France’s presidential election takes place in two rounds in April and May, 2007, leaving Jacques Chirac no more than five months up until May 17, 2007, in the Elysee Palace. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Paris and New York sources report that Chirac, once known as “the bulldozer,” has decided to devote all his energies in the tag-end of his second presidency to a single crusade for the overthrow of Syrian president Bashar Asad and his family regime.
Chirac has confided to his intimates that he is sure he can succeed,
The French president, who joined President George W. Bush in a partnership to liberate Lebanon from the Syrian domination, stopped talking to British prime minister Tony Blair some weeks ago after Blair sent his political adviser on an exploratory trip to Damascus to find out if he would be welcomed as an official visitor to the Syrian capital.
Chirac strongly advised the British leader against this initiative.
Most European rulers are inured to telephone calls every few days from Paris, in which the French president urges them to ostracize Asad and Syrian officialdom. Most recently, he phoned Bush twice to deter him from adopting the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to engage the Syrian ruler for help to solve the Iraq impasse.
Telephone calls from the Elysee in this vein have also reached Russian president Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Last week, President Chirac was on the phone to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert to find out if the information reaching him that Jerusalem had sent messages to Damascus through the UN assuring Syria that Israel had no plans for a military attack on that country.
Chirac gave the Israeli prime minister a scolding. “Don’t attack Syria,” he said, “but on no account promise them not to attack.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources disclose that Chirac is pinning much of his strategy for undoing Asad on the report the special UN investigator submitted on the Rafiq Hariri murder to the incoming UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. According to those sources, chief investigator Serge Brammertz updated the UN secretary in the last week of December on the state of the investigation, which focused on three main points.
If the UN probe doesn’t get Asad, Chirac will
1. The UN panel has accumulated enough evidence to lodge indictments against several high-ranking Syrian officers, including Bashar Asad’s brother-in-law, the chief of Syrian military intelligence Gen. Asaf Shawqat.
2. He requests permission from Ban Ki-moon to offer one of these officers immunity in exchange for testifying against the others and Asad clan members.
3. If given extra time up until June 2007, his team will certainly be able to close the dossier and have it ready for the appointment of an international tribunal.
The French president wants the tribunal to be in place by early March and has already discussed this with the UN secretary. But he is not leaving his anti-Asad campaign to outsiders. The Lebanon war of last summer and the ceasefire enforced in August opened the door for France to introduce 2,000 combat troops to Lebanon as UNIFIL observers and peacekeepers. An important French naval task force led by the nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle is cruising in the eastern Mediterranean opposite Beirut.
The president loses no opportunity of informing Middle East leaders that should the need arise those forces will be unhesitatingly deployed against Syria, including strikes against regime and military targets inside the country. They would certainly be ordered to intervene to foil any pro-Syrian coup attempt in Beirut and prevent the overthrow of the pro-Western Siniora government.
Chirac has relegated French intelligence agencies to around-the-clock intelligence surveillance to pick up any signs of political or military cracks in Damascus that might be exploited to hit the Asad regime where it is most vulnerable.
In Paris, the presidential palace lavishes on Syrian opposition leaders funds, printing facilities for the manufacture of propaganda materials, studios for assembling video tapes and traveling budgets, as well as good addresses in the city of lights.
Chirac operates in conjunction with the United States.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s French sources trace his obsession with bringing the Syrian president down to his close personal friendship with former Lebanese president Rafiq Hariri, murdered in Feb. 2005, allegedly with Syrian complicity. For years, Chirac and Hariri conferred on their Middle East policies. Born in Saudi Arabia, the late Lebanese leader also opened many royal palace doors in the Saudi capital to the French president and French industries.
Sources close to Chirac say he grieved for his murdered friend as through he was a member of his own family.