Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, seen as one of the leaders of the far-right political movement gaining ground throughout Europe, is a “great friend of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
Netanyahu's comments came before a meeting he held with Salvini, who is also Italy's interior minister, in his office. Salvini is in the country on a 24-hour visit, his fourth to Israel but first since he became a member of the Italian government in June.
Referring to a trip Salvini took to the Lebanese border immediately upon arriving on Tuesday to see the Hezbollah tunnels the IDF is uncovering, Netanyahu's said that “you had the opportunity to see the terror tunnels yourself directly. This is a clear act of aggression of Hezbollah against us and against the norms of the international community.”
Pointing out that the head of the UNIFIL, Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col, is Italian, Netanyahu said that “we think UNIFIL has to do a stronger job, tougher job, but ultimately it's the responsibility of the international community. They should stop Hezbollah from taking these acts of aggression against Israel."
Of the 43 countries contributing the nearly 10,500 UNIFIL troops, Italy has the second largest contingent, with a force of 1,069 – second only to Indonesia, with 1,306 troops in the force.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Salvini, head of Italy's Northern League and a controversial figure because of his stridently anti immigration policies, will visit Yad Vashem.
Though Netanyahu called him a “great friend,” President Reuven Rivlin did not find the time to meet with him, citing “scheduling” issues. Rivlin, in a CNN interview last month, came out strongly against neo-fascist movements in Europe, including leaders of those movements supportive of Israel.
“Today, there are neo-fascist movements that have a great influence once again in the hearts of people around the whole world. There are countries where it's returning and it's very dangerous. And the same neo-fascist movement are movements that very much admire, according to what they say, the state of Israel,” Rivlin said.
“I say to them, gentlemen, this is impossible, it's impossible to say we admire the state of Israel. We want ties with the state of Israel but we are neo-fascists. Someone who is neo-fascist is truly a person who is totally against the spirit the principles and the values of the state of Israel.”
After touring the tunnels in the north on Tuesday, Salvini met in the evening with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and visited the Western Wall. In addition to meeting Netanyahu on Wednesday, he will also meet Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset.
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