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Commentary. While in Germany the use of Leopard tanks by the Turkish army in northern Syria against Kurdish militias has occasioned strong protests, the use of Italian Mangusta helicopters has never gotten too much attention.

How the Italian arms industry wages Erdogan’s wars

Turkey is one of the largest customers of the Italian military industry, especially of state-controlled companies such as Leonardo (the former Finmeccanica) and Fincantieri. Italy is exporting to Turkey a wide arsenal of weaponry: from pistols to machine guns, from land vehicles to aircraft, from targeting equipment to bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles.

In 2016 (the latest data we have available), the Renzi government approved exports of military equipment worth over €134 million to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. All things considered, this is a rather modest sum but enough for Ankara to be 10th on the list of customers of our military industry.

It is a far cry from the figure of more than €1 billion for the production of 51 Mangusta type helicopters in Turkey (upped to 61 in 2010), renamed TAI T129 ATAK. The manufacturing license was approved in 2007 during the Prodi government, and the Italian Network for Disarmament and Amnesty International asked for the deal to be suspended due to the possibility of these ground attack helicopters being used by the Turkish Air Force in Kurdish areas. But the helicopters were sold, invoking the official justification that has become a veritable mantra for all our defense ministers: to fight international terrorism, particularly ISIS-Daesh, against which Turkey is one of our main allies.

Those were the words used by Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti last May when she met with her Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik in Istanbul. On that occasion, the minister noted that “in a time when the war in Syria is extending the terrorist threat to the neighboring countries, Italy has responded positively to NATO’s request to intervene, on a rotational basis together with the other member countries.”

“Italy continues to support with its forces NATO’s efforts on the eastern and southern front, and this is the context for the cooperation with Turkey for the protection of its borders with Syria,” Pinotti explained. “As part of the rotation of the commitments made by several NATO countries, we have some time ago manifested our willingness to replace the Spanish missile battery that had finished its turn, and we have done so because we believe NATO must be involved in 360-degree warfare, on both the eastern and southern fronts.”

As always, military missions are the driving force behind orders for more military equipment. It is no coincidence that during her stay in Istanbul, Pinotti visited the IDEF 2017 exhibition, the 13th edition of the biennial international exhibition of the defense industry, which also featured the stands of the major Italian companies in the field.

Yet, while in Germany the use of Leopard tanks by the Turkish army in the so-called “Operation Olive Branch” unleashed in northern Syria against Kurdish militias in the Afrin district has occasioned strong protests in the German Parliament, the use of Italian Mangusta helicopters for similar operations has never gotten too much attention, not in our Parliament and not even in our media.

And now we have Sultan Erdogan arriving in Rome, with his wife and some Turkish ministers who are accompanying him on his visit. The capital is on military lockdown: 3,500 soldiers, snipers in position, all demonstrations banned, and a large secured area closed off, which is being referred to as the “Green Zone.”

Initially, it seemed that he would “only” meet with the Pope in the Vatican on Monday, but in the end Erdogan was received in our country with full honors. He met both Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and President Sergio Mattarella. Italy is the first country to shake the bloody hand of the Turkish president after the start of the massacre in Afrin. Then they will be able to get down to business again for the benefit of our military industry.

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