Rome view: Italy and Israel

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A few days ago Italian PM Enrico Letta met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting that resulted in signing 12 bilateral agreements from public safety, civil protection, energy, health, education, research to technology aimed at “enabling growth and new employments”, as PM Letta said.

A long lasting and profitable relationship ties Italy and Israel. In 2010 Italy became the Israel’s fourth largest trading partner (following the USA, China and Germany). A key exporting Israeli industry to Italy is chemicals and oil distillates, which accounts for 48% of total exports amounting to $167 million. One of the most interesting part of the agreements relates to energy. In 2010 Israel has discovered a huge off-shore gas deposit called “Leviathan” that will enable Israel to become a new energy player in the Mediterranean area starting from 2018. Currently, Israel is looking for buyers and Italy seems eager to play a central role.

This energy deal represents a concrete opportunity for Italy to become a Euro-Mediterranean hub for energy. As a matter of fact, it is part of a key national and European strategy that, together with the recent Trans Adriatic Pipeline (Tap) is aimed at diversifying energy partners. The Italian approach to its foreign partners shows the country’s commitment for re-launching growth and a European interest to boost regional common policies. Indeed, the energy strategy will be one of the key priorities set up for the EU agenda under the Italian presidency (second half of 2014).

Even though forging business links was the meeting’s main aim, the two leaders did not lose the opportunity to discuss international issues; first and foremost the recent deal on Iranian nuclear capacity. During the joint press conference, PM Netanyahu reiterated criticism for limiting sanctions warning that countermeasures have to be taken as soon as possible in order not to waste the efforts made hitherto. According to PM Letta, Italy looks at the agreement with caution and “Iranian military de-nuclearisation is a shared purpose of the international community” which has to be pursued with “peaceful and diplomatic means”. Furthermore, during the press conference Italian PM expressed his positions on the developments of the Middle East peace process by hoping that 2014 will be the year of a developing a solution, both for the Palestinians and for the stability of the region.

On the international stage, both PMs share concerns about the Libyan and Syrian situations. Nothing concrete has been said but it is clear that, with reference to Syria, there is an absolute need to enforce the UN resolution against the use of chemical weapons. 

Over the last months, Italy seemed to put a lot of efforts in strengthening its international role. The new approach of the Italian government is moving Italy in the right direction: Italy wants to be active at European as well as international level. It is undeniable that Italy has been one of the first countries to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran and to demand its involvement at the Syrian negotiation table in Geneva. Even the recent intergovernmental meeting with Russia testifies an Italian desire to assert itself as a fundamental actor in the international arena, especially in a wider regional context that moves from North Africa and Middle East to the European Eastern countries. 

A sign of the renewed role of Italy as an international actor is that Rome is becoming the place where to discuss pivotal international and European issues. It has been not long time ago when the Italian capital hosted the meeting between Netanyahu and John Kerry. Undoubtedly, we are facing impressive changes both at the European and international level. In such a complex scenario, now Italy is bouncing back as a key foreign policy player.

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