Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A faux pas for France?

My question posed at the opening of this most recent Mid-East crisis, in the posting but one beneath this, was essentially whether the EU would enter the real world and put its nascent Rapid Reaction Force in the line of fire in a dispute so clearly within a clearly neighbouring immediate area of interest. France, almost immeditely after I wrote that post, announced that it would seek to work through the UN for a resolution. Now President Chirac, having therefore consigned the EU to the sidelines for the immediate future, has a real crisis on his hands- "Can a widely detested and clearly shamed leader really send his troops to an active and widely televised war zone for no obvious nor potential national benefit?". The BBC on its website this evening makes a fair stab at detailing just some of these dilemmas. The following is an extract:

Yet France must also weigh up the acute military and diplomatic risks in taking on the lead role in any outside effort to sort out the Lebanon crisis on the ground:

  • Peacekeeping: whatever UN resolutions may say about a ceasefire binding on Israel and Hezbollah forces, any peacekeeping mission in Lebanon will be dangerous. France lost 58 marines killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 1983, during an earlier attempt to impose order; the US suffered 241 deaths on the same day
  • Like France, other nations including Turkey, Norway and Italy say any commitment to send troops to Lebanon would be conditional on satisfactory terms. Germany, the largest EU state, has ruled itself out because of other commitments and sensitivities towards Israel related to the Nazi-era Holocaust
  • Syria: France's traditionally strong ties with Damascus may be useless, after the two nations fell out over Syria's alleged role in last year's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Yet without Syrian consent no long-term settlement will be secure
  • Iranian contradictions: France is committed, with the EU and US, to a tough stance towards Iran over its nuclear programme. Yet Iran, as Hezbollah's other main backer, has the power to wreck any agreement and to threaten Israel. The contradiction was plain when the French foreign minister met his Iranian counterpart in Beirut and lauded Iran as a "stabilising force" in the region
  • The French homeland: Mr Chirac says he fears angry Muslim passions over the Middle East may be imported into France itself; that risk would grow if France leads a controversial peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

France has won general praise for being willing to lead efforts to bring peace to Lebanon. But the hardest part still lies ahead.

Blair, eventually but sensibly, has decided to belatedly depart on holiday. Chirac may well wish he had done the same if the UN sanctions on Iran regarding uranium enrichment, due at the end of this month, enter into force just as French troops begin to come to terms with that rogue nation's clearly well-equipped and robustly trained emissaries in South Lebanon.

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