The Italian State Secret That Could Aid The Kurds

Thanks to a hidden supply of weapons seized from a Russian arms trafficker 20 years ago, Italy may be able to quickly help Kurdish fighters as they battle against the ISIS jihadist terrorists.

Peshmerga Special Forces in Zakho, Iraq
Peshmerga Special Forces in Zakho, Iraq
Francesco Grignetti

ROMESo far, it has mostly been the United States supporting Kurdish efforts against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. In northern Iraq, U.S. aircraft have delivered 15,000 weapons to Kurdish fighters over the past four weeks.

But the Italian Parliament has just approved a plan to send weapons to Kurdish militants to help them in their fight against ISIS jihadists. The first Italian aircraft could participate in an airlift to Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous region, this week.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, has explicitly requested "modern weaponry" and "air cover" from the West — even to the papal envoy last week. Kurdish fighters — called the Peshmerga — particularly want small arms, shoulder rockets and plenty of ammunition, as they are hastily equipping volunteers rushing against the ISIS advance.

Yet there may be some technical issues along the way. "The Kurdish Peshmerga have always used Soviet-manufactured weapons," says Gianandrea Gaiani, a military expert. The problem is that NATO weaponry standards are much different than those of the former Soviet bloc. Even the ammunition is incompatible. Italy can much more easily give helmets, flak jackets, bomb protection, night vision goggles, and laser targeting systems.

Thousands of hidden weapons

But if Kurds really need Kalashnikovs, perhaps Italy is in the perfect position to help.

Twenty years ago, Italy participated in a seizure operation at sea during the Balkan war. The "Jadran Express," a transport ship coming from Ukraine and traveling towards Split, in Croatia, was intercepted and taken to the southern Italian port of Taranto.

It turns out that the freighter was transporting a massive arsenal: crates with 30,000 AK-47s, 400 9K111 Fagot missiles with associated ramp launches, 5,000 Katyusha rockets, 11,000 anti-tank rockets, and 32 million munitions.

Authorities arrested Russian oligarch Alexander Zukhov, a billionaire with a Sardinian villa, for the haul. His grandfather was the legendary Marshal Georgy Zukhov of the Red Army.

After 10 years on trial, Zukhov and other defendants were acquitted. The defense argued that the weaponry load had never entered Italian territorial waters. The Supreme Court eventually acknowledged that Italy had no criminal jurisdiction to penalize arms trafficking outside its borders.

A state secret

These 2,000 tons of weapons were confiscated and, despite a judicial destruction order, the load remained stored underground on the Isola della Maddalena, in northern Sardinia.

The huge weapons supply was taken off the island in the spring of 2011, just as the war in Libya began. Some of the weapons were probably sold for cash to the Benghazi rebels, disguised by various loads.

Rumors spread that some of the weapons were in containers aboard civilian ferries. Two parliament members, Gianpiero Scanu and Giulio Calvisi, raised the issue in front of the Italian Parliament. Their questions were dropped by the government, then headed by Silvio Berlusconi. When Sardinia's judiciary found out, the investigation fell through. It was a state secret.

What's left of the arsenal is now stored somewhere by the Italian Armed Forces. These thousands of rifles, rockets, missiles and ammunition, kept in complete secrecy since 1994, might finally find their perfect use with the Kurds.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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