About a Possible Italian Involvement in Syria

Italy’s hard choice.

Syrian citizens have been witnessing a devastating war since 2011. The conflict broke out as the result of the Arab Spring in the country. The protest movement, peaceful at the beginning, has then turned to be violent, following the harsh repression exerted by the Bashar al-Assad’s government. The Middle East had always experienced turmoil and outbreaks of violence. However, what is happening in Syria is one of the most complicated civil wars that occurred in the last decades.

A violent conflict

The complexity of this conflict lies behind the wide variety of actors involved in the war and their different identities. Those who represent the ‘rebels’ are not a unitary entity. The opposition front is composed of many different groups whit equally different interests. Indeed, most of the time, they are unable to agree on shared strategies, having in common just the hostility towards Assad. Another extremely critical factor in this bloody war is the massive involvement of civilians during the fights. The Russia-Iran-Assad coalition has shown no compassion in launching airstrikes and rockets against residential areas or even hospitals.

Western involvement

However, the main issue published in the front pages of all the international newspapers was the recent involvement in the conflict of some of the most important western powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. These countries decided to attack the government forces, accused of using chemical weapons in the city of Douma, under Russian and Syrian control.

The order to attack three chemical bases in Syria in the night between April 14 and 15, firstly came from the American President Donald Trump, subsequently followed by Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron. Given the involvement of the two European powers, Italy is right now in a state of uncertainty. The decision of not intervening could represent the always feared loss of authority and influence in the international arena and in the European Union. Nonetheless, intervening alongside the western powers would mean to openly line up against Russia, one of the main Italian commercial partners.

Salvini’s position

Clearly, many interests are at stake, but the declarations of some Italian political leaders definitely show a real lack of international sensibility. First of all, Matteo Salvini’s declaration in favor of Russia and Assad should make us reflect on the consideration he has for liberal democracy. Neither of these two leaders is famous for his democratic approach and actions: suppressing protests with violence and persecution, something that has been widely reported to be commonplace in both countries, cannot be even partly shared or justified by any democratic leader.

Additionally, by stating that, Matteo Salvini has also shown big flaws in his understanding of the Syrian conflict. Indeed, he claims to support the two leaders in their fight against the Islamic State. However, the IS represents just the 5 percent of the non-government forces involved, therefore, they are a large minority compared to all the other components fighting Assad. This last is not fighting the Islamic State, but everyone who aspires to overthrow him and create a democratic state respectful of human rights, instead of his authoritarian system mainly based on repression and violence. It should be also noted that the 94 percent of the victims of the Syrian war have been caused by the Assad-Putin alliance.

Who aims at leading a country should never forget that, especially because Italy is part of a treaty (the NATO treaty) that makes the United Kingdom, the United States, and France allies, while Russia and Syria are not.

Di Maio’s position

As for the Five Star Movement, the party also took a stand against the intervention, advocating different reasons. Indeed, they point out that, as written in the Italian constitution, Italy repudiates war as a mean of attack. However, the leader of the Five Star Movement Luigi Di Maio expressed his solidarity with the position taken by the other Western powers, offering a possible Italian cooperation only through peaceful means. This is definitely a more reasonable position, especially because Italy still lies in a political vacuum difficult to fill, due to the current lack of a government and a Prime Minister. As long as Italy will not have an executive, it will be difficult to reach a common and clear position on such a sensitive issue.

Not an easy choice

Nevertheless, Italy is also bound by the international law and, as the Director of ISPI (Istituto degli Studi di Politica Internazionale) Paolo Magri has rightly remarked, the responsibility and the actual use of chemical weapons should be verified before any intervention. The Syrian conflict has already killed half a million Syrians and there will be many more victims, since the conflict does not seem to be close to an end.

What we cannot forget is that Italy is a democratic country, and therefore should at least show its support to other democratic states, in particular when bound by international duties and agreements. However, although not directly, this conflict already involves Italy and Europe: the more the war becomes brutal, the more refugees arrive on the European shores. Perhaps, political leaders should consider that the violence carried out by their sometimes estimated leaders, is one of the first reasons behind the large flows of migrants. The same flows that someone promised to reduce during his electoral campaign.