France takes aim at US inaction in the Middle East

French Defense Minister Florence Parly, right, said the Middle East was ‘accustomed to the ebb and flow of US involvement ... but this time it seemed more serious’. (AFP)
Updated 23 November 2019

France takes aim at US inaction in the Middle East

  • French Defense Minister Florence Parly: We’ve seen a deliberate gradual US disengagement
  • ‘The region is accustomed to the ebb and flow of US involvement. But this time it seemed more serious’

MANAMA: French Defense Minister Florence Parly took aim Saturday at “gradual US disengagement” in the Middle East and said its failure to respond to provocations blamed on Iran set off a dangerous chain of events.
Since May, tensions in the Gulf have escalated alarmingly with attacks against tankers, a US unmanned drone being downed, and strikes on key Saudi oil facilities in September.
Iran was blamed but denied involvement.
Despite the attacks on its Saudi ally and having one of its own drones shot down, the United States has avoided equivalent retaliation.
“We’ve seen a deliberate gradual US disengagement,” Parly said at the annual Manama Dialogue on regional security, adding it had been “on the cards for a while” but had become clearer with recent events.
“When the mining of ships went unanswered, the drone got shot. When that in turn went unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed. Where does it stop? Where are the stabilizers?” she asked.
“The region is accustomed to the ebb and flow of US involvement. But this time it seemed more serious.”
Parly said the US drawback was a “slow process” and acknowledged that a US carrier strike group had just entered the Gulf.
“But the trend is, I think, quite clear and thus probably irrespective of who wins the next elections.”
The US aircraft carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln sailed through the Strait of Hormuz last week to show Washington’s “commitment” to freedom of navigation, the Pentagon said.
It was the first time a US aircraft carrier group has passed through the strait since Iran downed a US drone in June in the same area.
The French defense minister also put herself at odds with the US on maritime security in the Gulf, after Washington earlier this month launched a maritime coalition based in Bahrain to protect shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
France instead favors a European mission which Parly said should be able to start “very soon.”
“We want to make clear that our policy is separate from the ‘maximum pressure’ American policy,” she said, referring to Washington’s increasing sanctions against Tehran.
“I would like to add that we are not subtracting anything, we are adding, as a number of countries would not have participated in the American initiative anyway.”
In a wide-ranging and strongly-worded speech, Parly also spoke out on the dangers of chemical weapons again being used in Syria — an outcome that would be a red line for France.
“Yes, there is a risk and when you look at (rebel-held) Idlib province there is a strong risk,” she said.
“I am convinced that if these weapons were used again that France would be ready to react again.”
She also homed in on strains on NATO, saying it remained the cornerstone of security in Europe but that it was “time to move from the brain-dead to the brainstorm.”
French President Emmanuel Macron stirred controversy this month saying he believed NATO was undergoing “brain death,” lamenting a lack of coordination between Europe and the United States, in an interview with The Economist magazine.
Parly said proposals will be laid on the table at the alliance’s summit in London in December including for a group of “wise persons or elders to think about the future of NATO.”


Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”