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memri
November 12, 2018 No.
7757

Lebanese Journalist: France Boosts Political And Intelligence Ties With Hizbullah – In Order To Profit From Lebanese Oil

On October 26, 2018, a French parliamentary delegation representing the French National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee and the French Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Armed Forces Committee met in Beirut with members of Lebanon's parliament, including MP from Hizbullah Nawaf Al-Moussawi. According to an announcement released later by Al-Moussawi's office, during the meeting the sides discussed numerous political and security issues, including the issue of offshore oil and gas exploration in Lebanon's territorial waters. Following the meeting, Al-Moussawi said that both houses of the French parliament "are interested in supporting the French government and the French [oil] company Total [which in February 2018 signed two Exploration and Production Agreements with the Lebanese government[1]] despite pressure [from Israel] to retract its commitment vis-à-vis Lebanon, or to postpone the time when they will conduct the oil and gas exploration."[2]

Three days after the meeting, on October 29, 2018, Mounir Al-Rabi', criticized France in his column for the Lebanese Al-Modon daily, which is known for its opposition to Hizbullah. Under the title "France and Hizbullah, Romance Scented with Oil," he argued that France is boosting its political and intelligence ties with Hizbullah for economic reasons, primarily because of Total's interests in Lebanon. Al-Rabi' asserted that this is what is motivating France to sponsor the informal arrangement in Lebanon under which Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Al-Hariri is in charge of domestic affairs while Hizbullah is responsible for foreign policy and military activity in Syria and on the border with Israel. He also noted that France maintains intelligence and security cooperation with both Hizbullah and Iran, and even argued that France-Hizbullah are relations are now on the level of reciprocal "flirtation." With regard to the situation in Syria, Al-Rabi' wrote that the more matters in Syria favor Russia and Iran, the more important France's role in the region will be; he added that France had in the past acted several times to protect the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.


French delegation meets with Lebanese MPs (Almanar.com.lb, October 26, 2018)

The following are translated excerpts from Al-Rabi's column:[3]

"The France-Hizbullah rapprochement is more and more marked. The issues they have in common are many, and they see their reciprocal ties as vital. Lebanon's stability is a binding principle for France, which maintains that Hizbullah is the element that can assure long-lasting stability. [Such stability is a French interest] not only for political reasons but also for reasons connected to [Lebanon's] oil and the future activity of the French company Total in oil exploration [in Lebanon].

"The most recent major confluence of interests between France and Hizbullah was the efforts to establish a government [in Lebanon]; the two sides had similar positions on the need to speed this up. These efforts were renewed after Presidents Michel Aoun and Emmanuel Macron met in Armenia [on October 12, 2018 at the 17th Summit of Francophonie], in the presence of [Lebanese] Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, where Macron explicitly asked [Bassil] to facilitate and hasten the assembly of the government. [Immediately] afterwards, Bassil left for a meeting with Hizbullah's secretary general [Hassan Nasrallah], in accordance with France's wish...

"France-Hizbullah relations have passed through various stations since the positive intervention of [French] president Jacques Chirac in arriving at the April [1996] understandings [on a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah] and stopping [Israel's] Operation Grapes of Wrath [in Lebanon] in coordination with [Lebanese] prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. At that time, Al-Hariri Senior [i.e. Rafiq Al-Hariri] and Hizbullah were of one mind, and there was a clear division of labor between the sides: Economic issues were in Al-Hariri's hands, domestic policy was in the hands of an assembly acting under the aegis of the Syrian regime based on... agreement among Lebanon's three leaders [the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament], while foreign policy, the resistance [against Israel], and the military activity were in the hands of Hizbullah, in coordination with Syria.

"Today [history] is repeating itself. [Lebanese Prime Minister] Sa'd Al-Hariri has a direct arrangement with Hizbullah: He is in charge of domestic political affairs, the economy, and the treasury, together with President Aoun, and with the agreement of Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, while Hizbullah is in charge of foreign policy and of commanding military campaigns, currently in Syria, while maintaining readiness and preparedness on the southern border [with Israel]. [This arrangement] has extensive international sponsorship, particularly from Russia and France, for reasons connected to [Lebanon's] oil. France appears to be officially promoting all these understandings, both by giving economic aid through [holding] conferences, and with positive intervention by removing the obstacles to the establishment of a government and the like. This is along with [France's] coordination with Hizbullah in order to maintain stability. It is also connected to the 'dialogue' that [France] is conducting with Iran to discuss ways of returning to negotiations with the U.S. on the nuclear issue and renewing the [JCPOA] nuclear agreement.

"The more matters in Syria go in Russia's and Iran's favor, the more important a role France will play in the region. Let us not forget that it was France that was involved in the past in many initiatives aimed at keeping the Syrian regime above water at times when it was ostracized and besieged, before it pulled out of Lebanon in April 2005 and afterwards. It was France that broke through the isolation of [Syrian President] Bashar Al-Assad [in 2008], when [French] president [Nicolas] Sarkozy invited him to visit France... [4]

"The most important message that Hizbullah received from France arrived after the [November 2015] attacks by terrorist organizations in Paris and elsewhere. At that time, the French opened the door to security and intelligence coordination with Iran and Hizbullah, in order to cooperate [with them] in tackling those [terror] organizations. [Indeed,] in one of his sermons, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah declared that many countries in Europe had asked for intelligence coordination with him in order to fight the terrorism that was at that time targeting France.

"Recently, the [France-Hizbullah] coordination in policy has become a flirtation. This was particularly noticeable during the [October 26, 2018] visit to Lebanon by a French delegation representing the French National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee and the French Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Armed Forces Committee, and at a meeting [between this delegation] and the [Lebanese] parliament. MP Nawaf Al-Moussawi of [Hizbullah's] Loyalty to the Resistance faction, who was at this meeting, called it an opportunity to discuss several subjects, 'particularly in light of the [French] National Assembly's and Senate's desire to support the French government and the Total company in the face of the pressure on them to back out of their commitment to Lebanon, or to postpone the date of [the start of Total's] oil and gas exploration.'

"Along with Al-Moussawi's positive statements about the French, similar [positive] statements were heard from members of the French delegation [about Hizbullah]: Delegation members asked for an explanation of the widespread claims that Hizbullah was inspired by the Iranian model and of its relationship with Iran, [and pointed out] that, during their meeting with the [Lebanese] president and prime minister, they had heard 'things that were different from what is frequently [said] in the anti-Hizbullah news in the European media.' Al-Moussawi, for his part, provided [the French with] a summary about the path of the resistance organization [Hizbullah] from the time of its founding. His statements pleased his addresses, who maintained, even if in whispers, that the discussions and consultations with this well-ordered and trustworthy organization  [i.e. Hizbullah]... should be completed, and that influential and effective understandings with it should be arrived at."

 


[1] Total.com/en/media/news/press-releases, February 9, 2018.

[2] Nna-leb.gov.lb, the official Lebanese news agency, October 26, 2018.

[3] Al-Modon (Lebanon), October 29, 2018.

[4] In July 2008, Sarkozy invited Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Paris to join the Mediterranean Union that Sarkozy was inaugurating. The invitation was perceived as legitimization of Assad by Sarkozy, and was criticized in the Arab world. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1893, Syrian Daily on Inviting Assad to Mediterranean Union: "If Sarkozy Stays on the Path of Constant Self-Criticism and Courage to Admit [Mistakes] – He May Become an Outstanding Leader of His Country," July 14, 2008.