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Italy & Saudi Arabia: From Arms Embargo to Enhanced Diplomatic Ties

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Written by Maeve Marchese

Edited by Miguel Andres Reyes Castro

On 31 May 2023, the Italian government announced an end to the embargo on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia (Armellini & Adler, 2023). Italy maintained the ban between 2019 and 2020 following the escalation of Saudi Arabia’s violence against the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group in Yemen (Middle East Monitor, 2023). The violent campaign hoped to reinstate the Hadi government in 2015 (Helou, 2023). Regardless of Saudi Arabia’s significant military strategic superiority in the conflict, it has not managed to defeat the Houthi camp, which has strengthened its ties with Iran since (Ardemagni, 2022).

The Italian government had been one of the first to stop the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates. The embargo placed on the United Arab Emirates was lifted a month prior (Armellini & Adler 2023; Helou 2023). Italian civil authorities had framed the decision as a historic moment, which was welcomed by Amnesty International and Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo (Italian Network for Peace and Disarmament) (Santucci, 2021). Nonetheless, the Italian government has decided to lift the embargo as it has deemed it “no longer necessary” due to recent developments in peace negotiations (Armellini & Adler, 2023, para. 2). Saudi Arabia’s efforts in resolving the Yemen conflict led to the subsequent decision. In particular, the ongoing peace negotiations with the Houthis have led to the release of hundreds of prisoners on both sides of the conflict (Middle East Monitor, 2023).  Furthermore, the UN-mandated truce has been upheld (Helou, 2023). Even so, however, the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains critical. Currently, 21.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 80% of the country’s population lives on the brink of starvation (UN Population Fund, 2023).

Concretely, it is now expected that Italy will tighten its ties with Saudi Arabia in the field of defence cooperation. The end of the embargo comes at an essential time for Saudi Arabian defence, which sets to “localise 50% of total defence spending” in the wake of the Vision 2030 campaign (Helou, 2023, para. 9). For this reason, Saudi officials look to Italy with interest for increasing interoperability in the fields of cybersecurity and aerospace (Helou, 2023). As ties between the countries grow deeper, it remains to be seen how new strategic partnerships will step up to the emergence of new threats in the international system. What is clear is that new partnerships have become indispensable for the perception of security in the international realm.



Ardemagni, E. (2022, December 9). Yemen, sette anni di conflitto: attori, strategie, implicazioni. ISPI.

Armellini, A. & Adler, L. (2023, May 31). Italy ends Yemen-linked embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Reuters.

Helou, A. (2023, June 6). Now that Italy has lifted its arms embargo aimed at Saudi Arabia, could defense deals follow? Breaking Defense.

Middle East Monitor. (2023, June 1). Italy lifts arms embargo from Saudi Arabia amid Yemen peace efforts.

Santucci, L. (2021, January 29). L’Italia revoca l’export delle armi in Arabia Saudita e Emirati. HuffPost Italia.  

United Nations Population Fund. (2023, March 29) Yemen: The world’s largest humanitarian crisis.