Hijacking rattles Italian government

Although the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro ended yesterday in Egypt, in the forum of Italian politics, the accompanying problems may not be over. Political repercussions may shake the government for some time. The immediate effect of the release of the cruise ship is one of festivity and relief.

Politicans were congratulating each other, and the families of crew members who have kept a two day vigil in the offices of the Lauro cruise organization in Naples prepared to welcome the relatives.

But while the hostages (331 of whom were Italian crew members) were still in capitivity, the fact was brought home to Italians that, for the first time, it seemed Italy itself was being singled out as a major target of Mideast terrorists.

Previous attacks by Mideast terrorists have occurred on Italian soil, but were apparently not directed against Italy. Observers say attacks were directed against foreign enemies of the terrorists who lived or worked here.

While the identity of the Palestinian guerrillas who hijacked the Achille Lauro is still unknown, many diplomatic observers here see the episode as a reason to concentrate further efforts on Italy's Middle East relations.

An editorial in the daily Corriere Della Sera said that unless Italy takes matters into its own hands, it risks having its foreign policy toward the Middle East dictated by Middle Eastern conflicts.

``These risk becoming an all-enveloping task. And our foreign policy resolves itself into being no foreign policy at all, outside of the generic one of a search for peace,'' the paper editorialized.

But before the government can get to defining foreign policy, it must first take the time to stabilize itself.

Antonio Gambino, a foreign policy expert says, ``Unfortunately the first tangible consequence [of the hijacking] will be political fireworks in the Italian Parliament.''

Already there is squabbling between the five government coalition parties over Italy's friendship and support of Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Italy was one of the first Western countries to recognize the PLO.

Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini and Alfredo Biondi, leader of the tiny Liberal Party, are opposed to this close relationship.

``They will take this occasion to show their displeasure, possibly by threatening to withdraw their parties from the government,'' says Mr. Gambino.

Nevertheless, foreign policy analyst Gambino speculates that Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and Foreign Minster Giolio Andreotti will be able to defend and maintain the coalition government in the face of such an attack.

Gambino says once the government is again on firm footing, it can tackle forming a cohesive foreign policy toward the Mideast. He says Prime Minister Craxi would be well advised to develop and maintain good relations with the PLO and Arab countries.

The liberal daily La Repubblica called for concrete steps to safeguard Italy, as well as all other countries whose shores face Middle Eastern countries,from terriorist acts.

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