debkafile Exclusive: USS Enterprise Strike Group passes through Suez Canal early Saturday after joint maneuver with French Charles De Gaulle carri
Egyptian forces were deployed to secure the waterway for the passage of USS nuclear carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), en route for the Persian Gulf. Monday, July 23, the group entered the Mediterranean for joint maneuvers with the French Charles De Gaulle carrier.
Rafale M fighters took off from its deck, touched down briefly on Enterprise runways and returned to the parent ship. This is the first time ever that French fighter-bombers have landed on an American carrier and used its facilities.
debkafile‘s Middle East and Washington sources say that the closely integrated maneuver is part of the growing cooperation between the Bush administration and the new Nicolas Sarkozy presidency on burning Middle East issues.
debkafile‘s sources have previously pointed to a dramatic opening-up of interchanges between Paris, Tehran and Hizballah. They now affirm that this new track was launched with tacit approval from Washington.
Friday, July 27, on the heels of the joint naval-aerial exercise, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner arrived in Beirut for a visit prepared by France’s former ambassador in Damascus, Jean-Claude Cousseran. Early next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrive in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Rice will also visit Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The contours are thus emerging of a division of labor whereby the United States concentrates on Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Israel-Palestinian dispute, leaving France to deal directly with Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Sarkozy and his emissaries move into position as the potential go-between for Washington and Tehran, while Britain’s Tony Blair acts for the Quartet to mold Palestinian institutions of government.
The gambit on which Washington and Paris have embarked together takes into account Iran’s elevated standing as a topnotch Middle East power. This partnership and the new horizon opening up were explored in detail in the latest DEBKA-Net-Weekly out this Friday.
The evolving Washington-Paris track has a negative potential for Israel, which the Olmert government has been slow to appreciate.
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