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Old May 30th, 2014, 11:01 PM   #1

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The crisis of Sigonella


This event in the history of Middle East [embedded in the years of the Cold War] was probably the point of highest tense between the United States and the Italian Republic.

Between Italian PM Craxi and President Reagan there were moments which have remained ... and overall the confrontation among Navy Seals and Italian soldiers in an Italian - American base in Sicily is still on history books.

What happened?

Chronology
Monday, October 7, 1985 the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, at 13:07, while it was preparing to land in Israel, was taken hostage by four armed Palestinian terrorists [who had boarded with false passports].
The crew managed to send an SOS which was picked up in Sweden. The terrorists declared themselves representatives of the PLO, but in fact belonged to the pro-Syrian faction of a minority component close to Syria, the PFLP. The kidnappers demanded the release of 50 fellow prisoners in Israeli jails.

Upon receiving the news at about 17:00, the Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti and Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini is alerted to a deal that, from the outset, appeared particularly complex. Andreotti, in the evening, he called the crisis unit immediately activating diplomatic channels, Spadolini, however, summoned all the leaders of the armed forces and intelligence.
After a phone call between Andreotti and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader said in a press release to be totally unrelated to the events of the kidnapping. Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister will be able to get in touch with senior Egyptian politicians.


On the night of October 7, after a meeting at the Ministry of Defence, officially began operation Margherita, which involved the mobilization of four transport helicopters, with 60 paratroopers, rangers, and scouts to locate the position of the ship.
October 8 at 3:00 Yasser Arafat went back in touch with the government, he communicated the names of two negotiators responsible for collaborating with the Egyptian government; Abu Abbas stood between them. In fact, Abbas was the instigator and leader of the failed plan of hostage-taking in Ashdod.
The Achille Lauro seemed directed towards the Syrian coast. The kidnappers, reaffirmed calls for the release of 50 prisoners and, in addition, demanded negotiations with the Ambassadors of Italy, the U.S., the UK and West Germany under the mediation of the International Red Cross. The threat to the rejection was to blow up the ship. Andreotti and Craxi, ready to deal, however, had a stop by U.S. ambassador, who declared that Ronald Reagan would be opposed to any negotiations with the terrorists.

On the ship, meanwhile, the situation degenerated: the terrorists threatened to start killing every 3 minutes, all the prisoners. Leon Klinghoffer was murdered and thrown into the sea off the coast of Tartus. However, the kidnappers did not continue in implementing their threat. Received stop by Abbas, who had managed to get in touch with them, the terrorists followed his directions and ordered the commander De Rosa to sail to Egypt, Port Said.

Wednesday 9: begins the confrontation Italy-United States

The U.S. government threatened armed intervention to free the passengers on the ship, excluding any Italian intervention.
In Egypt, Abbas persuaded the terrorists to surrender, promising an escape diplomatic supported by the PLO and managed by the Italian Government. The ship's captain De Rosa, was forced to confirm that all the passengers were unharmed and therefore not to reveal the killing of Klinghoffer. Therefore, despite the new American opposition, the safe-conduct was signed by Ambassador Migliuolo and the ship was released.
The hijackers of the "Achille Lauro", landed at Alexandria and taken over by the Egyptians, were promised safe conduct and transfer to another Arab country. The Egyptian government decided to send them immediately in Tunisia. At that time, it was there that the PLO had its headquarters.
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Old May 30th, 2014, 11:15 PM   #2

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A civilian aircraft, a Boeing 737 airline Egyptian [n EgyptAir. 2843], officially became a means of transport of the State; with the four hijackers of the ship and representatives of the PLO, boarded also an Egyptian ambassador and some elements of the Egyptian security service.


Between Thursday 10 and Friday 11: the clash of Sigonella


U.S. President Ronald Reagan, from Chicago, agreed to the proposal of Robert McFarlane and Oliver North to intercept the plane unilaterally; four F-14 Tomcat took off from the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga near Malta, they reached the plane in air and using movements of the wings they ordered it to follow them. The Tunisian government first, and then the Greek, denied landing and so did also the Israeli authorities. So the American fighters decided to hijack the plane on the base at Sigonella Naval Air Station at Sigonella in Sicily.

The U.S. government, without having informed the Italian Government of the hijacking, tried to contact Craxi, nut they did not find him. Oliver North then turned to Michael Ledeen, a consultant of the CIA who passed himself off Craxi, thanks to ancient relations dating back to the period for perfecting in Italian university; Craxi asked only "because in Italy?" North said, "perfect for your climate, your fabulous cuisine and cultural traditions that Sicily has to offer".

The President of the Italian council, annoyed by this improvisation, intended to allow the landing yes, but deal with the consequences themselves. In secret, he ordered the military leaders that terrorists and brokers were put under the control of the Italian authorities
Both the Tower Controller that his assistant were in the dark about the identity of the passengers on board of the Egyptian aircraft.

The landing occurred at 0:15.; The Comptroller of the Italian military Torre and his assistant, without receiving orders from anyone, on their own initiative instructed the Egyptian plane to park on the east side of the pitch [Italian area]. The two soldiers warned the Italian Carabinieri and the VAM, the guard of the airport, of its arrival.

30 soldiers of the VAM and 20 Carabinierimmediatamente converged on the track, surrounding the plane, according to orders received. A few minutes later they landed - lights off and without permission from the control tower - two Lockheed C-141 Starlifter of the American Navy SEALs under the command of Brigadier General Carl W. Stiner; headed the Egyptian Boeing: they wanted to take the hijackers and Abu Abbas; the runway lights were turned off immediately. The tension skyrocketed because the military 50 SEALs, dropped from C-141, they surrounded the Italian soldiers and the police, but they in turn were surrounded with guns trained by other police officers, who had meanwhile arrived from the nearby barracks of Catania and Syracuse.

Everyone stood his ground: at that time there were three concentric circles around the plane.
Stiner - he had news from the United States thanks to real-time satellite equipment - warned Colonel Annichiarico to be in contact with the Oval Office and said, "The Italian government has promised to hand over the Palestinians, and I do not understand the strength of you military ". Admiral Martini, contacted Rome, and made answer Stiner: "We have instructions to leave them there."
They reached immediately notices from Washington. Addressed by diplomatic and military at the top of the Italian Government. Not aving received a positive response, U.S. President Reagan, infuriated by the behavior of Italians,it was decided to call in the middle of the night to the Prime Minister Craxi to request delivery of terrorists.
But Craxi did not changed his mind: the crimes had committed on Italian territory and therefore Italy would have decided whether and who was to extradite.

At 5:30, when the Carabinieri General Bisogniero ordered the intervention of armored vehicles and other reinforcements, the American attack forces received the order to withdraw.
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Old May 30th, 2014, 11:58 PM   #3

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Considering the murderers of a US Citizen were happily on their way to Tunisia with Italian blessings, one can hardly blame Reagan for thinking Italy might just let them go. Again.
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Old May 31st, 2014, 12:35 AM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tercios Espanoles View Post
Considering the murderers of a US Citizen were happily on their way to Tunisia with Italian blessings, one can hardly blame Reagan for thinking Italy might just let them go. Again.
I have focused my attention on what happened at the airport of Sigonella ... what followed was typically Italian [in the worse sense of the term].

Craxi wasn't so much diplomatic [he was a Socialist, not a Christian Democrat like the majority of the PMs until that period] and he felt the need to demonstrate to be able to deal with authority even with the United States. It's not that clear why Craxi took those decisions, Italian Socialists are historically near the US [since they "left Moscow"].

May he was concerned by an internal reaction [political and extremist] in case he was too "lined up" with Washington.
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Old May 31st, 2014, 12:45 AM   #5
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Craxi decided right. Who is USA to think they can do something like this? Imagine if italian troops would land in USA to arrest a criminal!
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Old May 31st, 2014, 12:54 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlpinLuke View Post
I have focused my attention on what happened at the airport of Sigonella ... what followed was typically Italian [in the worse sense of the term].

Craxi wasn't so much diplomatic [he was a Socialist, not a Christian Democrat like the majority of the PMs until that period] and he felt the need to demonstrate to be able to deal with authority even with the United States. It's not that clear why Craxi took those decisions, Italian Socialists are historically near the US [since they "left Moscow"].

May he was concerned by an internal reaction [political and extremist] in case he was too "lined up" with Washington.
He also tipped off Quadaffi and told him to get out of Dodge when the US tried to terminate him with prejudice via F-111s in 1986. I suspect he had, shall we say, sympathies.
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Old May 31st, 2014, 12:54 AM   #7

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Overall it was quite just an "American way" to deal with the matter.

Since the crimes [overall the murder of the passenger] happened on an Italian ship, so in Italian territory, according to international agreements about naval jurisdiction.

From this perspective Craxi was right, the oddity came since usually Italian government tend to interpret in favor of the "big ally" rules and laws when similar things happen.
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Old May 31st, 2014, 12:56 AM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tercios Espanoles View Post
He also tipped off Quadaffi and told him to get out of Dodge when the US tried to terminate him with prejudice via F-111s in 1986. I suspect he had, shall we say, sympathies.
In Northern Africa, absolutely he had. When Italian justice persecuted him, he migrated to Tunisia where he lived in peace and protected for the rest of his life. His tomb is not in Italy, but in Tunisia ...
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Old May 31st, 2014, 12:59 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlpinLuke View Post
Overall it was quite just an "American way" to deal with the matter.

Since the crimes [overall the murder of the passenger] happened on an Italian ship, so in Italian territory, according to international agreements about naval jurisdiction.

From this perspective Craxi was right, the oddity came since usually Italian government tend to interpret in favor of the "big ally" rules and laws when similar things happen.
stand your ground and don't be a coward. Italy is a great nation and does not need to bend infront USA.
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Old May 31st, 2014, 01:03 AM   #10

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What is interesting about the affair is that Reagan backed down, which is totally out of character. I suppose we'll have to wait another fifty years to find out what really went on behind the scenes. I suspect certain dire threats were made should the terrorists be allowed to walk free.
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