The man expected to become Italy’s next prime minister is known to be friendly toward Israel and to take a tough line on Iran.

Matteo Renzi, currently the mayor of Florence and the secretary of the Italian center-left Democratic Party, is the top candidate to succeed Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who resigned last week.

“Sometimes Israel exceeds its defense [actions], and we need to say it, but it is time that the left state unequivocally that Israel has a right to live without threats,” Renzi, who has visited the country, has been quoted as saying. “Israel is a country that is surrounded by organizations that wish its destruction, starting with Iran,” he said on a different occasion.

A government led by Renzi would probably imply a “few variations to the traditional pattern of Italian foreign policy,” according to Michele Di Donato, an Italian scholar focusing on European left-wing politics. “A slight pro-Atlanticist swing may be expected, as well as a more careful consideration of Israel’s stances in Middle Eastern policy.”

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, the top candidate for prime minister of Italy (photo credit: CC BY Buy Tourism Online, Flickr)

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, the top candidate for prime minister of Italy (photo credit: CC BY Buy Tourism Online, Flickr)

Renzi has called Iran the “mother of all challenges” in the Middle East, Di Donato noted, not only because of the regime’s nuclear ambitions but mostly because the 39-year-old politician supported Iran’s opposition “Green Movement” in 2009. “On the same occasion he expressed reservations about the Italian approval of the bid to upgrade Palestine’s UN status on November 2012: a rather isolated position in the center-left, traditionally quite sympathetic to the Palestinian cause,” Di Donate noted.

In 2012, Renzi attended a demonstration entitled “For the Truth, for Israel,” during which Israeli and Italian flags were waved.

“I don’t really know why, but he has always shown very pro-Israel ideas the few times he talked about foreign policy,” said Nathan Servi, a Jewish native of Florence who has been following Renzi’s political career closely over the years. “It seems we may [get] a European center-left prime minister who doesn’t hate Israel after all.”