Ahead of Italian elections, Israel is untouchable

Elisa Brunelli

Mondoweiss  /  September 23, 2022

In the name of its energy and military interests, Italian political parties censor solidarity with Palestine, from both the right and the left.

“Do you believe more in the existence of Israel or aliens?”

It was a simple tweet by Raffaele La Regina, a young candidate of Italy’s Partito Democratico (the Democratic Party).

When the tweet was first published in 2020, it went largely unnoticed, until Il Giornale, the right-wing newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, resurrected it last month. It triggered a firestorm of controversy in Italian political discourse ahead of the upcoming general elections, due September 25.

It was from those right-wing Italian factions that the greatest reactions of condemnation originated — even from the ranks of Fratelli d’Italia (the Brothers of Italy), which only days later became embroiled in controversy when one of its candidates — who has held neo-fascist positions in the past — made a Holocaust joke.

The Democratic Party also blamed its candidate for his own tweet. On August 20, 29-year-old La Regina was forced to apologize at a press conference for having years earlier written tweets denouncing the illegal and violent occupation of Jerusalem during the 1967 June War, and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“Those were wrong words. I never questioned Israel as a state and its right to exist,” he said under the stern gaze of Enrico Letta, former Prime Minister and National Secretary.

Despite the apology, the right-wing attacks did not stop, and the Democratic Party preferred to force La Regina to abandon the election race.

Former Prime Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini has gone further, showing that he is still following in Donald Trump’s footsteps: “When I am in government, I will recognize the capital of Jerusalem and move the embassy from Tel Aviv,” he promised in an interview with Israel HaYom.

The Legal secretary, together with Silvio Berlusconi, is part of the right-wing coalition, who was predicted since the beginning as the winner of these elections, now led by Giorgia Meloni. However, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia is showing more caution and ambiguity in her statements, especially regarding a possible move of the Italian embassy to Jerusalem.

For many months now, Giorgia Meloni has been carrying out a cleansing operation to distance herself from the most compromising elements of her party. Born from the ashes of the Italian Social Movement, the party was founded by a fascist officer and collaborator with the Nazis, Giorgio Almirante. 

On the one hand, Meloni cannot afford to displease her traditional racist and Nazi-nostalgic electorate, but on the other, after several years spent in the opposition, she now needs to establish herself as a credible interlocutor at the national and international level — and changing her attitude towards Israel and its policies will go a long way in accomplishing it.

In Meloni’s situation, it is sufficient to see how she has changed her reaction to the massacres of civilians in the Gaza Strip. In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, Meloni published on her social media channels: “Another massacre of children in Gaza. No cause is fair when it sheds the blood of the innocent”.

The tone used in the statements published during the aggression in 2021 was significantly different. That’s when the possibility of governing became near for Meloni, itself a product of the umpteenth crisis to befall the previous executive. 

“The firing of rockets by Hamas against Jerusalem, Ashkelon and other cities is an attack on Israel’s security that must be condemned without ifs and buts,” Meloni now wrote, changing her tune.

After ignoring the latest massacre in August, she finally declared in a detailed interview with Israel HaYom: “Israel represents the only fully-fledged democracy in the broader Middle East, and we defend without any reservations its right to exist and live in security. I believe that the existence of the State of Israel is vital, and Fratelli d’Italia will make every effort to invest in greater cooperation between our countries.”

The blessing of Israel

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the urge for European countries to reduce their dependence on gas imports from Moscow are just the latest reasons why those who govern, or are preparing to govern in Italy, need to please Israel so much, making any form of solidarity with the Palestinians taboo.

In its attempt to replace Russian gas supplies, Brussels found its new allies in Israel and Egypt with the signing of the latest memorandum of intent. Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s June mission also had the same aim. Also on the agenda is the hypothesis of completing the EastMed gas pipeline, a six billion euro project announced in 2020 with an agreement signed between Cyprus, Greece and Israel for the construction of a 1,900 kilometer pipeline that could connect Italy via the Poseidon pipeline.

Italy needs to diversify its energy sources and, at the same time, Israel manifests the need to accredit itself in international markets. This is what journalist and writer Antonio Mazzeo pointed out to me when I interviewed him for this article: “Right now, Italy and Europe are looking to Israel not only because they are sniffing out good deals, but especially because of the gendarme role it has in the eastern Mediterranean, which is crucial for controlling energy supplies”.

Interacting interests on both sides of the Mediterranean are not limited only to the energy crisis but have their origins long before that. 

Italy, in particular, has been watching Israel closely since its creation, and the arms market is the field in which the foundations of a partnership dripping with money and blood have been built.

The first Italian arms shipment dates back to 1947, contributing to the war that launched the occupation of the Palestinian territories: “Since then, the more Israel bombs, the more business Italy does,” Mazzeo said. “No government has ever problematized making million-dollar deals with a belligerent state: not only between Gaza and the West Bank, but real war operations in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.”

Despite a 1990 Italian law prohibiting the sale of arms to states that are responsible for human rights violations, Leonardo and Fincantieri, the two domestic military production giants, continue to sign multi-billion dollar deals with countries that are guilty of blood crimes — Israel, within this trend, has the privilege of its own fast track.

Ignoring the dozens of UN condemnations against Israel, one Italian government after the other has strengthened this fatal partnership day by day. 

On July 23, just days before the latest Gaza aggression, four F-35 fighter bombers of the Italian Air Force were dispatched to the Negev desert to take part in the “Lightning Shield” training exercise with the 122nd Nachshon Squadron, one of the most advanced specialized electronic warfare units in the world, and already employed by Israel during the attacks in Syria. 

Even the M-346 fighter jets, with which Israeli Air Force pilots are currently trained, are produced by Leonardo SPA, which supplies, among other things, the Turkish armed forces with the deadly T129 “Atak” helicopters used for massacres in Kurdistan villages and for attacking YPG and YPJ militia positions. 

“It should never be forgotten that the F35s sold to Israel by Leonardo can carry nuclear warheads: only a few months ago, Israel simulated a nuclear attack in Iran with our F35s,” Mazzeo reminds. 

At the same time, Italy invests massive resources in Israeli-produced satellite technologies. “Before formalizing his resignation, the Draghi government also concluded an agreement with Israeli military industries,” Mazzeo noted. “The agreement was to purchase two sophisticated intelligence warplanes worth about $550 million, burdening future generations with war debts.”   

Arms imports and exports, however, are not just business, but rather real political choices — in 2021, the European state registered an all-time record of actual exports of nearly 4.8 billion euros and the highest number of international missions ever, amounting to 44 (5 more than the previous year), all in strategic locations of energy or military interest.

Not just a customer

Israel, in addition to being an important customer, provides a model to follow. As early as 2011, powerful microwave radars produced in Occupation factories were installed inside parks and nature reserves in southern Italy to counter migrant landings. The direction is the same as that taken by European agencies FRONTEX and EMSA. The BDS National Committee reported that military drones used during the Gaza massacres are now being used to detect and attack migrants.

A further step was taken last June. Leonardo acquired RADA Electronic Industries Ltd, the Israeli company that is a leading supplier of high-tech military radar and software. The Italian company announced that its US subsidiary, Leonardo DRS and RADA, have entered into a definitive agreement to create a newly combined public company, in exchange for the assignment to Rada’s current owners of about 19.5 percent in Leonardo Drs.

So it would seem that the Israeli war machine has successfully penetrated a foreign military and political apparatus. At the same time Italy is keeping important relations with states such as Iran, Qatar, Turkey, and Pakistan. 

The final pretext is to isolate Putin for his criminal conduct, but in this way Italy continues to strengthen relations with countries with huge contradictions regarding respect for human rights. At the same time, Italy itself continues to pursue controversial extractivist policies in the African continent through its public company, Eni, which has devastated the Niger delta, or through its recent military mission in Mozambique in defense of energy interests — to name a few.

Italy does business even with its own enemies. But after all, this is also part of the Israeli model.

Elisa Brunelli is an Italian activist and journalist