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article imageFrance gears up for military strikes against Syria

By Robert Myles     Aug 28, 2013 in World
Paris - In the build-up to what now seems inevitable military action of one kind or another against the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria, one of the surprising features has been the attitude of France.
In contrast to what many in the United States regarded as a betrayal by then French president Jacques Chirac in making clear there would be no French support for a second UN resolution precedent to the war in Iraq, France’s current President François Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, sound positively hawkish in talking up the possibility of military strikes against Syria.
Speaking yesterday Hollande said the conflict in Syria threatens world peace and that France was “ready to punish” those who had used chemical weapons. The president told a gathering of French ambassadors from around the world that ”France is ready to punish those who took the decision to gas the innocent.”
The president went on to say that it seemed certain that forces loyal to Assad were behind the chemical attack and that the outside world had a responsibility to respond. Hollande is scheduled to hold a Defense Council meeting today on the Syrian crisis and is later expected to brief the French parliament.
The president’s remarks echoed those of Foreign Minister Fabius, who was interviewed on Radio Europe 1 on Monday. Asked to confirm if the time for reacting with force in Syria was imminent, Fabius referred to “the chemical massacre” and said he was in no doubt as to who was responsible. He referred to, "A whole series of testimonies that we’ve got and that other partners worldwide have got. What’s clear too is that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was behind this massacre. So we must now make the reactions proportionate, weigh things up and act with both determination and sangfroid, and this is what’s going to be decided over the next few days.”
Asked if France was moving to another phase and if the military option had been chosen, Fabius was unequivocal that doing nothing was not an option saying, “The options are open; the only option I don’t envisage is doing nothing.”
On the question of UN inspections, delayed in Syria as a result of UN inspectors coming under sniper fire, Fabius was dismissive of the possibility of action being postponed pending the results of UN inspections: “Well, the UN investigators are over there today, probably under very restricted conditions. The problem is that they’re late being there since the attack took place five days ago now, and in the meantime there’s been bombing, and therefore a whole series of signs can disappear, and moreover it must be clearly understood that they aren’t tasked with seeing who is behind the attack, so that is what’s worrying.”
Asked if France would deploy military options like the United States, Fabius refused to be drawn on specifics but left no doubt who he held responsible and what would happen next replying, “A chemical massacre has been proven, there’s Mr Bashar al-Assad’s responsibility; there has to be a reaction, we’ve reached that point.”
And in response to a question on whether there would be an appropriate response to it, Fabius’ reply was a curt, “That’s right.”
The French government’s view that intervention in Syria is inevitable was backed by a number of experts on international affairs. Vivien Pertusot, director of the Brussels-based French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), told Belgian’s La Libre, “The situation is simple: no Western country wants to intervene, but the use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, will force them to react."
To do otherwise, said Pertusot would be to "suggest to Bashar al-Assad that he can continue to use them."
In the same publication, Jonathan Paris of the think tank, Atlantic Council, suggested that Western powers could agree on a limited "operation whose purpose is purely punitive, whose purpose is neither to change the regime in Damascus, or shift the balance on the ground in favor of the rebel forces.”
On 20 Minutes, Bruno Tertrais, director of the French based Foundation for Strategic ResearchFondation pour la recherche stratégique — and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, referred to the chemical attack as the tipping point for French intervention.
He didn't consider the mounting death toll in Syria could alone be used as justification for military strikes, but compared the Syrian chemical attacks to the bombing of Sarajevo that provided the impetus for the West to intervene in the former Yugoslavia in 1995. (In the crisis in Yugoslavia, like present day Syria, there was no specific UN resolution authorizing intervention.)
On the method of intervention, Tertrais thought cruise missiles the most likely option, stating, “I guess the French contribution would be essentially the same as other Western countries, namely cruise missiles. France possesses long range cruise missiles that don’t require deep penetration by aircraft and the missiles can be fired from air or sea.”
More about syrian conflict, Chemical weapons, chemical attacks in Syria, president assad, President Hollande
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