Bettino Craxi has served well as Italy's prime minister and his resignation will be regretted by all of Italy's allies.
The circumstances make his resignation all the more regrettable, for the basic decisions made by his government during the hijacking of the Achille Lauro appear to have been invariably correct and were largely responsible for the safe release of all but one of those aboard the ship.
Craxi was wrong, however, to blame the United States for his fall. His government collapsed because of his failure to consult all of the partners of his coalition who together had assured the survival and success of his government.
But Craxi's indignation concerning some actions of the U.S. governmment is entirely understandable and gives some perspective to what the White House had judged the "incomprehensible" release by Italy of Abul Abbas, the Palestine Liberation Organization official accused of masterminding the hijacking.
American officials have now acknowledged a move to seize at gunpoint, on Italian soil, all the terrorist suspects aboard the Egyptian airliner forced to land in Sicily. U.S. Delta Force troops surrounded and apparently threatened Italian troops exercising their appropriate sovereign function. And later an American plane tailed the Egyptian airliner, already under Italian surveillance, as it flew on to Rome. Those were arrogant actions, betraying a lack of confidence in one of the most faithful allies in the North Atlantic alliance.
Craxi's anger after this affront may have been a factor in the decisions that ultimately led an Italian magistrate to ignore the warrant for the arrest of Abbas. Whatever the mood, it cannot excuse that action, ignoring, as it did, existing extradition agreements and a mutual commitment to fight global terrorism.
The prime minister, as a Socialist, has been notably effective in strengthening NATO, including implementation of the controversial agreement to accept U.S. cruise missiles, now installed, ironically, close to the Sicilian base where American troops sought to take the law into their own hands. The U.S. government now has a challenge to be sure that its deeds also strengthen the alliance, including a particularly valued ally, Italy.