With gasoline nearing $6 a gallon at the pump, unemployment near 9 percent, and the economy growing at less than 2 percent a year, Italy faced a crisis even before the Middle East erupted.
The situation in Libya threatened even the slow growth Italy enjoyed since the country depended heavily on Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, which supplied nearly a quarter of its oil.
In response, Italy turned for help to another Mideast hotspot, Iran. Italy has dramatically increased oil imports, by 80 percent, from Iran since Libya started going crazy, despite the fact that the European Union imposed tough sanctions on trade with Iran last year.
The sanctions were intended to starve Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts. While the cash provided by Italy and other European powers for oil and gas doesn’t directly support the nuclear programs of Iran’s government, it offers a lifeline in a country struggling with an estimated 20 percent unemployment and a decaying infrastructure.
Rebels and government forces may continue to battle in Libya for weeks or months, but the clear winner now seems to be Iran, which profits from some of the NATO countries struggling to bring order to Libya.
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