March 18, 2007

France Wanted Israel To Attack Syria

At the start of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, France sent word through secret channels that it would support Israel in the war if Ehud Olmert attacked Syria and deposed Bashar Assad. Chirac wanted Israel to attack the root of the problem in Lebanon and eliminate Hezbollah's lines of support (via Michael Ledeen at The Corner):

French President Jacques Chirac told Israel at the start of the war in Lebanon that France would support an Israeli assault on Syria, it was reported on Sunday.

Army Radio reported that in the message, which was delivered by Chirac to Israel via a secret channel, the French president suggested that Israel invade Damascus and topple the regime of Bashar Assad. In exchange, Chirac assured Israel full French support for the war. ...

"Former prime minister Ariel Sharon had explained to the French in the past that Iran is the main one responsible for Hizbullah's armament in Lebanon, while Chirac saw Syria as the primary one responsible for the matter," former Israeli ambassador to France Nissim Zvilli told Army Radio in an interview.

"President Chirac saw Syria as directly responsible for the attempt to undermine the Lebanese regime," he said. "He saw them as directly responsible for the murder of [former Lebanese prime minister] Rafik Hariri and directly responsible for arming Hizbullah. Likewise, he saw Syria as the one giving Hizbullah orders on how to operate."

In this case, Chirac had it right. I warned at the beginning of the conflict in the sub-Litani that the Israelis were attacking in the wrong direction. Attacking into Lebanon, while understandable, only would make the situation worse:

However, one has to wonder whether Israel has chosen the correct enemy. Lebanon just recently freed itself (mostly) from Syrian occupation through a people-power revolution. Syria occupied Lebanon for almost 30 years prior to that, and they put Hezbollah into place as their proxy, not Lebanon's. Granted, Israel had a point when they noted that Hezbollah politicians have ministers in the Cabinet, but unlike Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, they do not have political control of the government.

A free and democratic Lebanon could be an ally to Israel, or at least not an enemy. They could eventually have a relationship similar to that of Jordan; not exactly friends, but not at all enemies. Why toss that away in a misdirected rage?

Syria and Iran fund, support, and supply Hezbollah. Without Assad's assistance from Syria, Hezbollah would not have any resources to attack Israel or to create the tensions seen in Lebanon. The problem last summer originated in Damascus and Teheran, not in the sub-Litani region.

Had Israel followed Chirac's advice, it could have led to a wider war in the region, and possibly could have complicated matters for us in Iraq. However, it would also have had the salutory effect of getting the Syrians a lot less interested in Iraqi and Lebanese affairs and more interested in saving their own skins. A success in Syria would have ended Hassan Nasrallah's power base and begun marginalizing Hezbollah in Lebanese politics. After that, the Israelis could have gone into the sub-Litani to mop up what remained of Hezbollah's forces.

Instead, the Israelis decided to fight the wrong war, and to fight it in the wrong way. They momentarily disrupted Nasrallah and gained better security on a temporary basis, but the lack of will to fight an all-out war with the enemy the Israelis decided to fight left them with few permanent gains, if any at all. In this rather singular case, Israel should have taken Chirac's advice.


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Comments (13)

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 10:54 AM

Do you really believe/trust the French now? Would you really trust a "secret" message from them? If any “secret” message was sent, it was probably just "secret" enough that the French would have been able to deny it at the first convenient opportunity.

Posted by BoWowBoy [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 10:57 AM

I couldn't agree more with you Cap. This dogg always thought we should have gone into Syria first .....then Iraq .......then Iran.

For a few reasons.

First I believe Syria would have been more easy to topple without the same implications of nation building.

Second .........we would have had one less frontier to cover while we mopped up.

Third would have a been a great staging area to go into Iraq from .....which again would have eliminated another frontier from which we would have to cover our backs in Iraq.

Posted by AnonymousDrivel [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 11:12 AM

Sorry, Ed. While I could understand the rationale for a war in Syria over one in Lebanon, I certainly wouldn't base any decision upon the word of Chirac, and I don't blame Israel for not responding to his implied support.

I agree with SwabJockey05. France would love to have a proxy warrior lead the way and then step back or away once the offensive begins and openly condemn Israel at the UN. Is anyone reminded of pre-OIF at the UN when France via DeVillipan promised support to Colin Powell? Surely our memories aren't so short that we would take France for its word. Why would Israel? I'm afraid France is still the shifting sand upon which no foundation can be set. Perhaps this is doubly so when concerned with Middle Eastern real estate.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 11:54 AM

I have to agree with AD and the Swabbie Cap'n. If I were sitting in Tel Aviv and I got a "secret" assurance of support from France, I'd be hard-pressed to keep from bursting into hysterical laughter. "Yeah, this'll work! Right! Please, somebody help me up off the floor."

In addition to the "plausible deniability" factor that's been previously mentioned, there is also the history that France has with Syria. Can you imagine the reaction of all the Middle Eastern states when they see their twin nightmares, Israel and latent colonialism, teaming up to take out Assad the Younger and install a more congenial regime. Talk about your disturbing images!

Posted by McGehee [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 11:56 AM

I hate to say this, but if Chirac really did think it best to distract Assad from Lebanon and Iraq, it's either a case of Broken Clock Syndrome, or time for those of us who thought likewise to re-examine our opinions.

The over-under favors the broken clock, however.

Posted by Brooklyn [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 12:17 PM

the problem remains, could you trust Chirac?


Posted by Only_One_Cannoli [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 12:36 PM

France would support Israel by pushing for some new UN resolution until France's Muslim population protested and that would end France's support. It wasn't a serious offer.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 1:03 PM

Wait, France wanted Israel to do regime change in the ME in order to get get rip of a terrorist sponsoring dictator? Gee, hmm, wasn't there already a country that did the same thing right next door?

And I'm with the others, I don't trust Chirac's word any further than I can throw the Eiffel Tower.

Posted by Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 1:33 PM

A secret message from Chirac? hmmmmmmmmmm

Posted by moonjohn [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 2:08 PM

Israel really screwed up that war.

They should have attacked Syria as a diversion and seized an airfield in east Syria from which they should have attacked Iran's nuclear facilities.

Now Israel bombers don't have the range to bomb Iran and return.

Now the Irianians have Russian anti aircraft missiles that will prevent low level attacks.

An opportunity lost.

Posted by Cindy [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 4:38 PM

Chirac says he would support Israel if Israel attacked Syria???? Why don't I believe him?????


Posted by chsw [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 7:53 PM

Like Cindy, SwabJockey and others, I would check the sky if Chirac told me the sky was blue. Remember, he lied to Colin Powell about supporting the war in Iraq against his longtime patron, Saddam Hussein.


Posted by The Yell [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 19, 2007 2:21 AM

Granting this is true, and granting Chirac meant it: what good is "full support" from France? Their military is 2nd-rate, at best, and their diplomatic leverage comes mainly from being a monkeywrench in multinational organizations, not from any leadership qualities. Their "full support" barely tips the balance in African brush wars.

I think Chirac missed a good opportunity to shut up...