Italy's Foreign Ministry has summoned the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to Rome to convey Rome's "great disappointment" at the Persian Gulf state's refusal to allow an Italian military aircraft to enter its airspace.
The development came after the oil-rich state banned the overflight of Italian Air Force Boeing 767 jet carrying nearly 40 journalists en route to a military ceremony in the Afghan city of Herat, where Italy’s Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini had arrived earlier to take part in a flag-lowering ceremony at the country’s military base there.
"On the instructions of [Foreign] Minister Luigi Di Maio, the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Ettore Sequi, has summoned today the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Omar Al Shamsi, to the foreign ministry,” the ministry declared in a Tuesday statement.
“The Secretary General has expressed to the Ambassador his surprise and great disappointment for an unexpected gesture that is hard to understand," the statement added.
According to the Italian foreign ministry statement, after Abu Dhabi’s refusal to allow the use of its airspace, its jetliner was forced to land in the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam, where it flew off for Herat “using a route further north” after a few hours.
Italian news outlets further reported that due to the UAE’s move, the ceremony in Herat to mark the conclusion of Italy's nearly 20-year mission to Afghanistan next month was delayed by several hours to allow Italian military jetliner to refuel and fly there by a different route.
Diplomatic ties between Rome and Abu Dhabi deteriorated after the Italian government’s decision to impose an arms embargo on the UAE due to its military aggression against Yemen – in partnership with the Saudi regime – and the massive bombardment of its civilian areas.
Bilateral relations soured after Italy canceled permits for the export of missiles and aerial bombs to the UAE and Saudi Arabia back in January. At the time, Foreign Minister Di Maio stated that Rome had made the decision on the basis of inalienable values and principles, including respect for human rights.
The issue of European and US arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia amidst the bloody war on Yemen has been highly controversial.
In February, US President Joe Biden called for “ending all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales,” but his administration decided to proceed with over $23 billion in weapons sales to Abu Dhabi later in April.
Human Rights Watch has blasted the Biden administration for ‘backing out of its pledge’ and resuming arms sales to the regime.
“Any re-examination of US arms sales to the UAE should have determined that the risk they could be used to commit laws-of-war violations is high, especially given the evidence that the Saudi and UAE-led coalition have already used US weapons in bombings unlawfully harming civilians and civilian sites in Yemen since the beginning of the war in 2015,” said an HRW statement at the time.