July 9, 2007

Italian resolve on Iran – who knew?

Italian resolve in the Middle East – now that would be a welcome change, given their track record in Iraq and Afghanistan.

AFP PhotoOn his recent visit to Israel, Italian Premier Romano Prodi declared that Iran must be prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That puts him in company with U.S. President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with that definitive of a statement. It seems to acknowledge that the European effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue by diplomacy will probably fail. The question is what is he - or more properly, Italy -
prepared to do about it? I doubt we will see Italian fighter-bombers in Iranian airspace anytime soon.

Italy has been a reluctant ally, barely an ally in the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. In both venues, it is widely acknowledged that Italy has paid ransoms to kidnappers of Italian journalists and aid workers – a bad precedent. The release of one of these ransomed reporters was badly botched when an Italian military intelligence officer was killed trying to run past American checkpoints on the way to Baghdad airport. Of course, an Italian investigation found the Americans at fault. The reporter, Giuliana Gregna, claimed that the Americans wanted to "silence her." You're probably a good journalist, but please, you don't rise to that level of importance. Your ransom and release was likely responsible for the kidnapping of Italian journalists in Afghanistan - hey, Italy pays!

Italy’s commitment to the war on terrorism has been called into question earlier this year as they put on trial officers of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency suspected of rendition operations against Italian citizens. Oh, yeah, “rendition” is a fancy word for snatching someone off the street. I am having a hard time feeling sympathy for a well-documented Al-Qa’idah operative hiding in liberal Europe being grabbed by U.S. intelligence officers. I am not a fan, however, of turning them over to the Egyptians as the Italians have accused and I suspect are correct. From my experience, the Jordanians have a better human rights record and get better results in these cases.

Prodi’s remarks, welcome remarks, came as the result of a visit to Israel. I was recently in Israel, so I am sure he was exposed to an even greater level of constant verbal bombardment about the Iranian threat. All Israeli officials speak from the same talking points, and the talking points now revolve around Iran’s nuclear program, which is consistently labeled as the “existential” threat to Israel. Granted, if the Iranians do acquire nuclear weapons and can mate them to a medium range ballistic missile, they could cripple Israel in one strike.

Now you ask, does Iran have the ability to make a nuclear weapon and make it into a deliverable warhead? A name: A.Q. Khan. The Iranians need to manufacture the fissile material for a weapon – the design plans for a weapon and warhead were supplied by the so-called “rogue” Pakistani scientist. I say "so-called" and "rogue" because I am not so sure there was not some government complicity in the transfer of technology from Pakistan to other Muslim/Islamic countries, much of which occurred before Pakistani President Musharraf’s “conversion” to American ally after September 11, 2001.

The test of Italy’s new-found resolve will come after Prodi returns to Rome. It’s easy to make a public relations speech while visiting the leaders of another country, but more difficult to translate that into foreign policy back home. This is especially true when Italian troops are in Lebanon as part of the international force overseing the farce that is United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, ostensibly preventing the resupply of Hizballah, which we all know continues unabated via Syria.

I remain to be convinced