq. But what is important is to respond to these acts of war without feeling that we too are at war. That would be the greatest gift we could give to the terrorists”.
What does that mean Mr. Minister? Pretend nothing’s happened?
«Absolutely not, and Italy’s commitment is ample proof of that. In Iraq, immediately behind the Americans and Iran, we are the most active and present country in the coalition. We are working on two fronts: supplying weapons and training to 7,000 Peshmerga, and collaborating with the regular Iraqi forces in the Anbar governorate. Not to imply that it’s thanks to Italy, our weapons and trainers, but the Peshmerga have retaken the Sinjar and are now in control of the road from Mosul to Raqqa, which in the mind of the so-called Caliphate, are their capitals, one in Iraq and one in Syria. What this means is that at the level of military resistance we are getting results».
But then came Friday in Paris.
«An enormous tragedy that will have psychological and economic consequences that are hard to imagine, and that justifies talk of war in France. But I don’t think we should allow ourselves to be drawn into that spiral; we must hang on to our way of life and not give in to the terrorists».
A question of semantics?
«We must fight the terrorists on the military plane, without, however, entering into the dynamic of conflict. A country that feels itself at war is a country that is forced to give up a part of itself; for example, Schengen would have to be suspended immediately. It is necessary now to confront this emergency in absolute unity and with the collaboration of all the political forces. I was very impressed by Saturday’s summit, a serious and highly productive meeting. Each participant expressed his/her own ideas, viewing them at the same time in relation to those of the others. Cultivating fear or fuelling polemics serves no purpose at all».
What are the dangers for Italy?
«We have to be responsible: no country is immune to the threat of Isis and, therefore, just as every other European and Arab country, must maintain a high level of security».
Is the Jubilee year a target?
«I do not believe the Jubilee as such represents a major element of alarm. Daesh refers to Rome symbolically, seeking to evoke the Crusades, more than with the intention of expressing precise threats».
What are the international community’s next steps?
«The impression is that the United States wants to make a move on Raqqa at this moment of difficulty for Isis. On the ground in Syria and Kurdistan there is what they want to call technical coordination with the Russians».
What attitude should there be toward Assad, what is Italy’s position?
«It is necessary to rely on Russia’s decisive contribution to Assad’s stepping down. I would not be surprised is there were intensified military action in Iraq and Syria. But if it is true that we are in the forefront in the struggle against Isis, especially in Iraq, when it comes to Syria, Italy is striving in particular for a diplomatic solution. It seems to me that the dialogue between Russia and the United States could take that direction».