France : Mounting Skepticism about Rationale for Strikes on Syria

Written by | Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Skepticism was mounting this week in Paris and other Western capitals as to the rationale for a possible military intervention in Syria, with legislators and politicians as well as the pubic opinion questioning the intrinsic worth of strikes against the regime of Bashar al Assad.
The French Assembly which is convened for next Wednesday in a special session is unlikely to sign a blank check to President François Hollande for France’s would-be participation in punitive strikes against the Syrian regime, especially that the British Parliament has voted against such a military intervention.
Meanwhile, the public opinion is divided on the issue and the political class is generally cautious, if not hostile, to the overall strategy, including the National Front and the Communist Party, which are on opposite sides. Some argue that even if the Syrian regime’ s responsibility in the use of chemical weapons is documented, the strike may deter Syria from using such weapons again but it is unlikely to change  the course of the Syrian conflict.
Socialists remain discreet on France’s contingency participation in a military intervention while many politicians from the right recall the disastrous second Gulf War and the American failure in Iraq when the Bush administration started a war because of non-existent nuclear weapons.
This time again, there is no clear evidence as to the side having used the chemical weapons. The Syrian regime and the Syrian rebels are accusing each other of using the deadly weapons in the attack nearby Damascus that killed, according to US intelligence, over 1,400 persons, including hundreds of children.
UN experts dispatched to Syria to inspect three sites have ended their mission but have not yet handed in their report.
Meanwhile, Russia and some press reports are suggesting that the alleged attack was a provocation on behalf of the rebel forces at the instigation of the U.S. and some Gulf countries.
Despite these doubts, French President Francois Hollande repeatedly said that everything led to the belief that the Syrian regime was responsible for “this unspeakable act”.
In an interview with “Le Monde” daily dated august 31, he said the use of chemical weapons on August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus “is an established fact” and that “even the Syrian authorities no longer deny it”. The question now is to find the perpetrators of “this terrible act”, he said insisting that “France has a bulk of evidence showing the liability of the Syrian regime.”
The same assertions were made during phone talks he had on Friday with President Barack Obama. The two men “share the same certainty about the chemical nature of the attack and the unmistakable liability of the Syrian regime” said an official from the Elysée.
According to the same official, Hollande and Obama have both reiterated determination to respond to the attacks and not to let these crimes go unpunished.
While Paris had voiced opposition to the war in Iraq decided by the U.S. President George W. Bush in 2003, it seems now poised to participate in the anti-Syrian regime strikes.
However, even if the ultimate decision will be made after the session of the French Assembly, President Hollande told Le Monde when asked if he would wait for the outcome of the Assembly’s debate before taking action, that he will not make a decision unless he has all the elements justifying it.  In any case, if France is to participate in the strikes, the Government will inform the Parliament about the purpose and objectives of the decision in accordance with Article 35 of the Constitution, he said.
Meanwhile, Paris has already decided secretly to send to the waters off Syria, a navy force ship, anti-aircraft frigate Chevalier Paul, usually anchored in Toulon.
The French Ministry of Defense refused to comment on the decision saying it is just “usual business” of the French forces, but analysts say the frigate is joining the international fleet currently deployed off the Syrian coasts, readying for the looming strikes.

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