Libya, in apparent retaliation for U.S. raids on its territory early this morning, reportedly fired two missiles today at a U.S. Coast Guard navigation station on the Italian island of Lampedusa, about 200 miles off the Libyan coast, according to Italian officials here.
The 5 p.m. attack -- which the officials suspect may have involved Soviet-made Scud surface-to-surface missiles launched from the Libyan mainland -- caused no damage or casualties. Italian authorities on the island said the missiles exploded harmlessly with two loud bangs offshore from the facility manned by about 20 U.S. Coast Guardsmen.
Italian military jets responded but reportedly could find no Libyan planes or ships. Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi later described the weapons as "long distance missiles," and Italian television said there was evidence that they were Scuds and that they had been fired from the Libyan mainland.
The incident was taken as a serious threat by the Italian government, which had opposed U.S. military action against Libya on grounds it would increase terrorism in the Mediterranean basin, especially in Italy.
Craxi told Parliament earlier today, before the Lampedusa attack, that the government believed "such military actions risk provoking further explosions of fanaticism, of extremism, of criminal and suicidal actions."
The attack, which elicited a strong protest from the Foreign Ministry, came as Italian officials privately expressed their disapproval of the American attack on Libya.
Senior government officials said they were angered by what one called the "charade of deception" of Washington's traditional European allies conducted by the Reagan administration under the guise of "consultations."
Many Italian officials expressed disappointment at the stance against Libya agreed to Monday at a special meeting of European Community foreign ministers in The Hague, which they characterized as too weak. But they also privately criticized the last-minute mission of U.S. special envoy Vernon Walters to explain U.S. policy to European leaders.
"We thought Walters had been sent out for negotiations to get us Europeans to take a stronger stand than we had at our last meeting on the subject in January," said one senior government official here. This official said the failure of European Community foreign ministers to even blame Libya by name in that previous meeting had been a "disaster."
Instead, Italian officials close to the prime minister said that when Walters arrived here late Monday night for a 65-minute meeting with Craxi, there was no consultation. Rather, Walters presented U.S. evidence that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had aided and abetted, if not ordered, the recent bombing of a Berlin discotheque that killed a U.S. soldier and a Turkish woman.
Instead of discussing alternative ways of dealing with Qaddafi, the sources said, Walters handed over a personal letter from Reagan to Craxi that made it clear Washington was planning to go "all the way," as an official said, even though the timing and method of attacking Libya were not specified.
Craxi and the rest of the government were left with the impression that any U.S. military action was not yet in motion, and certainly not only two hours away, as it turned out to be, these officials said.
"Frankly, we expected more from Washington than this," said one senior official, "especially after we had made clear to the United States last month, after the last U.S. attack on Libya, our anger that we were not adequately consulted before hand about the use of U.S. ships sailing out of Italian ports to attack Libya."
According to sources, Italian President Francesco Cossiga was so upset about that U.S. action that when Secretary of State George P. Shultz visited Italy late last month, Cossiga kept him waiting for 45 minutes at the presidential palace before receiving him.
An aide to the president said that Cossiga was almost as upset today over the "overbearing" attitude of the United States in conducting military activities against Libya that could have serious repercussions for Italy.
Although officially declared a "minor incident" by a Craxi spokesman, officials here saw the Lampedusa attack as confirming their fears of the consequences of military activity against Qaddafi's Libyan regime. The seriousness of the Italian reaction was reflected in the speed with which the head of the Libyan People's Bureau, or embassy, here, Ambassador Abdulrahman Mohammed Shalgham, was called to the Foreign Ministry tonight to receive Italy's protests.