Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- A well-informed French official revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that following the armed confrontation that took place along the border between Israel and Lebanon last week between the Israeli and Lebanese armies, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner via a telephone call that Israel “intends to undertake a large-scale military operation” to teach the Lebanese army a lesson and “to avenge the killing of a senior Israeli officer.” The source revealed that this led to communications at the highest level, involving French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as Egyptian, Jordanian, and other Arab and international officials, who attempted to reduce the tensions in the region to prevent a second military conflict [between Israel and Lebanon]. The success of this pressure could be seen in the statement made by [Ehud] in which he asserted that “Israel didn’t plan the incident, nor did the Lebanese army.”
According to the French official, the fact that Hezbollah did not intervene or get involved in the military action also “pushed Lebanon away from a new war which would have been started as a result of one side or another’s misconception.”
The French official told Asharq Al-Awsat that Israel believes that “it is not in its interests to go to war with the Lebanese army” because it is aware that it is the only party that can “solve the issue of southern Lebanon and enforce the country’s rule in this area.”
The French source said that Paris was glad that this issue had been resolved. Despite France’s concern towards Lebanon with regards to the Hariri tribunal and the position of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL] and the general situation in the south, not to mention the internal political tensions, the source said that Paris is relieved that the situation will remain calm and stable, and any emerging crises will be able to be brought under control. The French official described the situation in Lebanon to Asharq Al-Awsat by saying that “at the present time, there is no civil war in Lebanon, and there is no regional war, and there are no crises with Syria.”
Asharq Al-Awsat also learnt that Israel contacted Paris via diplomatic channels to ask France to stop supplying Lebanon with arms, saying that these arms had been used against the Israeli forces, and that they could potentially fall into the hands of Hezbollah. The French source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Paris’ response was clear, and that France is committed to the defense pact that was signed between France and Lebanon in Beirut in 2008, and that Paris “does not see any problem” in continuing to apply this. The source said that Paris sees this as an integral part of implementing UN resolution 1701 that calls for strengthening the legitimate armed forces of Lebanon, in order for the authority of the Lebanese state to be extend across all of Lebanon’s territory. The French official also revealed that Paris had informed the Israelis [in response to the Israeli request] that its arms deal with Lebanon “is completely in accordance with the requirements of international legitimacy and France’s obligations [to Lebanon] and regional stability, as well as France’s vital interests in the region.” According to the French official source, the Israeli request was rejected, and the source told Asharq Al-Awsat that “France is not America” in an implicit reference to the influence of the Israeli lobby in US Congress and the Senate.
The French source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Frances political position is one of supporting Lebanon militarily, and this is something that President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister [Francois] Fillon, and Defense Minister Herve Morin, confirmed to Lebanese officials on more than one occasion. Asharq Al-Awsat also asked about the delay in Paris supplying Lebanese Gazelle helicopters with missiles, the French official responded that Lebanon “is suffering from a problem of financing.” He denied that Paris was sending weapons and arms to Lebanon with strict conditions on how and against whom they can be used. He said that the Lebanese position with regards to what it wants or does not want these arms to be used for is chaotic, and that “there is internal conflict in Lebanon.”
As for the issue of the international Hariri tribunal, the French official said that the war that Hezbollah is carrying out against this tribunal “will remain a media and legal war and will not become a war in the streets of Beirut.” The French source said that Paris believes that “there will be no disruption of the international tribunal or its decision” and that “there is no party, domestic, regional or international, that is able to influence the tribunal and force it to accuse this party or that, or to delay or increase the speed of its operations.”
In the wake of the accusations leveled by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah towards Israel with regards to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and his repeated criticism of the Hariri tribunal which he described as being a US – Israeli tool, the assistant spokeswoman to the French Foreign Ministry reiterated France’s support for “international justice” and stressed that Paris has always worked to combat impunity.