Italy defence minister in UAE arms row

Angelo Tofalo in Abu Dhabi

ROME - Defence Undersecretary and member of the Five Star Movement (M5S) Angelo Tofalo has enraged Minister of Defence Elisabetta Trenta and the pacifist wing of the M5S by attending IDEX 2019, the international defence exhibition in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and proposing that a similar weapons fair be held in Milan.

 According to government sources, “the participation of the undersecretary at the Abu Dhabi event stems from his own personal initiative never discussed with the Minister of Defence, Elisabetta Trenta, as well as the idea of ​​having an exhibition of the defence industry in Italy,” Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

 Without this lack of communication, Trenta would have intervened to prevent Tofalo from attending, “because he did not respect the programmatic policies of the M5S.”

 The proposal for “A great exhibition on the defence industry, perhaps annually in Milan, to build the country system together,” came directly from IDEX 2019 in a post on Facebook. The idea was born due to the need to “support our excellences in defence so that gaps and obstacles can be overcome to affirm Italy in the international market.”

 The IDEX event this year hosted some 1,300 companies from all over the world. The frigate Margottini also set sail on Jan. 17 from the port of La Spezia for a tour that aims to promote “the country system” in the Middle East and the Arabian Sea.

 By promoting Italy’s cooperation in exporting arms to countries accused of serious violations of human rights, such as Saudi Arabia, for its role in the conflict in Yemen, Tofalo has clashed with the pacifist wing of the M5S who are fighting to prevent this.

 According to a resolution from the European Parliament dated Oct. 4, 2018, “all EU member states are urged to refrain from selling weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and any member of the international coalition, as well as to the Yemeni government and other parties in the conflict.”

 “Undersecretary Tofalo's participation in IDEX 2019 represents a clear message of political support from Conte’s government to the military intervention that sees the United Arab Emirates, together with Saudi Arabia, in Yemen,” said Giorgio Beretta from the Permanent Observatory on Light Weapons (OPAL), an organisation that fights against arms exports to countries in conflict or accused of violating human rights.

 Previously, Tofalo hit headlines in 2016 by travelling to Istanbul with arms dealer Annamaria Fontana, who later ended up in prison, to try and support a coup d'etat in Libya.