Chirac’s Tolerance of a Nuclear-Armed Iran Stirs Response in Washington
Last week, French president Jacques Chirac said he was not concerned about the danger of Iran having “…one or perhaps a second bomb…” In a statement he retracted a day later, he said it would be an act of self-destruction for Iran to use a nuclear weapon against another country.
“Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel?” he asked. “It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed.”
The peril he cynically brushed aside referred to the destruction of Israel’s heartland and 12 million inhabitants of the Iranian capital.
debkafile‘s sources report the French president’s purported “gaffe” was in fact a backhanded admission of a proposition official quarters in Europe and some in the United States are quietly beginning to accept, that a nuclear-armed Iran is inevitable.
Most Israeli officials preferred to dismiss Chirac’s statement as the meandering of a president heading for retirement after the May vote for his successor. But, in Washington, his remarks were taken seriously by influential circles as fodder for their campaign against going to war in Iran. They argue that, sooner or later, Iran will get the bomb, the components for assembling one and nuclear weapons technology.
This week, three former senior US military officials warned against a military attack on Iran, saying it would have “disastrous consequences” for security in the region. The US, they said, must hold immediate and unconditional talks with Tehran. Petitions have been raised calling on the Bush administration to change its policy on Iran.
With a single remark, Chirac also knocked over the Olmert government’s fundamental policy of shunting responsibility for dealing with Iran’s nuclear armament over to the “international community,” namely the United States and Europe. The French president was saying in effect to Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres: Don’t push the problem over to us if you can’t manage it on your own.
His retraction was the classical ploy of a practiced diplomat. He knew as well as anyone that once a headline is up, its impact is ineradicable. The headline was in fact consistent with the retiring French president’s record as persistent seeker of French influence in the Arab and Muslim world. Chirac departs the political scene on the same note as the one marking his debut thirty-three years ago.
In 1974, as prime minister under the presidency of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, he led a big French delegation to Baghdad. Close ties were established with Saddam Hussein, based on the offer to Iraq of French nuclear reactors and technology for building nuclear weapons.
This was Chirac’s bid to convince Muslim-Arab rulers that France truly regretted, and was eager to atone for, the error it committed in the 1960s of letting Israel have the technology for developing an independent nuclear weapon capability.
Ten years later, as Chirac surely remembers, the late Menahem Begin ordered the Israeli Air Force’s June 1981 bombing of the French-supplied Tamuz reactor, which demolished Saddam’s dream of becoming the first nuclear Muslim-Arab nuclear power.
The strike also set back Chirac’s ambition for France to climb atop the nuclear deal with Saddam and assume the role of dominant influence in the Muslim Arab world.
Sources close to national security circles in Washington confided to debkafile: Thirty-three years after assisting in the development of a Sunni Muslim nuclear bomb, Jacques Chirac is trying to bring a Shiite Muslim bomb international acceptance before bowing out of office.”
France has no direct role in the Iranian nuclear program; it is helped along by Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Pakistani technology. However, after looking around at the turmoil in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, Chirac has concluded that the near future belongs to Shiite Islam, which is destined to prevail over the Sunni bloc.
Chirac wants his legacy to record that France led world legitimacy for a nuclear-armed Iran as the leading Muslim power; he also wants to be recognized for his role in redressing the balance of terror against Muslim nations posed by with what he regards as the Israeli nuclear threat.
debkafile‘s security sources warn against underrating the dangers inherent in Chirac’s comments. They are seen as giving wings to a budding tendency in the West to treat a nuclear-armed Iran with fatalism rather than directly fighting it, and granting implicit French tolerance for Tehran as the most active sponsor of anti-Western jihadist terrorist organizations: Hizballah, Hamas and Palestinian Jihad Islami.