France appears to be at a crossroads in its attitude towards the Islamic terrorist threat. A bitter internal dispute between the view taken by President Jacques Chirac and his political circle and that advocated by the French intelligence agency, the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security) may be close to a resolution.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources in Paris report that both camps are aware of the danger facing France, which has the larges Muslim community in Europe – nine million – of an explosion of Islamic terrorism. Chirac’s circles believed till now they could ward off the danger by sophisticated political, economic and diplomatic footwork. The intelligence community maintains it is too late for that; the eruption is already upon France and the terrorists are on the move. They argue France has no choice but to line up with the most hawkish elements of the Bush government, the Pentagon, crack down hard on Islamic extremists harbored in France, and drop its reservations to full collaboration with the United in its global war on terror.
Some claim that Le Pin’s bid for the presidency in last month’s election was staged and financed by the DGSE in order to sound the alarm against the rising militancy among the French-born young of North African Muslim immigrants. The extremist Algerian GIA, whose activities outside Algeria, are closely attuned with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, finds support in this community. Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person indicted in connection with the September 11 attacks on America, is a French citizen of Moroccan descent. He is charged with having supposed to be the 20th hijacker.
The differences between the two sides of the argument surfaced last month when Israeli officers presented to European officials the documentary evidence, collected during Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield in April, of Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority’s complicity in terror.
At first, the politicians refused to be convinced. French intelligence, on the other hand, found the proofs completely authentic and credible, an acceptance that has opened the way for a tentative resumption of collaboration between the French DGSE and Israeli Mossad after a period of mistrust.
In the meantime, French right and center politicians are coming round to the view of the DGSE that terrorism will have to be faced squarely and uncompromisingly. The first sign of this appeared on June 15, when France initiated a move by the European Union to blacklist the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the suicide arm of Arafat’s Fatah, as a terrorist organization, together with two more hardline Palestinian groups.
The French turnaround, if it goes through, may have the power to pull other EU members round to sympathy – if not support – for the US war on global terror and Israel’s struggle against the Palestinian variety, in order to confront the menace on its own doorstep.