by M.S. Ahmed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 12, Muharram, 1429)
While George W. Bush made his imperialistic tour of the Middle East last month, French president Nicholas Sarkozy (pic) was also in the Persian Gulf. Among other things, he agreed a $4 billion deal to build nuclear power stations there and to establish a military base in Abu Dhabi, just across the Gulf from Islamic Iran. The deal secures lucrative contracts for French nuclear companies, and the base is France's first military presence in the region. One might expect the US to be perturbed by this interference in what it regards as its sphere of influence, especially considering France's opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. In fact, the US has welcomed the French initiative, believing that it is directed against Islamic Iran, mainly because Sarkozy has been presenting himself since his recent election as a resolute enemy of the Islamic state and a friend of the US.
When the French base in Abu Dhabi is complete, it will accommodate up to 400 troops, and is also expected to be a maintenance station for French naval vessels in the Gulf and "a springboard to send troops into the troubled region", as one media comment put it. To explain this response to the "trouble" in the region, Sarkozy said that "France responds to its friends" and described the deal as "a sign to all that France is participating in the stability of this region". When such a remark follows a US pledge to sell weaponry worth £10 billion to Gulf states to help them to resist Iran's influence, it can reasonably be interpreted as offering similar means to challenge the Islamic state's power.
It is, of course, true that France has for a long time had agreements of military cooperation with several Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE and Qatar. But those accords were targeted at the threat from Iraq under Saddam Hussein, while "today it is Iran's rising influence that is the catalyst", as an article in the International Herald Tribune (an American daily) said on January 16. However, France's nearest base to the Gulf until now has been in Djibouti, its former colony in the Horn of Africa, which will be considerably reduced in size when the base in Abu Dhabi is built and the French troops in Djibouti are transferred to it.
But according to military analysts, the 400 troops who are scheduled to man the French base in the Gulf when it is opened will not be able to hinder Iran's aims or greatly affect the balance of power in the region. Nevertheless, they maintain that the new base is a strong symbol of French resolve to play a much larger role in the Middle East in the future. Certainly the French government considers its new venture revolutionary, one of its officials told the International Herald Tribune.
This official was quoted as saying: "This is quite a revolution. We are no longer in our historical sphere of influence. Now we are in a country we never colonised." More significantly, she added that "being right opposite Iran is a clear strategic choice" and that the base will be an "American-style one with high-tech surveillance and intelligence operational capacity." This clearly indicates that although the number of troops there is small, the French can still play a significant role in any confrontation with Iran.
Other US officials, quoted not only in the American but also in the European media, have also covered the issue, including Nicholas Burns, the US under secretary of state, who expressed his admiration for the French president on January 5, one day before his official visit to Washington. He was quoted in the Financial Times, a British daily, as saying: "We admire the way he has opened up to our country. We admire the clarity of his views and his policy on Iran, Afghanistan and on relations with our country." This paper described the welcome received by Sarkozy in Washington as "the warmest American welcome granted a visiting Frenchman since Lafayette landed in 1777 to join forces against the British."
The Financial Times attributes the improvement in Sarkozy's reputation with the Americans to his revelation of "a shift in France's stance towards Iran", to his adoption of "a much tougher language on the threat from Iran's nuclear ambitions", and to his determination to work for European sanctions against Tehran if the UN security council fails to pass further penalties.
But while Sarkozy is so keen to secure sanctions against Islamic Iran both in the UN security council and in the European Union, he is equally keen to supply nuclear reactors to the Gulf states. Under the agreements he reached during his visit to the region, French companies are to develop civilian nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. Moreover, France sold nuclear reactors and fuel worth almost £6 billion to China as recently as last November, and last July it promised to build a nuclear desalination plant in Libya. This is despite the fact that as long ago as 1956 France helped build the Dimona research facility in Israel, and has remained an ally of Israel's ever since. Today France is an even stronger ally of Israel, partly because Sarkozy is the son of an immigrant father with Jewish connections.
Not surprisingly, the French and US presidents are as united by their links to Israel as they are by their strong commitment to the "war on terrorism" (i.e. Islam), led by Washington. This explains why France is cooperating with the US onslaught in Sudan and Somalia – using respectively its bases in its former colonies, Chad and the Central African Republic, and Djibouti. To accomplish their anti-Islamic endeavours, they target states such as Iran and use the weak, corrupt rulers of Muslim countries such as those in the Gulf for their purposes.