For two years, with little help from its allies, Italy has struggled to cope with a steady stream of refugees from Africa and the Middle East spreading throughout the European Union.
The influx is believed to both profit terrorists and land them ashore in Europe, which renders the circumstances not only a deep humanitarian crisis but also a serious security concern.
Under an operation dubbed Mare Nostrum, Italy has deployed ships, planes, drones and even submarines and special operations troops to track and intercept the tide, driven by human traffickers who charge $3,000 for the trip to Europe, netting up to $3 million per voyage.
Many thousands have perished at sea as human cargo was shifted from mother ships to small boats packed to the gunwales for their race to shore.
And according to Italian intelligence, to the profit of an assortment of unsavory groups, including al-Qaida, that collect many millions in hard cash to buy weapons and underwrite terror operations.
Italian officials have made the case to their NATO and EU allies that this isn’t merely an Italian immigration crisis, but an international security crisis for Europe and beyond.
Few would doubt that terrorist and other criminal organizations would exploit the refugee crisis, yet only Slovakia has come forward to help Italy with the mission.
Last week, Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro visited Washington to meet with his US counterpart, Chuck Hagel, who agreed to raise the issue at the NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels this month.
Certainly, it’s time the international community adopts a multistep process to address this critical security challenge. At a time when nations in the region continue to deploy forces to Afghanistan and to the counterpiracy mission off the Horn of Africa, it’s puzzling that those same nations don’t contribute to combating a problem in Europe’s backyard.
Here, the United States can easily play an important role, signaling that despite its renewed focus on Asia, it will continue to support its old allies in the region, especially a country that is host to more than 30,000 US military personnel.
The civil war in Syria, meanwhile, remains a regional threat as fighting continues and must be resolved.
While the successful destruction of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime’s entire chemical arsenal would represent an important counter-proliferation victory, the continuing war continues to claim innocent lives and fuels a refugee crisis that is destabilizing the region.
More than a dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the international community needs to reconsider how it’s fighting against an ever-changing face of international terrorism that has repeatedly reconstituted itself despite devastating attacks by the United States and its allies.
Recent events in Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere have shown that a new generation of battle-hardened terrorists has been trained and remains capable and dedicated to action, able to easily flow across borders.
The best defense is vigilance and collaboration among allies to neutralize threats before they mass into something bigger, harder and more deadly.