ROME (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates has asked Italy to withdraw aircraft and personnel from a military base in the Gulf state by July 2, an Italian government source said on Monday, in what appeared to be fallout from Rome halting the sale of missiles to the UAE.
The source told Reuters negotiations were ongoing to try to resolve the matter.
The UAE foreign ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
As part of multinational operations, Italy, a NATO member, has used al Minhad airbase, which hosts aircraft from various nations, for flights to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean.
In January, Italy said it halted the sale of thousands of missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing Rome’s commitment to restoring peace in Yemen and protecting human rights.
The blocked sales were part of a total allotment of 20,000 missiles worth more than 400 million euros ($485 million) agreed in 2016 under a centre-left government led by Matteo Renzi.
Defense News earlier this week quoted Matteo Perego Di Cremnago, an Italian member of parliament and member of the parliamentary defence commission, the demand for a withdrawal was in retaliation for the arms embargo.
Earlier this month, news agency ANSA cited Italy’s foreign ministry as saying it had summoned the UAE ambassador to Rome after the Gulf state refused access to its air space to a military aircraft carrying 40 journalists to Afghanistan, which Italy’s defence minister was visiting at the time.
Ambassador Omar al-Shamsi was told of Rome’s “surprise and strong displeasure at an unexpected gesture that is hard to understand”, according to the ministry statement.
The UAE is part of a military coalition led by Riyadh that has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement since March 2015 in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Abu Dhabi ended its military presence in Yemen in 2019 but still holds sway via thousands of Yemeni troops it has armed and trained.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s new administration in January temporarily paused some pending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia for review but in April told lawmakers it was proceeding with over $235 billion in weapons sales to the UAE, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Alison Williams)