News: Unholy alliance: France, Syria and Iran
SYRIA’S SIGHTS ARE SET ON LEBANON
August 29, 2006
… Sometime soon… France will lead a beefed-up UN peacekeeping force into Lebanon. Beefed-up, because there have been 2,000 ineffective blue helmets on the Israeli-Lebanon border since 1978. To the Israelis, at least, UNIFIL… is a diplomatic joke and a military irrelevance. Tragically, the new, expanded UN peacekeeping force is unlikely to offer much new…
In the aftermath of the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, there were overwhelming demands for the rapid deployment of UN peacekeepers armed with a "muscular mandate."…In practical terms, that means disarming the Hezbollah jihadists, removing them from southern Lebanon and preventing future supplies of Iranian materials from reaching them via Syria. None of this is likely to happen. The reason, in a word, is France. It was France, with ambitions of rekindling its influence in the Middle East, which dictated the terms of the UN resolution that created the peacekeeping force…And it was France, recalling the slaughter of its peacekeepers by Hezbollah in Beirut 23 years ago, that announced it would commit just 200 troops to the proposed 15,000-strong force.
France has since been shamed into expanding its troop contribution, but it has also drastically limited the operational parameters of the force: It will not disarm Hezbollah fighters, remove them from the border area with Israel, or interdict fresh supplies of weapons to replace Hezbollah's recent losses. What it will do… is support the desperately weak Lebanese government. And Fouad Siniora, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, has already declared that while he will deploy units of his army in the south, he will not seek to curb Hezbollah.
France's narrow interpretation of the peacekeepers' mandate has placed the Israelis in an awkward position. Its military brass will not hang around while Hezbollah re-groups, reorganizes and rebuilds its extensive network of underground tunnels, fortifications and military supplies in preparation for the next round…In the absence of a UN force that draws Hezbollah's teeth, Israel can be expected to adopt a robust military strategy that is based on relentlessly degrading Hezbollah's capacity: its leadership, its fighters, its stock of materials and its infrastructure. Only now Israel will be faced with an additional complication; it will have to thread its way through a thicket of European-led peacekeepers, with potentially devastating diplomatic consequences…
Syria has solid geopolitical and geostrategic interests in Lebanon. For one thing, the ruling Baath Party is ideologically committed to a vision of "Greater Syria," which includes not only Lebanon but also Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. For another, it needs to retain an unrestricted link to Hezbollah, Syria's proxy force against Israel. This is vital both for Syria's lucrative alliance with Iran and for Bashar's own interests… He could live with a 2,000-strong UNIFIL presence confined to southern Lebanon; a 15,000-strong UN force, however emasculated, that is deployed throughout the country poses a challenge to Syria's freedom of movement…
In the absence of domestic benefits, Bashar's legitimacy, like that of his late father [Hafez al-Assad], rests on foreign achievements. That is why he gives house room in Damascus to the Islamist Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal; why he supports the most extreme elements of the Palestinian nationalist movement; why he facilitated the passage of mujahedeen to the battlefields in Iraq; why he maintains close ties with Hezbollah; why his secular socialist republic values its unholy alliance with the Islamic revolutionary republic. Hostility toward Israel remains the foundation of Alawite power—and the standard excuse for Syria's political and economic failures. But it will be a long time before Bashar is able to achieve what his father called "strategic parity" with the Zionist enemy. Meanwhile, Lebanon, and its Hezbollah jihadists dedicated to Israel's destruction, offer the prospect of instant gratification.
Bashar has caused havoc for American troops in Iraq. He is likely to repeat that—this time against the French in particular and other constituents of the UN peacekeeping force in general. That is why he will support and facilitate—through Hezbollah and other proxy elements in Lebanon—any action that undermines the UN peacekeepers. By declaring a hands-off policy toward Hezbollah, France might have hoped it could placate Damascus and avoid a repetition of Hezbollah's October, 1983 suicide truck-bomb attack that wiped out 58 French peacekeepers in Beirut and caused the mission to be aborted…
The best assessment now is that Syria's president will initially attempt to undermine the fragile Lebanese government by stoking sectarian tensions and fomenting enough carnage to persuade the peacekeepers that the game is not worth the candle. If that does not work, he is likely to resort to attacks, via his Lebanese allies, on the peacekeepers themselves. The ensuing chaos and the departure of the UN force could, conceivably, provide the pretext for Bashar's triumphal return to Lebanon as peacemaker, champion of Hezbollah and unambiguous hegemonic power.
The French must know that Syria's combat strength has deteriorated drastically since the collapse of its Soviet patron… Even so, given the willingness of Syria's proxies to die on command, the French will have little cause for optimism. That goes some way to explaining why, having cynically made the diplomatic running at the Security Council in New York to impress its Arab friends, France has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Lebanese imbroglio.
( Douglas Davis, a former senior editor of The Jerusalem Post, is a member of the Middle East Writers' Group. )
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
The Weekly Standard
August 7, 2006
… In order to appreciate why French president Jacques Chirac is so far hanging tough for the disarming of Hezbollah in the present crisis, it is useful to cast a backward glance. For those 241 U.S. servicemen blown up in their barracks by Hezbollah on October 23, 1983, were not the only Western soldiers to die in Beirut at the hands of the Islamists that day.
A good place to begin the story is 1978, when France contributed troops to UNIFIL, a United Nations force created to monitor the Lebanese-Israeli border. After a long series of Palestinian cross-border raids killing Israelis, the Israeli army had crossed into Lebanon and pushed the Palestine Liberation Organization north of the Litani River. UNIFIL's job was to police the peace… In 1982, after another Israeli incursion, some 800 French troops joined an equal number of U.S. Marines and 400 Italian troops to supervise the evacuation of the PLO from Lebanon and serve, once again, as peacekeepers. The same year, Hezbollah was born.
This new Shiite force created and funded by Iran lost no time in targeting the French in Lebanon. First came a rocket attack on soldiers in April 1983; then in August, the hijacking of an Air France jet in Tehran. The hijackers, who belonged to a closely allied, Islamic Amal, demanded France's withdrawal from Lebanon, an end to French military aid to Iraq (then at war with Iran), and the liberation of Lebanese prisoners from French jails. The mastermind of this operation was Hussein Moussaoui, who… attacked the U.S. and French barracks in Beirut, killing …241 U.S. servicemen [and] 58 French soldiers. Two weeks later, the DGSE (the French equivalent to the CIA) learned that the Iranian embassy in Beirut had ordered the murder of Gilles Vidal, number two at the French embassy. The DGSE… packed 500 kilos of explosives in a French military jeep marked with the Red Cross emblem and parked it next to the Iranian embassy. The trigger failed, so the French agents tried to ignite the explosives with bazooka shots, but this also failed. The Iranians discovered the jeep and with it proof of French responsibility…
It was war. In retaliation for the barracks attack, France bombed the Islamic Amal and Hezbollah camp in Baalbek... While some insist no terrorists were killed, a secret report to President François Mitterrand (subsequently made public) listed more than 20 Lebanese Shiite militants dead (39 according to Lebanese forces), along with 12 Iranian "advisers." The Ayatollah Khomeini denounced France as a "terrorist state." Iran's revenge was not slow in coming. Hezbollah bombed the French embassy in Kuwait on December 12, then killed ten French soldiers in Lebanon. On December 21, after a bloody truck bomb attack on a French position, the Islamic Jihad (another name for Hezbollah) claimed responsibility and gave France ten days to leave Lebanon or suffer reprisals…And on December 31, Islamic Jihad made good on its threat by bombing simultaneously the Marseilles train station and the high speed Paris- Marseilles train, killing four.
In 1984… French troops left Lebanon for good. Nevertheless, Iran again ordered Hezbollah to target France, mostly because of French support for Saddam Hussein. Between March 1985 and January 1987, Hezbollah took 16 French citizens hostage in Lebanon, most of them journalists and diplomats…
In February 2000, left-wing Prime Minister Lionel Jospin described Hezbollah as a "terrorist" group during a press conference in Israel…Whereupon President Chirac angrily reminded Jospin that the president shapes France's foreign policy, not the prime minister. Obviously, Chirac, remembering the bombings and kidnappings of the 1980s, did not want to provoke Hezbollah. Which is why… Chirac invited Hassan Nasrallah, the group's secretary general, to attend the Francophone Summit in Beirut in October 2002.
> But on December 17, 2003, Chirac's semi-good relationship with Hezbollah came crashing down. By supporting the ban on the hijab —the headscarf worn by some Muslim women—in France's public schools, Chirac incurred the wrath of Sheikh Fadlallah. In a letter to Chirac, Fadlallah threatened "likely complications" if the ban were passed, which it was in 2004…
The real tipping point in French policy, though, was the murder on February 14, 2005, of Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon and a close friend of Jacques Chirac. France reacted by adopting a tougher stand towards Hezbollah. On August 29, Chirac, addressing French ambassadors, stated that every aspect of Resolution 1559 must be enforced... Minister of European Affairs Catherine Colonna went so far as to condemn Hezbollah's "illegal and violent actions" against Israel.
Only on the matter of putting Hezbollah on the E.U.'s list of terrorist organizations has France continued to drag its feet. Hezbollah is a political party, say the French, and to declare it a terrorist organization could destabilize Lebanon …
Then last year, Iran threatened to reactivate its deadly proxy, Hezbollah, if France were to take a harsher stance against it at the U.N. Security Council. This may explain why President Chirac delivered a speech on terrorism on January 19, 2006, in which he declared that in case of a terrorist attack against French allies (most likely the Gulf monarchies) and/or national interests (including oil facilities), the French response might be nuclear. The message was clearly intended for Iran—and Hezbollah.
Since the current fighting in Lebanon began on July 12… Chirac has criticized Israel for using "disproportionate force," [and] he has also said there is "no other long-term solution" than to disarm Hezbollah "as soon as possible." While visiting Haifa on July 23, Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy had to take cover from Hezbollah-launched Katyusha rockets, an event that may have reinforced France's resolve. Said Douste-Blazy, "The first condition for a cease-fire is of course the disarming of Hezbollah." The war of words continues. Now let's see what France does.
( Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington. )
IRAN AND SYRIA WILL TRY TO USE HIZBULLAH TO DRAW ISRAEL INTO A WAR
August 30, 2006
In January 2006, Raghida Dergham, New York bureau chief for the London daily Al-Hayat, published an analysis titled "Various Scenarios That Would Prompt an Israeli Strike on Lebanon and Syria." In one of the scenarios she described, Syria and Iran would try to draw Israel into a war by using Hizbullah and Palestinian factions, with the aim of easing the international pressure on them. The following are excerpts from the English translation of the article, which was posted on the author's website:
Iran and Syria "Might Consider It in Their Interest to Provoke Israel Through Hizbullah and the Palestinian Factions"
"There is talk within international circles about various scenarios that would influence decisions relating to the existence of Syria and Hizbullah;… attacking Israeli towns from across the Lebanese border could entail repercussions on all of Syria and Lebanon…In addition, there are indications that Syria will stir up the Palestinian-Israeli scene by activating and empowering pro-Syrian Palestinian factions… When it comes to Lebanon, the most important link through which and on which measures will be taken is Hizbullah... That's why the responsibility of implicating Lebanon in an Israeli attack or invasion falls on the shoulders of the Hizbullah leadership, which is required to choose today between fortifying Lebanon against being used for revenge or any other reason and between sacrificing it to the benefit of Syria or Iran. At this juncture, the leadership in these two countries might consider it in their interest to provoke Israel through Hizbullah and the Palestinian factions, either to divert attention and pressure away from them or to mobilize anti-Israeli sentiment for local and regional consumption. The situations in Syria and Iran are completely different, but the means and tools for effecting change are the same for Damascus and Tehran, namely, [through] Hizbullah and the Palestinian factions present in Lebanon and those that receive money, aid and weapons from Syria and Iran." …
Larijani Threatened That "If the U.S. and Israel Commit any 'Mistake' With His Country" They Would Enter "'A Hell Which They Could Not Easily Come Out of'"The secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, warned [January 4, 2006] against pushing his country 'into adopting another option that had been planned in advance,' in terms of the nuclear weapons dossier, so that it could confront pressures that are meant to deprive Tehran of 'its right' to nuclear enrichment and to [possessing] technology for the production of nuclear fuel. Larijani threatened with 'dragging the region into war' if Tehran is forced to give up nuclear enrichment, and he also warned the United States and Israel of committing 'any mistake' with his country, noting that Iran had already 'prepared a scenario to respond to this matter'…
“The Catastrophe Scenario… is a Scenario of ‘If We Go Down, We All Go Down Together’- A Scenario That Would Call for Blowing Up the Lebanese Situation”
In the first scenario, Syrian President Bashar Assad would reach the conclusion that in order to save Syria from sanctions and punishment, and in order to save himself from being held to account, he would have to follow a course of action that…would require him to sacrifice anyone and everyone who played a role and was implicated in the assassination of the Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, even if they were among his closest relatives or if they held the highest [government] ranks. If Bashar Assad managed to take such a decision and implement it, he would have made a historic contribution in saving Syria from punishment, and with that, he would have placed his country above and beyond the regime, contrary to what ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had done...”
"...The second scenario... is… a Sunni revolt in alliance with key Alawite figures, which would spare the country a major turbulence or a catastrophic war... [This scenario] is regularly…taken into account, and it is being prepared in a number of capitals and with the involvement of more than one person, especially since Abdel-Halim Khaddam is not the last episode in the [series of] confessions [expected] from Damascus, but he could be the first... What Khaddam has offered, up till now… allows for a qualitative change in the investigation because Khaddam considered the Syrian president a party in the 'instigation' [against Hariri], something which raised pressures on Damascus to unprecedented levels, particularly since the investigation committee has publicly requested to interrogate the Syrian president as witness, after it had requested to interrogate his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, chief of Syrian military intelligence, as 'a suspect.' This substantial development could prompt Bashar Assad to become convinced of the need to adopt a policy of qualitative change in his course of action, but it could also prompt him, on the other hand, to resort to complete escalation, since there is no option other than him. Such an escalation brings us to the third scenario, which is known as the 'catastrophe scenario.'
"The catastrophe scenario… is a…scenario that would call for blowing up the Lebanese situation…on the border, through the Shebaa Farms and utilizing Hizbullah and the Palestinian factions. It also involves the blowing up of Lebanese-Lebanese relations, both at the sectarian and party levels, and fabricating problems within the internal Lebanese scene. It also involves instigating a Lebanese-Palestinian confrontation and not just provoking a Lebanese-Syrian confrontation. But this scenario will not be satisfied with just blowing up the Lebanese scene but its goal is to drag the entire region into a regional war… For this reason, the only alternative option right now is to completely and qualitatively change the course of action so that the confrontation would become at all levels by using all Lebanese and Palestinian actors in order to provoke Israel into grand-scale measures that would change the focus of discussions away from Syria's role in Lebanon and the international community's holding Syria to account for the actions made by its military leadership.
"What remains is that the biggest responsibility, at the Lebanese level, falls on Hizbullah, as it would have to decide for the last time if it is truly a Lebanese party and a Lebanese citizen or [if] it is a soldier that executes the Syrian or Iranian order of 'dragging the region' into war and turning Lebanon into a 'scene of hell', to the benefit of Iran's nuclear [agenda] or to exempt Syria from being held to account for the assassination crimes..."
Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community