Friday, November 18, 2005

Fighting Totalitarianism - Gianfranco Fini

The Wall Street Journal - The suicide bombing this past Nov. 9 in Amman is just the latest in a string of indiscriminate massacres of innocent civilians perpetrated by terrorist groups. These shocking images of death and destruction, however, should not make us lose sight of the extraordinary new phase of transformation that has begun in the Middle East.

The signs are there for all to see: encouraging developments in Iraq's political and institutional process; the Beirut Spring; the reopening of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians; and the elections in Egypt. With sustained support, this could lead to a future of peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity for a region long battered by hatred and conflict. The opponents of just such a prospect will certainly continue their savagery to assure its failure.

This is why the Italian government is committed to doing its part to ensure that these hopes can be realized. For us it is a foreign policy priority to unite the countries of the Middle East (as well as our Mediterranean neighbors) in a common area of friendship, cooperation and solidarity.

This is a moral and political imperative. It is also in the strategic interest of the European Union as our still vivid recollections of the bombings in New York, Madrid and London make all too clear. But it will take more than good will to achieve peace. The EU will have to do more than make solemn declarations if it wishes to cooperate effectively in the fight against terrorism with the United Nations, the U.S., and its other leading international partners.

It will have to do more than issue noble proclamations if it wishes to make progress toward the parallel but closely related goal of establishing peace and democracy in the Middle East. Hence the importance of Israel's request for EU assistance in patrolling the Rafah border. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave me advance notice of this appeal during my recent visit to Israel.

The agreement that has just been reached for an EU mission under the command of Italian General Pietro Pistolese to supervise the border between Gaza and Egypt represents a unique opportunity. It will allow the EU to play a crucial role in bolstering confidence and trust between the parties and improve security on the ground. If it succeeds, Europe will have made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Quartet, which is striving to reopen negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The same logic applies to Iraq where Europe can and should do more to help in the rebuilding of the country and its institutions. The benefits of success would spread far beyond the Iraqi borders. The terrorists are the first to understand this, which helps to explain the growing iniquity of the enemies of a free and democratic Iraq.

But the barbarous threats of suicide bombers have failed to prevent millions of Iraqis from lining up to vote with their heads held high. Their heroic sense of civic duty bears noble witness to a sincere democratic will that we cannot disregard. The Iraqi people's desire to participate in the formation of their new government is gradually overcoming internal divisions. The peaceful methods of civil and democratic dialogue are starting to replace acrimonious conflict.

The active involvement of the international community in this new Iraq -- as envisaged by the unanimously adopted U.N. Security Council Resolution 1637 -- will be vital for helping its nascent institutions to complete the transition. Equally indispensable will be the efforts of the multinational forces deployed there to help the Iraqi forces gradually take full control of their own security. Success here will be one of the primary conditions for determining the length of the mandate of the multilateral forces.

Italy, as we have often stated, has no intention of staying in Iraq one minute more than our Iraqi friends want us to. But neither shall we stay one minute less. Europe has also a crucial contribution to make to the current negotiations with Iran: To convince Teheran to act responsibly and thereby dispel the cloud of nuclear proliferation hanging over all of our heads. Italy and Iran have a special, ancient tradition of friendship and familiarity. We are convinced that an Iran finally liberated from the shackles of radical fundamentalism can play an essential role in ensuring the stability of the entire region.

This is why we were so dismayed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's irresponsible statements calling for the elimination of the state of Israel. We are not alone in our concerns. Such declarations illustrate the magnitude of the constant threat looming over the Israeli people, a threat which has thwarted so far all prospects of peaceful coexistence in the region.

Today more than ever, peace and democracy in the Middle East may be within our grasp. But they will not be achieved unless we first uproot the absolute hatred that sets as its goal the total annihilation of the adversary.

Today peace and democracy are threatened by forms of totalitarianism somehow unlike those experienced in 20th century Europe. But this hatred has never ceased to show its evil face in periodic outbreaks of anti-Semitism, surreptitious but no less lethal than the terrorist totalitarianism it accompanies. To weaken the former we must combat the latter, without indulgence or justification. Europe and Italy have a special responsibility that we cannot ignore. Italy, for one, has no intention of doing so.

Mr. Fini is foreign minister of Italy.