Paris is preparing to send to Lebanon a special counter-terrorist unit of the French rapid deployment force to guard the life of the outspoken anti-Syrian Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt. The move has been approved by president Jacques Chirac and cleared with Washington, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources.
It will be the first such French mission to the Middle East in 29 years.
In 1979, President Giscard D’Estaing posted a Special Forces unit to Mecca to subdue the extremist Muslim rebels who seized the Grand Mosque and threatened to topple the Saudi throne. Then, in 1983, French paratroops fighting alongside US Marines were driven out of Lebanon by a massive bomb blast which killed hundreds of troops at their Beirut headquarters. The attack was jointly mounted by Syria and the Hizballah.
Jumblatt has refused a French invitation to leave the country for a few weeks or even months and stay in Paris under French intelligence protection. The opinion in French intelligence is that Jumblatt has been marked as the next victim of assassination by Syrian intelligence.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources add: In their view, Damascus is determined to smash the anti-Syrian bloc in Beirut. Because the Syrians do not dare to touch its leader, Saad Hariri, son of the murdered Lebanese former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, they will now go for the next in line, Jumblatt.
Reports reaching French intelligence from Damascus depict a mood grim enough to take this step unhesitatingly.
The Druze leader has never turned his back on Lebanon although he runs in constant danger of his life at Syrian hands. This threat stands since his own father Kemal Jumblatt was murdered on the orders of Bashar Assad‘s father Hafez Assad 1970s, straight after he paid a visit to the presidential palace in Damascus.
The Druze leader told the French he has placed himself under the protection of the Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, but both the French and the Americans advised him against putting his trust in Nasrallah’s word. Jumblatt finally agreed to the French unit coming over to guard him and his village-stronghold in the Chouf Mountains.
The arrangement is for the French force to undertake the defense of the location of the Jumblatt manor, while personnel experts in VIP protection, sharp-shooting and explosives will be attached to his personal bodyguard 24 hours a day.
The vanguard of French officers arrived in the Chouf mountains Tuesday, Dec. 20, to prepare the logistics for the incoming unit.