From the Red Sea to the Middle East to Ukraine and internal challenges, interview with the Undersecretary of Defense
“The attacks by the Houthis, militias supported by Iran, represent a serious threat to free navigation and the security of maritime routes, with major repercussions on the international economy and also on ours. The Red Sea is a crucial waterway and now merchant traffic is forced to take longer and more expensive navigation routes, with greater exposure to threats and dangers; this is also reflected in the prices of raw materials and risks triggering a further inflationary push”. The Undersecretary of Defense, Isabella Rauti, in an interview with Adnkronos, takes stock of the Houthi issue and an increasingly heated situation after the raid conducted by the USA and Great Britain against Houthi rebel bases in Yemen.
“It is necessary to counter the actions of the Houthis with a vigilant presence in the Red Sea area, and, in this sense, the Defense is committed with its Navy, which has already deployed the Fasan ship which operates within the mission structure European anti-piracy ‘Atalanta’, engaged in an area between the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and part of the Indian Ocean – continues the undersecretary – The situation appears more critical in these last hours and Italy continues in its surveillance and deterrence mission. The government will discuss with European partners to evaluate any initiatives to be taken to guarantee the freedom and safety of maritime traffic in that area”. From the Houthi attacks to the situation in the Middle East linked to the conflict between Israel and Hamas: “Italy’s priority is to avoid an escalation in that strategic quadrant, an eventuality that would lead to very serious geopolitical but also economic repercussions and above all to a humanitarian crisis more dramatic than the one underway. Italy wants to contribute to the stabilization process of the entire area; as in Lebanon where we have been present since 1979 as part of the UN Unifil mission, ensuring dialogue between the parties and a fundamental presence as builders of peace in support of the civilian population”, underlines Rauti.
“There are global political risks at stake, humanitarian dramas involving the civilian population – continues Rauti – From this perspective, I remember that Italy was the first to send humanitarian aid to Rafah with Air Force aircraft, and deployed Vulcano ship which since the beginning of December has been operating as a ‘Role 2’ plus type hospital; currently the Navy unit is anchored in the Egyptian port of Al Arish, and – thanks to the health teams of the Navy, Army and Air Force and to the volunteer medical staff of the Rava Foundation – provides assistance to patients from Gaza”. “Furthermore, a feasibility study has been started to create a field hospital in the Gaza Strip, as soon as the necessary security conditions exist. Italy reiterates its willingness and availability to strengthen the humanitarian intervention and to support the many civilian victims of the ongoing conflict”, underlines Rauti.
Another area of concern for Europe continues to be Ukraine, to which the government has confirmed its support by sending a new aid package: “As Defense Minister Crosetto declared in his communications to Parliament on 10 January, taking a ‘step back’ in the provision of military aid to Kiev would be a ‘strategic mistake’. On this assumption, parliament approved the eighth aid ‘package’; the first five had been launched by previous governments. This is a choice in continuity and consistently, in support of the effort that Ukraine has been making for almost two years to defend itself from Russian aggression”, observes Rauti. “This package will also consist of equipment and weapon systems already in our possession, intended to strengthen only and only the Ukrainian defensive capabilities – adds Rauti – Furthermore, humanitarian aid, generators and other material useful for the population’s resistance will also be sent civil. Broadening our gaze, we must also remember the commitment of the Italian Defense which, within NATO, participates in reinforcement and deterrence missions along the eastern flank of the Alliance”.
“2024 will be a crucial year for the conflict and Italy will continue to support all diplomatic efforts to achieve a de-escalation and to reach a constructive dialogue – he continues – with the aim of creating the conditions for a just and lasting, in line with international law and Ukraine’s right to its national sovereignty. Those who invaded cannot win, and peace cannot be an unconditional surrender.” Also in consideration of the ongoing conflicts and the new challenges also dictated by hybrid warfare, the issue of European defense continues to be crucial: “I think that no European nation can defend itself alone. It is therefore necessary to design a common defense that concerns all the Dominions, the traditional ones and the new ones, and the increasingly hybrid and complex challenges”, specifies Rauti. “A European defense system that does not represent a duplication of NATO, but which brings together the beloved forces of all the countries of the European Union, making them interoperable – explains Rauti – In the face of growing instability, it is necessary to strengthen European defense to promote global security, just as it is necessary to implement the EU’s ‘strategic compass’, definitively approved on 22 March 2022, which provides a precise action plan to strengthen European security and defense policy by 2030”.
Meanwhile, on the internal front, Defense is adapting to new scenarios by focusing on an increasingly modern formation: “The global geopolitical scenario is characterized by hybrid threats and complex challenges, which have affected conventional domains – such as land, sea, air, cyber and space – but also very new areas such as the cognitive dimension and the flow of information – adds Rauti – The ability to understand this complexity, combined with that of developing and managing timely and effective responses, requires greater integration between the Armed Forces, interoperability between systems, and the acquisition of an inter-force organizational culture that integrates, respecting them, the specialties and skills of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Carabinieri”.
“Personnel training will increasingly constitute an essential lever to achieve the integration of the capabilities of the Armed Forces, with a view to common, multidisciplinary and multi-domain paths. As an example, I cite the first Joint Forces Training Module, aimed at officers of the Armed Forces and the Carabinieri who in the rank of captain attend the General Staff course – observes Rauti – it is a specialized training offer which also includes innovative subjects such as cognitive warfare; ‘cognitive competitions’, one of new challenges to understand the threats to national security and geopolitical stability, based on the distortive use of information or disinformation. A further frontier on which to commit ourselves to stem the manipulation of opinions and therefore of human behaviour”. “The Defense will continue to invest in modern training in increasingly strategic terms, responding to the renewed needs of global security in the face of multidimensional and multidomain scenarios”, he concludes.
Finally, the contribution of the Defense also on the anti-crime front with the increase, in the latest budget law, of the military employed in the ‘Safe Roads’ operation. “The government and the Defense appreciate the results achieved in 15 years by ‘Strade Sicure’. The operation, which is carried out in collaboration with the police, represents a significant commitment by the Defense to guarantee national security, as well as a concrete example of synergistic inter-force cooperation dedicated to maintaining public order”, states the undersecretary recalling that the maneuver “envisages an overall increase of 1800 units for 2024, of which 1000 as part of the Safe Roads operation and 800 as a strengthening of the ‘Stations’ device Safe’, for the supervision of the major railway infrastructures; thus bringing the total number of soldiers engaged to 6800 units and thus reversing the reduction trend undertaken in previous years”.
“Already last October the government had integrated the Strade Sicure contingent with the use of 400 units right in the railway stations, expiring on 31 December 2023. With the budget it was intended to extend and double – with 800 units – this employment for the monitoring of the main Italian railway stations – concludes Rauti – Another tangible sign of the government’s attention towards the issues of the safety of our citizens and the control of the territory, as well as for the prevention and fight against crime”.