The operation begins after the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel: bombing, seizure of seaports and airplanes, destruction and a widespread sense of general confusion are the daily scenario of the (again) martyred country of cedars.
In the sweet and unfortunate Lebanon there is no longer even the fuel to produce electricity. The same refrigerators have stopped working. in the meantime Hezbollah, knotted to the deep links of the Lebanese society, he rides the social uneasiness to give the last jolt and to drop the government of the Sunnite Fouad Siniora.
France is remembered to be the stepmother of a land that has come to modernity in exchange for its soft and western profile, unique in the Arab world. She remembers it especially when her interests are in danger, risking to vanquish decades of connections and interweaving, which in any case make history. in bistro elegant Beirut, frequented by the educated middle class, "on parle français, re-say ".
Paris offers to send 2000 soldiers but they are late and in the end they do not even leave. Between a rethink and an expectation, the transalpine contingent is reduced to 200 men, insufficient for everything, above all to give an important signal to the international community.
The ball bounces off and comes to Prodi announcing the sending of 1000 Italians.
Occasion or usual piece due to the allies?
At the moment it is difficult to evaluate, the fact is that the news is official: in Lebanon ours come, indeed they come back.
The rebounded ball passes from politics to defense which has the difficult task of organizing the intervention.
For a strange astral combination, the Navy is with all three amphibious ships in operational efficiency. The event, rare for ordinary maintenance issues, is taken as a sign of an inevitable destiny.
Admiral De Giorgi, just leaning back in his seat, starts talking. His tone of voice is sure. With his eyes he transmits security and goodness of mind. In the irony of his words, an uncommon curiosity peeps out among those used to decide and command:
At the time I commanded the forces of offshore, made up of all the major Navy ships. My deputy was the commander of the so-called Italian Naval Group. It was he who would have to break away from the main command, take the assigned forces and leave. Admiral Di Paola decided, however, that I was the one to lead the operation.
I received the order while I was at the beach in Taranto with my wife and Admiral Branciforte, commander in chief of the team.
"Admiral you must leave for Lebanon ... "
I went directly to Nave Garibaldi to proceed with the preparation together with my staff.
Planning was done in navigation because there were no other margins to prepare.
The advantage of a command ship, peculiar to the Navy, is that unlike other armed forces it does not take a month to prepare the details of a mission. The ship, in port in Taranto or on mission, constantly had a staff ready and operational.
From Taranto, after the ceremony, I made the Garibaldi route at full speed: 25 knots. The cargo ships, San Giusto, San Giorgio and San Marco followed 14 nodes. This allowed me to get 30 hours before.
At 200 miles, with a SH-3D, I reached ground with an escort of raiders. Anticipating my arrival further.
The landing area on which the Army component was pressed was at 50 kilometers of road from Beirut. The Army General Staff and the Interforces Operational Command requested an "administrative landing", so as not to be noticed: you enter the port, the staff descend as from a ferry and good night ...
We wanted to reduce the military caliber of the operation by minimizing the role of the Navy. Fortunately, eventually common sense prevailed: two beaches were located just south of the capital.
There was a turtle sanctuary nearby. We even had to carry out a reconnaissance to avoid politically incorrect actions and repercussions of image on the whole operation.
The sight of Beirut was poignant. I knew her well: sweet and mischievous, welcoming as an easy woman on a summer's night, this time she was still offended by the war.
Pillars of smoke in different parts of the city were a bad symptom. I landed on a quay in the port, where the Italian military attaché was already waiting for us.
We reached the embassy with a convoy of armored cars. With the ambassador we took stock of the situation and then reached the Lebanese Defense General Staff and explained our plan of operation.
The cut of light on the Corniche (the road that runs along the sea between the Downtown and Hamra) remained an oasis of good memories, corrupted just by the state of affairs. I tried not to get distracted by the drunkenness of the sunset over an indigo blue sea, so difficult and so familiar.
Suggestions leave room for military plans. Admiral De Giorgi hurries to Naqoura to meet French general Alain Pellegrini, head of UNIFIL. It's up to him to get on the Garibaldi and find the armed AV-8s on the flight deck. Every now and then in the world (and especially in the French) it is worth remembering that Italians are not just spaghetti and mandolin ....
The move is effective: Pellegrini is very impressed by the assets. In the operative center his attitude changes with respect to the first approach with De Giorgi: as a somewhat presumptuous French soldier, he becomes a ready-to-work colleague.
The admiral continues, his eyes still full of images.
We agreed on the operation and as soon as the other ships arrived we began the landing: 1100 men without any accident or unforeseen event. It was the largest non-training Italian landing since the post-war period.
At dawn, we sent the divers to do an amine check; then he touched the helicopters, the AV7s and the rest of the vehicles ....
Was there any mines?
We did not find it.
On the other hand the Lebanese Navy ...
It practically did not exist.
At this point, the operation seems to have ended. From Rome, they press for the ships to enter the exercise Offshore. For Italy there seems to be no significant role in Lebanon.
De Giorgi goes to greet the chief of Lebanese Defense Secretary with the ongoing Israeli air blockade. It was reported to the admiral that the Prime Minister wanted to meet him.
Continue De Giorgi, more and more immersed in the suggestions of the story.
Perplexed, myself and Ambassador Mistretta, we went. The Prime Minister, after some formality, asked me if I was able to take the naval block away from the Israelis. An UN task force was to be born and it would have to go to the Germans. Since the German parliamentary process is very long, even worse than ours, and since Deutsche Marine was still in Germany and it would take more than 40 days to activate the anti-arms bargaining task force, I responded instinctively. We had a carrier and the necessary means.
"Telefoni a Prodi" was obviously my recommendation.
After the meeting, with the ambassador, we went to dinner in a restaurant not far from the waterfront. It was behind one of the embankments set up to prevent the 76mm of Israeli gunboats from striking the city. Beirut seemed accustomed to these humiliations. Sweet life and death kept running alongside. Luxury and light intertwined with misery and darkness.
Right at the restaurant, Ambassador Mistretta's phone rang. He was his French colleague, who did not even know half the hour after Lebanon's request ... He was furious!
So he began a competition with France, intent on not getting out of the game by the Italians. Lebanon, to hear them, always stayed at home ...
There was also a French admiral in the area with some ships.
I remember talking to Admiral Di Paola and Admiral Binelli Mantelli, they recommended that we agree.
Helicopter arrived Admiral Magne to illustrate the planned plan: protocol with Lebanese Marina and UN; division of competence between the southern coast of Lebanon in Rome and the northern coast, corresponding to the area of most French influence, in Paris. The colleague seemed satisfied.
I returned to my command after leaving the project draft for French with a view of maximum openness and collaboration. He sent it to his Command.
In short, my work came to the UN, but remodeled as it was a French idea! In addition, letters of invitation to England, Greece and even Italy were sent to France.
When I noticed their behavior I adjusted myself accordingly, playing with cunning. At the low blow I reacted by continuing the work of involving Lebanese and the UN military and civilians on board our ships. Pellegrini himself was not averse to it!
At that point, however, you had to shoot!
The key was the Israelis.
With the help of our secret services, I organized a meeting with an Israeli representative with responsibility for making decisions.
One night, in great secrecy, De Giorgi flies to Haifa by helicopter. After an adventurous flight at very low altitude to 50 miles offshore to exit the Lebanese radar detection, plainclothes, the Admiral reaches a given point ascending to 1000 feet. The helicopter calls the Israeli control already waiting for the Italians and ready to drive them to their destination: a pitch near a hospital, among people with wheelchairs, sickly dangling and people attached to the drip.
It looked like a film: a military perimeter formed immediately. I remember a female soldier in particular, as beautiful as an actress: black, long, loose hair, mirrored glasses and submachine gun ...
With an anonymous bus, after many secondary roads, they took us to a small square. Crossing a blue metal door, after going down some flights of concrete stairs, I found myself in an underground bunker. It was an operational center of the Israeli Navy.
I met the deputy commander of the Navy, Admiral Zur.
I showed the protocol of understanding. He moved away with the document. After waiting for 20 minutes he told me that if I had signed the document to the UN and the Lebanese I would have had his word of honor that the Israeli blockade would be removed. Handshake, two pastries, and back at full speed from the head of the Lebanese Navy, with whom in the meantime I had made a real friendship. I confirmed the availability that I expected.
The decisive move was made by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert who told himself (without talking about the meeting) happy to pass on to the Italians the responsibility of the naval blockade. He thus removed every alibi from the UN Secretary-General: there were no more obstacles before the world public opinion and above all the Lebanese.
The French until the last tried to prevent the agreement by questioning our readiness and ability.
While I was at sea, Pellegrini called me again asking if I had a delegation from the Italian government. I flipped to Naqoura by helicopter (it was the September 7, ed) and shortly after came the document signed by the Lebanese authorities.
Copied from a wrong draft did not bring a sentence for us fundamental! We resolved in a quarter of an hour the typo thanks to the ready availability of the Lebanese colleagues; at that point only Pellegrini's signature was missing. On the phone with the UN secretary general he presented the situation: a document signed by the Lebanese authorities and an Italian admiral present ...
"Then sign! "Was the indication. And he signed.
Shortly thereafter, in my presence, the call came from a French representative who became very angry at the signing of the agreement.
"The Italians are ready and are already here. The general secretary said to sign and I did it! "Was Pellegrini's decided response, piqued with his own countrymen.
The general came from the Navy Infantry (which is in the Army in France) and had spent his entire life serving in Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa and the Middle East. During the civil war he had also saved the life of the general Maronite Aoun (now president of Lebanon) in the attack in which 200 US Marines lost their lives. Then young captain, he had pulled him out of the wounded rubble and together they had waited for help!
With the signing of the document, the Italians celebrate at the table of Naqoura, enjoying the dishes of the Indian chef.
The next morning, knowing the scenographic effect of an important vessel like the Garibaldi (after months in which no friendly ships were seen in the roadstead), De Giorgi had our flagship positioned at 700 meters from the skyscrapers of Beirut. It also raises a huge tricolor on the tallest tree.
He lands in a motorboat, wearing the very visible white uniform and goes into the symbolic Place des Martyrs to the monument of Lebanese fallen; there, lays a crown and formalizes the assumption of responsibility for the operation.
Israelis maintain their positions. Concern is up to the arrival of a COC call (Combat Operational Center): the Israeli admiral met in Haifa shortly before, raises a problem via satellite.
De Giorgi remembers every moment of that excited phase.
There! Now, after announcing a solution, it comes out of the unexpected thing that sends everything to the air ... it's a glittering world, I thought.
What was happening?
Easy to imagine. The French pressured the Israelis not to accept it, discrediting our readiness and our ability to attract international cooperation (no country would be under our command).
"But are you in position? "The question.
"Yes "my answer.
"And are you ready? "Replies.
"Yes, we have the navy and the men needed. "
At the third contact with the admiral, in half an hour, I was told that I would be contacted by the Israeli fleet commander for the passage of responsibility in controlling the Lebanese waters. So it happened.
After a couple of hours from the event, the first English frigate arrived and asked to go to our orders. Synthetically, I retransmitted a "Permission granted". The commander reached me on board a Linx on the Garibaldi to meet me. They were the first, followed a few hours later by the Greeks, traditionally very pro-British.
The following day also came the French with two ships ...
They went out of their way unexpectedly explaining that they would not have been our orders, but they would have notified their area of operations ...
"Negative "was my answer.
"If you want to participate in the operation, you will do the same as the others and place them where I think, according to my evaluation! "
Obviously I did not inform the episode about Rome, otherwise they would have ordered me to override and accept the conditions of the French.
Admiral, what was the success of?
To different factors.
First of all by involving the Lebanese civil and military authorities directly and with respect. Many had also attended the Naval Academy of Livorno; a Lebanese vessel lieutenant who collaborated with us even found his Accademia paricord on board!
The second factor was to have a very short chain of command. I spoke directly with Admiral Di Paola, the head of our Defense, while the French colleagues had much longer response times.
Di Paola, bypassing the normal procedures, had formalized a direct dependency. A competent and educated person, he called me twice a day. I had managed to let me directly call his calls in the cabin without further formalities or expectations. I already felt it at the 6 and 30 in the morning when I was in bed or in underwear around the accommodation, I was responding to his "Giuseppe then?" As if I were in the Operations Center.
"But do not you ever sleep? "He sometimes asked me ...
The most beautiful order received in my life gave it to him: in the imminence of the signing of the agreement for Lebanon he told me "Do as you believe but bring home the result". I had received carte blanche from a great man!
Another nation that had slandered everything was Germany. It was very difficult not to appear as the first country of the Maritime Task Force. When we were near the hand-over (transfer of responsibility, ed), they pressed to perform the ceremony in Naqoura. I insisted and set her up on the Garibaldi bridge.
On the carrier I had activated a cell that was responsible for information warfare and public relations. Hundreds of Lebanese were visiting.
The use of such a unit was initially opposed together with the presence of the AV-8s. We had to avoid giving too much an image of Italy. In this Di Paola was commendable in understanding its potential instead.
- Harrier for example, proved to be very useful as maritime patrols: they were the only Italian fighters equipped with maritime VHF, the frequency also used by sailing boats. I remember a recording between one of our aircraft and a ship, signaled by our services, as a possible means of smuggling: the commander, stammering, could not understand who was monitoring them, having free sea all around. He did not imagine that someone was on his vertical to 20.000 feet ...
Thanks to the EH101 with the Early Warning we detected targets at 160 kilometers! It was a great test of operational capacity!
The initiative of De Giorgi has highlighted one of the greatest difficulties facing the Italian military: the use of force. The admiral discussed it with the tops of Defense and with the same Minister Pinotti. Uselessly.
We operate bound by the military peace code in which only self-defense exists. If you want to be credible, once you have identified a danger (a hostile person ready for an ambush for example) you should be free to intervene, do not wait to undergo the attack before responding to the fire.
Have you ever had fears or doubts in representing Italy in the face of so many difficulties and "fake friends"?
I have always loved the saying of Nelson "If you have doubts, in the absence of orders, no one will ever be able to criticize you if you attack an enemy ship".
Admiral De Giorgi takes a cup of coffee. He seems happy to have spoken in words an important moment in his life and in our country.
Years have passed. Today the coasts of Lebanon are quieter; the war rombs echo inwards beyond the mountains that lead to Syria. The restaurants and the rooms close to the Corniche are full of life and the sun, punctual, lowers every day on a sea like ours.
A light breeze cuts the sweet nights of the Lebanese capital. The 2006 grenade holes are scattered here and there, between lights and night music, without disturbing too much.
Life progresses and evolves in different times and ways every time new: the Lebanese are able to adapt to everything, even to fear. Their way of exorcising the war makes them fatalistic, epicurean, never boring. They remember us, as friends, as military and speech people and efficient.
In Italy, however, it continues to make memory the wrong way. Problems always seem the same, while we let slip away all that we do good.
(Photo: Marina Military)