The extremely close ties between France and Lebanon were on display Monday as French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin traveled to Beirut, the highest ranking emissary of any state to make the trip amidst the Israeli bombardment. In public comments, De Villepin has expressed his solidarity with the Lebanese people and called for "une trêve humanitaire immédiate [an immediate humanitarian peace pact]."
Indeed the French exercise great influence over the Lebanese. So it was particularly interesting to learn of the subtly crafted French position in today's editorial in Le Monde. While Jacques Chirac has denounced the disproportionality of Israeli reprisals, his recriminations of Israel have been muted. He has saved some of his harshest criticism for Hezbullah and its sponsor states (whom M. Chirac, treading lightly on Russian sensibilities in St. Petersburg, declined to name). As it turns out, former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005 by agents widely considered linked to Syria and pro-Syrian Lebanese elements, was Chirac's "meilleur ami étranger [best foreign friend]." His death had a profound effect on Chirac, and a rapprochement of American and French and interests in the region followed.
When the smoke clears, Chirac wants Hezbullah disarmed in fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. That is definite, and that is good for Israel, the US, and the prospects for peace in the Middle East. In Le Monde's analysis, Natalie Nougayrède writes:
Jacques Chirac est arrivé à la conviction qu'aucun gouvernement démocratique ne sera viable au Liban, ni capable d'exercer sa souveraineté sur tout le territoire, s'il n'est pas mis fin à la capacité de nuisance du Hezbollah. [Jacques Chirac has arrived at the conclusion that no democratic government will be viable in Lebanon nor capable of exercising its sovereignty over all of its territory if it does not put an end to Hezbollah's capacity to cause trouble].Chirac's conviction has important implications. First, the French certainly won't be putting undue pressure on Israel in the coming days to ease up on genuine Hezbullah targets. And second, if there is to be a new UN force in Lebanon, whether in the south, or, as Kofi Annan seems to imply, elsewhere in the country as the Lebanese army itself deploys in the Hezbullah-controlled south, there is a serious force of will on the Security Council to give this UN deployment some teeth. After all, I think most can agree that it won't be the Israeli Air Force alone that finally disarms Hezbullah.