A “disproportionate reaction.” This is how Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, characterized — on the very first day of the war — Israel’s operations against Hamas, the terrorist brotherhood that rules Gaza. Many French citizens will return the compliment. What may be truly “disproportionate” is to pass judgment on the Hebrew state for fulfilling its primary duty as a state: to protect the safety of its land and its people.
Is Gaza under Israeli occupation? No. The Israelis withdrew from the enclave to a man in 2005. Is Hamas a legitimate ruler in Gaza? No way. It seized power there in 2007, as the result of a civil war against the Palestinian Authority. Has Hamas engaged in systematic aggression against Israel ever since then? Yes. Is it conducting repeated, blind shelling against civilians in southwest Israel? Yes. Has Hamas abducted an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, on Israeli soil, and does it keep him as a hostage, which is under international law a crime against humanity? Yes. Has Hamas one-sidedly announced it was canceling a several-month lull with Israel? Yes. Does it publicly list the destruction of the Israeli republic and of the Israeli society as political aims? Yes. Under such conditions, Israel’s right to make war on Hamas and to destroy it is absolute.
And the military operations the state of Israel undertakes to that effect are more urgent, more compelling, better rooted in reason, and more legitimate than most present French military operations, including the French deployment in Afghanistan. No doubt France is founded to act abroad to defend its own long-term interest and the free world’s values. Still, it is not a matter of death or life for the French nation or the French citizens. Whereas destroying the Hamas menace is a short-term matter of death or life for Israel as a nation and every single Israeli citizen.
Why is Sarkozy, a man known for his pro-Israel sympathies, taking such a negative line? Why is he suddenly eager to distance himself from the United States, which correctly assessed Hamas’ responsibility in the crisis and made clear that Israel was right to act in self-defense?
One explanation is that presidents don’t work alone. They rely on the usual “inner circle” of close friends or cronies, on advisors with agendas of their own, and finally on the government machine. As far as Sarkozy is concerned, most of his friends or assistants stem from either the Gaullist Right or the pro-Third World Left, and both groups take it for granted that Israel is not to be supported. The best president in the world will waver under such pressure. Remember Ronald Reagan, who underwent pro-Saudi political reeducation in the summer of 1982. Fortunately enough, there was also a pro-Israel wing in the administration and it was restored to full influence and power the next year. Alas, Sarkozy’s case is different. Regarding Israel, he is — or at least he used to be — almost the only one of his kind.
A second explanation, closely related to the previous one, is that the French president must take into account a growing Islamic community or is advised by his inner circle to take it into account. As a presidential candidate, Sarkozy ran in 2007 on a staunchly anti-immigration platform, which stressed the need for “national identity.” The moment he was elected, he turned to the very opposite: a policy of multiculuralism and multiethnicity that entails affirmative action programs (once seen as anathema by French Republican standards) as well as the grand opening to Arab and African countries known as the Union for the Mediterranean. Support for the Palestinians, including Hamas-run Gaza, hastily dressed up as a humanitarian issue, is just a further step in that direction.
A third explanation is that Sarkozy, like almost everybody in the French political establishment, is getting mired in delusions of “grandeur,” and claims a “global role” for France in every crisis or conflict in the world, even if he actually lacks the requisite means. The Elysée (France’s presidential palace) and the Quai d’Orsay (France’s foreign department) are convinced that America will exert strong pressure on Israel after January 20. They think they should preempt the move, but claim they are prepared, at the same time, to “guarantee” Israel’s national security. Is really France going to make war on a nuclear Iran that would threaten Tel Aviv? Raising that ultimate question is perhaps the best way to restore some sense of … proportion.
The author translated exclusively for Pajamas Media this original post from his website.