Commentary. What should be done to end the Houthi boycott is to put an end to the war in Gaza, not widen the Middle East conflict in the Red Sea (and Lebanon).

What does it mean to launch an ‘eminently defensive’ war?

On Tuesday, the Italian Chamber and Senate approved, by a very large majority (except, thankfully, for the Green Left Alliance’s vote against) the government’s program for Italy’s participation in the Aspides naval military mission, of which we will have tactical command while Greece has the strategic leadership role. Parliament gave its approval after a series of cross-votes on other government “missions” for which other motions, from the PD and M5S, had also been tabled; and, most importantly, after Foreign Minister Tajani’s speech, a collection of serious omissions and weighty ambiguities.

The first thing that the minister did not say is that the military ship Caio Duilio already took part in war operations before the vote in Parliament. This is not a trifling matter: we are looking at an instance of fait accompli for which democracy is reduced to a mere surrogate coming after the fact.

Even more significant is the justification for why the gunboats are being sent in once again: in the service of free trade, which is jeopardized by the Houthis, and international law. On free trade, one must highlight that a protectionist conflict has been going on for years now, consisting of tariffs and capitalist-financial maneuvers of a hyper-nationalist nature (Biden’s America is taking part in this too, unfortunately, just as “America First” as under Trump), not involving the Houthis but the major global players: not only China vs. the US and vice versa, but also the US vs. the EU.

Of course, it’s true that as far as Italy is concerned, 40% of our exported Made in Italy products go through the Suez Canal; and that since the beginning of the Houthi sabotage of this route, most of the traffic has to go all the way around the Cape of Good Hope and reach European ports from the Atlantic Ocean, with a corresponding increase in insurance premiums and the cost of sending containers.

One fact is certain, however: the armed boycott by the Yemeni Houthis – just emerging from an 8-year civil war in which Saudi Arabia played a part and Italian-made bombs also claimed victims – did not exist before the Gaza crisis. This “crisis,” according to the UN, has turned into a catastrophe, with the indiscriminate and criminal response by the Israeli government to the October 7 massacre by Hamas, for which Israel finds itself indicted before the Hague court for “plausible” acts of genocide: more than two million people reduced to starvation, fleeing the indiscriminate air raids, and 12,000 children and 9,000 women killed. The number of civilian victims has reached 31,000, with many thousands of others wounded and maimed: an endless list written in blood.

The Houthis claim their military initiative is aimed to reduce the Israeli army’s pressure against the Palestinians. Are we able to see, then, that international trade and the export of Made in Italy products is actually in jeopardy because the slaughter in Gaza is continuing – something even poor Biden is unable or unwilling to stop? Because Netanyahu is going ahead full throttle, while at the UN the U.S. is vetoing every ceasefire resolution, the only thing that would oblige him to stop what he immediately admitted was “revenge.”

In short, what should be done to end the Houthi boycott is to put an end to this situation, not widen the Middle East conflict in the Red Sea (and Lebanon).

International law dictates that we must stop the Israeli army, fight at the UN for an unconditional ceasefire as soon as possible, give immediate recognition to the State of Palestine (since the State of Israel already has broad recognition). It does not appear that Italy is doing anything to make justice prevail, except with all-too-many words. Even worse, we joined in cutting funding to the UNRWA, and at the same time we’re bragging about bare-minimum “humanitarian” gestures as if they were some spectacular achievement, while in Gaza more than two million human beings, with hundreds of thousands of children who bear witness to this historic misdeed, are starving and burying their family members in mass graves.

But the most important thing left unsaid was represented by one particular word: in the Tajani document, which must have been agreed upon with the military, the description of the nature of the mission as “defensive” is qualified by the unsettling adverb “eminently.” The expression “eminently defensive,” an obvious contradiction, makes it clear that, if we run into difficulties when defending in the face of an attack, there might be a case to be made for an offensive response. And we’re not even talking about the issue of defensive actions and weapons becoming offensive instead (see Ukraine). However, since the government was intent to get the approval of the PD and M5S from the opposition for the military mission (coming together yet again in another coalition of the willing), this adverb was deleted from the document at their request. That’s all it took for near-everyone to be in agreement, all united in a “very broad field” that takes Italy to war once again.

That troublesome adverb was trying unsuccessfully to soften the “eminent” slide towards war; removed, it merely leaves it poorly concealed. The Italian ships in the Aspides mission are following in the wake of other missions – there is an entire fleet of more than five Western missions in the Red Sea – particularly the heavily armed Anglo-American-led Prosperity Guardian task force, which – contrary to the UN Security Council resolution of January 10 against the Houthi attacks, which reaffirmed the right of states to “defense” – is aimed at an “eminent” version of that concept, striking the Houthis on the ground as well. Meanwhile, our ships that will definitely “not bomb them” and are engaged “only” in returning fire will be there right behind those engaged in battle, in “offense” – that is, in war. And the flag is not going to be enough to ensure their status. While desirable, it will be difficult for drones and torpedoes to steer clear of them.

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