Commentary. The war of targeted drone assassinations, of which Thursday night brought the latest bloody example, shows that Italy is becoming more and more of a weapons platform aimed towards the Middle East.

Sicilian air base is at the heart of America’s drone wars

All the lofty aspirations that President Mattarella hinted at in his end-of-year speech about Italy’s position in the world—“…our beautiful country, stretching out into the Mediterranean, which is destined, due to its geography and history, to be one of the meeting points between Europe and civilizations and cultures from other continents…”—ended up violently questioned just 48 hours later. The Mediterranean is the setting for a world at war, and this new war also involves us. 

First came Turkey’s decision to send troops to Libya—a country shattered after NATO’s shameful campaign to oust Gaddafi in 2011—in support of al-Sarraj, supposedly “our” ally as well. Al-Sarraj is at the head of a government “recognized by the international community,” but which controls only part of Tripolitania, centered in Tripoli, now under siege by the leader of the Cyrenaica region, General Khalifa Haftar, who has the support of Egypt, France, Russia and the United States. 

Then, on Thursday night, the latest outrage came: a drone strike sent by the international outlaw, the “lunatic of the Atlantic,” Donald Trump, who, facing trouble on the home front with the ongoing impeachment process and worried about his electoral future, decided to distract the public’s attention and ordered the strike on a runway at Baghdad airport, killing the Iranian general Soleimani, a future candidate for leadership in Tehran (who had the merit, among other things, of having been among the few to truly engage in the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda), and Iran’s Iraqi ally, Al-Muhandis.

The Middle East is on the brink of the precipice once again, as always at the initiative of the US administration, which for the past 40 years has been engaging in open attempts to destabilize every Middle Eastern state. They started from the 1980s, first by inciting Saddam to an armed conflict against the Ayatollah regime in Tehran, then with the first Gulf War in 1991, and later with the second Gulf War and the strategy of sanctions that starved whole peoples. Then, in 2003, there was Bush’s manufactured war, on the pretext of ”weapons of mass destruction” that were never found; and, finally, after the successful coup in Libya, there was the miscalculated devastation of Syria.

All these operations were pursued with the support of the Israeli governments. After any possibility of a peaceful resolution to the question of the occupied Palestinian territories vanished with the assassination of Rabin and Arafat’s death, Israel has been engaging in similar acts of targeted assassination and provocation against Tehran. Netanyahu in particular has done this on many occasions, including hundreds of air raids against the Iranian military forces and Hezbollah forces fighting in Syria against ISIS and al-Qaeda (lest we forget, the organization responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks)—i.e. fighting against Sunni fundamentalism inspired by the untouchable Saudi Arabia, the steadfast ally of the US and Europe. 

With this latest targeted assassination, what little remained of the European Union’s (and Obama’s) agreement on civilian nuclear power with Tehran has also been bombed into the ground.

Now it’s simply no longer possible to distract ourselves with other issues: even the drama around M5S Senator Gianluigi Paragone and his flirtation with Salvini’s Lega must take second place. We are facing a crisis of unparalleled seriousness. Retaliation by the Iranians will certainly come, although perhaps not immediately. And Italy risks being stuck on the front line: have we forgotten that we have our own UN contingent in Lebanon, deployed at the border between Hezbollah and the Israeli army?

This is why, given the size of this provocation—which has upset the already delicate balances in the world, as the French Foreign Minister put it—while one can certainly understand Matteo Salvini’s full support for his fellow white supremacist Trump, the silence of Prime Minister Conte—or “Giuseppi” according to his Trumpian moniker—simply cannot suffice. Nor is our Foreign Minister Di Maio saying enough: first with a timid call to “moderation,” and then explicitly—and otherwise accurately—stressing the fact that in the Middle East, “the priority is the fight against the Islamic State.” No need to even mention the meek whisper of “great concern” tweeted out by Democratic Party Secretary Zingaretti. 

At least in the US, Joe Biden, the much-discussed moderate Democratic presidential candidate, had the courage to say that Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox” with the drone strike. We have an urgent need for a clear stance that would distance Italy from the new season of war that is on the horizon just across the Mediterranean.

It is no longer enough to insist that the solution in Libya must be a “peaceful” one. The war of targeted drone assassinations, of which Thursday night brought the latest bloody example, shows that Italy is becoming more and more of a weapons platform aimed towards the Middle East. The Italian government is saying that “our” military bases, both the US ones and the NATO ones, starting with Sigonella, are not engaged, or are minimally involved, in this dangerous American adventure. However, Trump’s attack on Thursday night calls this into question.

While on this particular occasion we can exclude any direct involvement of launches from the Sigonella drone base in this operation—because it’s much more likely that they used bases in Iraq, Kuwait, or Yemen—it remains true that on Thursday night, there must have been full knowledge at Sigonella of this act of war being perpetrated in Baghdad: the military personnel there were following the operation and working for the “successful” outcome of the raid ordered by Trump. 

All this without the Italian government or any of the European ones being informed. Not to mention Erdogan, the Atlantic Sultan, who is by now as untrustworthy to the US as their continued use of the strategic Turkish base at Incirlik is uncertain.

For the past year, however, Sigonella—already involved in the war in Libya, and, more recently, in intelligence gathering operations in the Black Sea in the context of the Ukrainian crisis—has become, together with Ramstein in Germany, the operational control center for every military drone operation conducted by the US across the world. This is common knowledge, to the point that in Germany, the Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits brought against the Berlin authorities by the families of civilian victims killed by US drone strikes in Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, Italy’s voice is reduced to a whisper, and it maintains its submissive silence toward the perpetrator of the drone strikes. And, as a well-known legal principle says, silence is acquiescence.

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