The French Twist

Israel is abuzz with news of France’s unexpected obstruction of a potential agreement between the P5+1 and Iran regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. It is difficult to remember a time when the French were praised by the Israeli press, decades perhaps. The maneuver couldn’t have come at a better time either – it was a welcome distraction to the public feud between the Obama Administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a range of issues, but none more important then the threat of a nuclear Iran. Now (at least publicly) there is another voice of caution against a hasty deal.

I am certain that the French were not acting out of some kind of forgotten love of the Jewish State. They are scathingly critical of Israel when they want to be. No, this was a strategic decision fundamental to France’s foreign policy. After all, this is a France that participated in overthrowing Gaddafi in Libya, and whose armed forces are actively engaged in Mali. This is a France that hopes to take a leadership role in the wake of American isolationism and British weakness.

And don’t forget that in addition to Israel, the Saudis and the Gulf States are equally concerned as to their fates if the Iranians succeed in developing a nuclear weapon. Rumors are circulation that the Saudis will purchase a nuclear weapon from Pakistan if pressured (something they have never suggested vis-a-vis Israel’s undeclared nuclear program). So although France is one of a long list of countries who would benefit from a relaxed embargo on Iran, it is aware of the larger economic and strategic impact it would have on the rest of the region.

Moreover, the role of history should not be ignored; President Hollande is committed to avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors. The construction of Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona was a joint French-Israeli (and partially British) project. Similarly, France offered its technical assistance to Saddam Hussein and was in the process of completing the Iraqi nuclear site named Osirak (a hybrid of “Osiris”, the name of the original French plant, and the French spelling of “Irak”) when Israeli fighter jets destroyed the plant in June 1981. As a country who played a central role in introducing nuclear power to the region, France’s decision this week is an attempt to rectify many historical wrongs. We shouldn’t be surprised to see continued French commitment against Iran’s nuclear program in the coming months.

Posted on by Gabriel in Iran, Israel