French Fifth Republic (1958–present)


Charles de Gaulle
GCLH GCM CL Cg (1914) Cg (1939) CC MIV Mcg

8 January 1959

28 April 1969


Union for the New Republic



Union of Democrats for the Republic

President of the Council of Ministers
(1 June 19588 January 1959)


Georges Pompidou (cropped 2).jpg

Georges Pompidou
GCLH GCM Cg (1939)

20 June 1969

2 April 1974 [†]


Union of Democrats for the Republic


Prime Minister of France
(14 April 196210 July 1968)


Valéry Giscard d’Estaing 1978(3).jpg

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
GCLH GCM Cg (1939) Académie
(born 1926)

27 May 1974

21 May 1981


National Federation of the Independent Republicans
Union for French Democracy


Minister of the Economy and Finance
(20 June 1969 – 27 May 1974)


François Mitterrand avril 1981.jpg

François Mitterrand
GCLH GCM OF MR Cg (1939)

21 May 1981

17 May 1995


Socialist Party



Member of the National Assembly for Nièvre
(6 December 1962 – 21 May 1981)


Jacques Chirac retouched.jpg

Jacques Chirac
(born 1932)

17 May 1995

16 May 2007


Rally for the Republic



Union for a Popular Movement

Mayor of Paris
(25 March 1977 – 16 May 1995)


Flickr - europeanpeoplesparty - EPP Summit October 2010 (105).jpg

Nicolas Sarkozy
(born 1955)

16 May 2007

15 May 2012


Union for a Popular Movement


Minister of the Interior
(2 June 200526 March 2007)


Francois Hollande 2015.jpeg

François Hollande
(born 1954)

15 May 2012

14 May 2017


Socialist Party


President of the General Council of Corrèze
(20 March 2008 – 11 May 2012)


Emmanuel Macron
(born 1977)

14 May 2017



La République En Marche!









Israeli-Egyptian conflict - the two key flash-points


The over-arching problem of French policy in the Middle east has been the historical sense of having a colonial legacy connected to the Arab peoples - most notably in Algeria, Syria and the Lebanon and their somewhat cooling juxta-antipathy towards Israeli ambition in the Middle East. The latter takes a particularly stronger form after the 6 day war n 1967 and Yom Kippur war in 1973.


These two conflicts largely between Israel and Egypt has defined ever since the meaning of Israel in the Middle East.


On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution "recommending to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory Power for Palestine, and to all other Members of the United Nations the adoption and implementation, with regard to the future government of Palestine, of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union", UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II). This was an attempt to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by partitioning Palestine into "Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem". Each state would comprise three major sections; the Arab state would also have an enclave at Jaffa in order to have a port on the Mediterranean.

With about 32% of the population, the Jews were allocated 56% of the territory. It contained 499,000 Jews and 438,000 Arabs and a majority of it was in the Negev desert. The Palestinian Arabs were allocated 42% of the land, which had a population of 818,000 Palestinian Arabs and 10,000 Jews. In consideration of its religious significance, the Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, with 100,000 Jews and an equal number of Palestinian Arabs, was to become a Corpus Separatum, to be administered by the UN

The Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan as "the indispensable minimum glad to gain international recognition but sorry that they did not receive more. The representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League firmly opposed the UN action

Deep dissatisfaction over the division of the lands which the arabs thought had been disproportionately handed to Israel led to sporadic and often intense violence at the same time as Ben-Gurion had since 1946 and as leader of the Israeli people been amassing arms anticipation conflicts to come with the arabs.

29 November 1947, until the termination of the British Mandate and Israeli proclamation of statehood on 14 May 1948.  During this period the Jewish and Arab communities of British Mandate clashed, while the British organized their withdrawal and intervened only on an occasional basis. In the first two months of the Civil War, around 1,000 people were killed and 2,000 people injured, and by the end of March, the figure had risen to 2,000 dead and 4,000 wounded.


Plan Dalet: Israeli military plan: The plan was a set of guidelines to take control of Mandatory Palestine, declare a Jewish state, and defend its borders and people, including the Jewish population outside of the borders, 'before, and in anticipation of' the invasion by regular Arab armies. Through  series of largely successful  military operations the Israeli army then known as the haganah (later Israeli defense force) drove out various of the arab forces from both territories allocated to Israel as well as to the Arab state


On 14 May 1948, the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish state Both superpower leaders, U.S. President Harry S. Truman (de facto) and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, immediately recognized the new state, while the Arab League refused to accept the UN partition plan


Over the next few days, contingents of four of the seven countries of the Arab League at that time, namely Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, and Syria, invaded territory in the former British Mandate of Palestine and fought the Israelis. They were supported by the Arab Liberation Army and corps of volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Yemen. The Arab armies launched a simultaneous offensive on all fronts, Egypt forces invaded from south, Jordanian and Iraqi forces invaded from east, while Syrian forces invaded from north.


The upshot of ll this fighting and conflicts to re-structure by force the territorial allocations of the UN partition plan was a series of truces imposed by the UN and broken by either the Israelis or the Arab forces across June 1948 and March 1949


In 1949, Israel signed separate armistices with Egypt on 24 February, Lebanon on 23 March, Transjordan on 3 April, and Syria on 20 July. The armistice lines saw Israel holding about 78% of mandate Palestine (as it stood after the independence of Transjordan in 1946), 22% more than the UN Partition Plan had allocated. These ceasefire lines were known afterwards as the "Green Line". The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were occupied by Egypt and Transjordan, respectively.


Palestinians call 1948 "al-Nakba", or "the Catastrophe". Up to 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from the land that became Israel, and were never allowed back.




1967 War - 5th 10th June 1967


The antagonism of the 1947-1949 period and the suspicions and hurt on both sides meant that  a re-opening of conflicts was possible at any time not least in the crisis of 1956 Suez war that saw the rise of a populist nationalism in arab states and most obviously under Nasser in Egypt.


The variety of arab states and the constant instability created among tem by petty jealousies and suspicions of each contrasted with the unity of purposes of Israel that guarded its captured territories and its people, was largely supported by the West and had a powerful and effective army and intelligence infrastructure.


War in 1967 came as a result of years of increasing tension and vicious border skirmishes between Arabs and Israelis.

The border between Egypt and Israel was relatively quiet. The biggest flashpoint was Israel's northern border with Syria, where they fought over disputed territory and Syria's attempts to divert the River Jordan away from Israel's national water grid.

The Syrians sheltered Palestinian guerrillas, who were mounting raids into Israel.

Western powers had no doubt which side in the Middle East was stronger on the eve of war in 1967. The US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff judged "that Israel will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least during the next five years."

A big Israeli raid into the Jordanian-occupied West Bank targeting the village of Samua in November 1966, followed a land mine attack inside Israel.

Hussein, who the Americans believed was doing all he could to stop Palestinian infiltration, Syria actively encouraged it; Israel was pushing its claims to disputed territory in the border area aggressively by cultivating fields in demilitarised areas with armoured tractors.

It came to a head with a full-scale air and artillery battle between Israel and Syria on 7 April, 1967. Israel routed the Syrians.

Syria, and the Palestinian guerrillas it sponsored, tried even harder to provoke the Israelis, who obliged them by rising to every provocation.  It looked to Syria and Egypt, as well as to Britain and the US, that Israel was planning a bigger move.

Then an intervention by the Soviet Union changed everything. On 13 May, Moscow delivered a warning to Cairo that Israel was massing troops on the border with Syria and would attack within a week. Why exactly the Soviet Union fired the starting pistol for war has been debated ever since. Two Israeli historians, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, argue that the USSR deliberately instigated the crisis; they say it wanted to block Israel's nuclear weapons plans; and that the Soviets were ready to commit their own forces to the fight.

At the time a "medium-level" Soviet official told the CIA that the Soviet Union was stirring up the Arabs to try to make trouble for the US. With the big problems in Vietnam, another war in the Middle East would be an even worse headache. In 1967 neither Israel nor its Arab neighbours needed much encouragement. They plunged straight into the crisis that they had all expected for years.

The problem was that for the Arabs, Egypt to whom they looked for the most military support  was in no fit state to fight But nonetheless On 22 May, Nasser banned Israeli shipping from the Straits of Tiran, the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, effectively re-imposing the blockade of the port of Eilat that had been lifted in 1956.

The day after Nasser closed the Straits, the Israeli prime minister, Levi Eshkol, and the cabinet ordered a full mobilisation. In 48 hours, 250,000 men could be put into the field. After compulsory military service, all Israeli men were allocated to a reserve unit. Johnson indicated he would work on ways of getting the Straits of Tiran open, perhaps with a multinational naval task force, but wanted time to see if it could work.

Abba Eban decided Israel would have to move at America's pace, but the army was ready to attack and the generals were getting frustrated.

Nasser was uniting the entire Arab world against them. He had moved divisions into the Sinai desert, making a direct threat to Israel's borders.


Brig Gen Elad Peled, one of four divisional commanders, was at the meeting. Peled told me in 2002: "The mental generation gap was very important. We were the cowboys, frontier people. We looked at the older generation as people who were not free, they were not liberated… the minister of education asked me 'what if you're wrong? You're playing with the existence of the state.' I told him I am 100% confident about the result of the war."

On Friday 2 June, Israel's generals put the definitive case for war to the cabinet defence committee. They told the politicians that they could beat Egypt, but the longer they had to wait the harder it would be.

A few days earlier Meir Amit, the head of Israel's spy agency Mossad, had travelled to Washington DC on a false passport, in disguise. He did not want to wait longer for war; he was deeply concerned about the shutdown in the economy caused by the mobilisation of most of the male population under the age of 50.

Amit told me in 2002 about a crucial meeting he had with the US defence secretary, Robert McNamara. "I said… 'I'm going to recommend a war'. "McNamara asked only two questions. 'How long?' I said it would take a week. 'How many casualties?' I said less than the war of independence, which was 6,000. McNamara said 'I read you loud and clear'." The Americans had given a clear signal. They had been told that Israel would be going to war and had made no attempt to stop it happening.

Unlike the Egyptians and the other Arab armies, the Israelis had done their homework. They had flown hundreds of reconnaissance missions over the years to build up an accurate picture of every airbase in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Pilots had a target book, giving the details of their layouts, call signs and defences. From radio intercepts they even built up voice-recognition files of the main Arab commanders.

The attack was a huge success. Field Marshal Amer and the Egyptian top brass were meeting at Bir Tamada, an airbase in Sinai. They were just starting the meeting when the first Israeli jets started their bomb runs. Amer's plane was able to take off but at one point had nowhere to land as every Egyptian airbase was under attack.

Later in the day Israel destroyed most of the Jordanian and Syrian air forces. Israel controlled the skies, and after that it was matter of finishing the job. In the five days that followed Israel routed the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai desert from Egypt; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, from Jordan.

For the first time in almost two millennia the Jewish holy places in Jerusalem were under the control of Jews





Map of region before and after Six Day War

1973 Yom Kippur War

Yom Kippur War, also called the October War, the Ramadan War, or the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, damaging inconclusive war and the fourth of the Arab-Israeli wars. The war was initiated by Egypt and Syria on October 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur and during Ramadan, the month of fasting in Islam, and it continued until October 26, 1973. The war, which eventually drew both the United States and the Soviet Union into indirect confrontation in defense of their respective allies, was launched with the diplomatic aim of convincing a chastened—if still undefeated—Israel to negotiate on terms more favourable to the Arab countries.

The previous Arab-Israeli war, the Six-Day War (1967), was followed by years of sporadic fighting, which developed into a full-scale war in 1973. On the afternoon of October 6, Israel was attacked simultaneously on two fronts by Egypt and Syria. With the element of surprise to their advantage, Egyptian forces successfully crossed the Suez Canal with greater ease than expected, suffering only a fraction of the anticipated casualties, while Syrian forces were able to launch their offensive against Israeli positions and break through to the Golan Heights. The intensity of the Egyptian and Syrian assault, so unlike the situation in 1967, rapidly began to exhaust Israel’s reserve stocks of munitions. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir turned to the United States for aid, while the Israeli general staff hastily improvised a battle strategy. The reluctance of the United States to help Israel changed rapidly when the Soviet Union commenced its own resupply effort to Egypt and Syria. U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon countered by establishing an emergency supply line to Israel, even though the Arab countries imposed a costly oil embargo and various U.S. allies refused to facilitate the arms shipments.

With reinforcements on the way, the Israel Defense Forces rapidly turned the tide. Israel succeeded in disabling portions of the Egyptian air defenses, which allowed Israeli forces to cross the Suez Canal and surround the Egyptian Third Army. On the Golan front, Israeli troops, at heavy cost, repulsed the Syrians and advanced to the edge of the Golan plateau on the road to Damascus. On October 22 the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 338, which called for an immediate end to the fighting; despite this, however, hostilities continued for several days thereafter and finally ceased on October 26.

Israel and Egypt signed a cease-fire agreement in November and peace agreements on January 18, 1974. A United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force established a buffer zone between the two armies. This agreement was supplemented by another, signed on September 4, 1975. On May 31, 1974, Israel and Syria signed a cease-fire agreement that also covered separation of their forces by a UN buffer zone and exchange of prisoners of war. In June the oil embargo was lifted.



What  want to do today is to review the various Middle East policies of the presidential successors of de Gaulle and then towards the end I will attempt to place France's performance in the Middle East in te context of that Patrick Muller has called The Europeanization of France's foreign policy towards the Middle

East conflict (2013)


Frederic Charillon has taken a rather vitiated view of France's successes with its Middle East policies over the last 25 years or so. He notes:

France’s diplomatic sojourns into the Middle East over the past quarter century have only yielded moderate success. As a former colonial power, an important member state of the European Union, and a Mediterranean country itself, France rightly considers the Middle East a case study for its foreign policy and global influence. Yet, its recent diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa have usually shown a fading of France’s political clout in the region. The last two presidential mandates of Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–12) and François Hollande (2012–17) have been marked by several political and diplomatic setbacks. Soon after his election in 2017, Emmanuel Macron tried to take lessons from the past disappointments of his predecessors, mostly by taking new small-scale initiatives in Lebanon and Libya and planning a more ambitious regional stance. Yet, as the French republic is not in a position to impose region-wide transformational policies alone, France needs partners to propose a new agenda.


De Gaulle to Macron

President Georges Pompidou said last night that France is not going to change its policies toward the Middle East, but that his government would continue its efforts to bring about a permanent peace settlement in the region and would “remain faithful to the attitude defined by Gen. de Gaulle.”

He said that a permanent peace in the Middle East will “have to be based upon respect for the territorial integrity of the different states involved and upon resolutions adopted by the community of nations.” He said that France had done everything possible to avert the Six-Day War, in 1967 and since then “has tried unceasingly and on every level” to find a formula for peace.

Pompidou believed his outlook stems logically from General de Gaulle's previous Middle East policy, which terminated arms aid and cooled relations with Israel.

The President held everything can't be done by America alone to insure the Israeli future. The heart of the problem was the need for a practical, serious international guarantee to insure the validity of a final settlement.

And such a guarantee cannot be limited to obligations by the United States—or the U.S. and Russia. It requires backing by other nations including France, thus reducing the risk of some future superpower confrontation stemming from this issue.

As for relations with Arab states, Pompidou saw them developing logically from the moment of de Gaulle's break with Israel in 1967 and Pompidou's own initiative two years later producing France's first major armsArab sale—to Libya.

Paris was now pushing similar bilateral accords with oil producers like Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.

France did not see the major energy problem as one of actual shortage, but one of price. For France, Italy and Japan—all relying heavily on Arab fuel supplies—this was a primordial matter, far more than for the U.S.A. with its vast resources, West Germany with its rich coal mines and Holland with its natural gas potential.

Thus, more than ever, France tried to develop cooperation with Arab states. Foreign Minister Jobert's held exploratory talks with some Arab capitals. But despite this the the French rejected the suggestion that they were in the simple role of arms peddlers, bartering weapons for fuel. They did admit this is part of the picture—if only on the same scale as Britain and much less than is the case for America and Russia.

Yet Pompidou envisioned progress based primarily on trading non-military goods for petroleum and finding new markets for French industry and technology, easing the balance of payments problem internationally and avoiding the spread of unemployment at home.

When the 1969 Mirages sale to Libya was arranged, the contract included clause (the French say) insisting that Libya should not pass the aircraft on to other countries or allow them to be stationed for any length of time on foreign soil. The President reportedly contended that this was a “general clause” contained in all such arms contracts.  However, there was little doubt that some Libyan Mirages were used against Israel last October.

Nevertheless, France under Pompidou argued that its longrange Middle East policy helps keep a “Western” presence among the Arabs and thus frustrated Soviet penetration efforts.


In interview Pompidou when directly asked said:

Q. Would you tell me what your Middle East policy is? Moreover, was the sale of planes to Libya simply to insure France's position in the Mediterranean and access to oil?

A. Anyone can see that France is seeking ways to reconcile the assertion that Israel has an absolute right to exist, to function freely and to live in peace within safe, recognized borders, with our refusal to recognize Israel's right of military conquest.

This was indicative of almost the whole of Pompidou Middle East policy - one of playing both ends against the middle trying to portray France as an honest broker between two incompatible interests i.e. Israel and  Arab nations.


"Everyone should under stand that France has not forgotten the Nazi martyr dom of European Jews, including French Jews, whose courage during the ordeal earned the admiration of all our people. However, France also intends to maintain and develop its ancient ties with most of the Moslem world and more particularly with the Arab countries.

In the Middle East crisis. France wants and seeks only peace—a peace which believe is indispensable to everyone and first of all to Israel. This is why we have placed the embargo on the shipment of arms to all the countries in the field of battle. The fact that at first this affected Israel in particular is correct. But since then all these countries have received increasingly powerful arms, sometimes from one nation, sometimes an other, but never from France."

As far as the Libya is concerned, we do not consider Libya directly involved in the conflict between Israel and a certain number of countries, including Egypt. Naturally, Libya is Egypt's neighbour and an Arab nation. The Libyan leaders have made declarations of solidarity with the other Arab countries. All this is true. To maintain that there is no relationship would be contrary to the truth.

But France has treated this affair separately for two reasons: First, our ties with the countries of North Africa and the Maghreb, of which Libya is not an integral part but to which it is far from foreign. Because of French interests in the Maghreb, our economic, cultural and intellectual position in that region, we cannot dissociate ourselves from Libya.

We consider that it is France's duty to herself, and also to all the western Mediterranean, to look after those interests common to European and Mediterranean countries.

We are not going to seek Libyan oil; we buy oil from Libya, of course, but we are not seeking to expand our position as regards oil especial in Libya. I repeat, it is a country located at our very door and at the door of the Maghreb; it is a country whose oil resources are important for Europe as a whole, not only for France. It is a country whose strategic position is important.

Q. And how about Israel? Is there any chance in the future of reconsidering the current total embargo? I am thinking, for example, of spare parts.

A. I have nothing to add to all that I have said about this previously. I stand by all the statements I have made since taking office on this matter; they are in line with my present thinking.

and here is what the Jewish Telegraphic Agency thought of Pompidou

The death of French President Georges Pompidou is certain to spell a change, some observers already say an improvement, in the tortuous path of Franco-Israeli relations. Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Presidential elections, due to take place between April 22 and May 7, a new chapter will probably be opened in the history of Franco-Israeli ties.

Pompidou, who assumed the Presidency in 1969 at what was then thought to be the lowest ebb of Franco-Israeli relations, gave a further turn to the pro-Arab policy initiated by his predecessor. General Charles de Gaulle, on the eve on the Six-Day War. It was during Pompidou’s 5-year tenure of office that the French arms embargo became officially total, that France concluded an agreement for a massive sale of French-made war planes to Libya, that Paris tried to organize Europe into a pro-Arab bloc and that France openly courted and wooed the oil-rich Arab states.

Elysee watchers developed a number of theories over the years to explain the new turn in France’s policy in the Middle East. According to some, Pompidou realized that he lacked the personal prestige and charisma to try and play a mediator’s role in the Middle East. It was pointless even trying and, pragmatically, he adopted an open pro-Arab stance. According to others, he firmly believed that de Gaulle’s reading of the situation as a permanent invitation for a third world war was accurate.

He also believed de Gaulle was right in his judgement that peace can only come through mutual Arab-Israeli concessions–with Israel returning the territories occupied during the Six-Day War and the Arabs recognizing Israel and concluding a peace agreement.


Giscard d'Estaing - 1974-81

Under Giscard, the French claimed that their Middle East policy is equally aimed at producing overall negotiations. They still found it necessary, after agreeing on a moderate Common Market statement welcoming the EgyptianIsraeli treaty, although skeptically, to issue a subsequent statement of their own last week proving that they remain the most pro-Arab of the European governments.

The Washington post in 1980 said of Giscard's Middle east policy: it is..."a sign of more balanced French approaches to the ArabIsraeli problem than has been the case at times in the past".

According to Giscard d'Estaing: “My own opinion is that peace is desirable for everyone concerned — the Arabs and the Israelis. But this requires a total settlement. The situation cannot be stabilized with anything less than that.  I think much progress was made In 1976 but this trend was interrupted by the necessity of national elections in both the United States and Israel. Since then the gradual progress has not moved in the same way.”

Giscard's  broad principles were that  there must be Israeli territorial evacuations; there must be an autonomous Palestinian state that could be linked in one or another way to Jordan; there must be some form of Jerusalem statute, and also more specific definition of the kind of relations Israel will have with its neighbours once belligerency ends.

“Certainly Egypt has clearly exposed its own point of view and shown how far it is willing to go with Israel.” Yet, this being said, it is obvious the world doesn't yet know how far—or with whom—the other Arabs will go, how far the Israelis will concede (and to whom), and how successfully the big four external powers can coordinate their own policies and aspirations.

Giscard took the view that despite tensions among the Arabs over Egypt's recent Sinai agreement with Israel. The Arabs would retain a basic solidarity France.  Giscard urged other West European countries to adopt a sympathetic view of the problems of the Arabs and particularly of the Palestinians. The French Foreign Minister, Jean Sauvargnargues, was one of the few senior European leaders to have talks with Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In 1977 Giscard visited Saudi and demonstrated the traditional French orientation towards  the Arab peoples. French-Arab relations were strengthened by a French court releasing Abu Daoud, the Palestinian suspected of organizing the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Many critics of the Daoud release accused France of surrendering to Arab pressure in order to maintain the vital oil lifeline to the Middle East and North Africa. Giscard denounced the critic's "campaign of insults."

Giscard noted that the Arab-Israeli standoff will be settled "in a way satisfying the interests and legal aspirations of the Palestinians." and added: "We are not afraid to proclaim our opinion with frankness and we realize that many other Western European nations have the same opinion as ourselves, though they do not say so openly and frankly."

Later at that meeting year France signed contracts with the Saudis for about $1.6 billion.

Despite French attempts to portray Giscard as a peacemaker - as a mediator, the press at the time noted:

March 1980 - French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing left Saudi Arabia today, concluding an 11-day tour of the Middle East that has helped push Israel deeper than ever into isolation from Western Europe.

The French leader got big headlines all over the continent for his insistence, in much more specific terms than he has used previously, on the right of the Palestinian people in "self-determination" and of the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate in peace talks.

Despite official Israeli protests to France, the other eight members of the European Economic Community have been making clear their fundamental agreement with the French position. This includes even the Netherlands, the European government that has consistently been the friendliest toward Israel, even at the cost of a stringent Arab oil boycott in 1973.

"We won't let ourselves be outflanked by the British. We'll stay out front," said a French official. One U.S. observer said, "The British and French are playing slapjack," a card game in which the players compete by matching cards of the same value. The object is apparently to show that each is at least as good a friend of the Arabs as the other.

Muller has commented:


France’s national diplomacy were subsequently incorporated in the EC’s Venice Declaration of June 1980, which represented the most far reaching EC statement  n the Arab-Israeli conflict for many years to come. Among other things, the Venice Declaration supported the right to existence and security of all states in the region, including Israel; the Palestinian right to self-determination; and the association of the PLO with a peace settlement. While the Venice declaration was a carefully constructed compromise among the member states, it also testified of France’s remarkable capacity to move European diplomacy forwards.


Mitterand 1981-1995

Jean-Pierre Filiu has commented: (FRANCOIS MITTERRAND AND THE PALESTINIANS: 1956–95) Journal of Palestine Studies Vol.XXXVIII,No.2(

Francois Mitterrand, the longest-serving French president in history, never ceased to be a passionate advocate of Israel, in contrast to his Gaullist predecessors. But he was also the most committed to Palestinian statehood, and among the earliest to insist on the PLO’s full engagement in the peace process, often at considerable cost to his ties with Israel.

Before his election, had been known in his own right as one of Israel’s strongest sup- porters on the French political scene. A founder of Alliance France-Isra¨el, he had consistently criticized France’s estrangement from the Jewish state.

Given these well-known facts, Mitterrand, once elected, was widely expected to take France’s Middle East policy in a sharply new direction. Yet even while his com- mitment to Israel never wavered, within a year he had gone farther than any of his predecessors on the Palestine issue, recognizing the Palestinians’ right to a state. During his two terms in office (1981–1995),he twice proposed—in 1982 and1990—UN resolutions aimed at engaging the PLO and Israel in a new political process.

He insisted from an early date that the PLO be a full participant in all negotiations and was one of the earliest advocates (in 1980) of Israeli-Palestinian “mutual recognition.” Twice—in the summer of 1982 and in autumn 1983—he sent French navy and commando forces to rescue PLO fighters threatened with annihilation in Lebanon, and it was at his insistence that the PLO was able to leave Beirut with their dignity intact, heads high and flags flying. Indeed, his unquestionably pro-Israeli bias, far from neutralizing his drive to win acceptance for the PLO and the concept of Palestinian statehood, led him to push for these goals even more strongly. Long before his friends in the Israeli Labor party, he was convinced that Palestinian statehood and the preservation of the PLO were essential not just for the sake of the Palestinians, but the long-term interests of Israel.

Jonathan Marcus has commented: France has not recognised the PLO nor does it see it as necessarily the sole representative of the Palestinians. Rather, in President Mitterrand's phrase, it is seen as the Palestinians' 'fighting organisation' and thus an important factor in the political equation. France has long sought to keep the moderates within the PLO in play. This explains France's role in helping to evacuate Arafat's PLO men after their defeat in Lebanon and

In January 1978, at a time when France under Giscard d’Estaing was openly critical of a process seen as undermining the comprehensive approach it favoured, Mitterrand visited President Jimmy Carter at the U.S. embassy in Paris

Mitterrand was also critical of the landmark June 1980Venice declaration, adopted at France’s urging by the European Community, which called for a just solution to the Palestine problem within the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement.

Mitterrand's disapproval of the Venice Declaration had been based on his support for the Camp David accords. In his view, the declaration was too ambitious and undermined the US approach. He felt the "step-by-step" approach had a much better chance of success than an immediate global solution to the crisis. In his view, a comprehensive peace was desirable, but impossible in the short term because too many players were unwilling to compromise. The end of hostilities between Egypt and Israel, as demonstrated in the Camp David treaty, was, therefore, an important first step in the right direction.3 In addition, he felt it was not the role of the Europeans or France to impose a solution based on the principles laid out in the Venice Declaration, but instead to encourage negotiations between the concerned parties.

Yet at the same time, he gave a press conference calling for “mutual recognition” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mitterand visited Israel in 1982 praising the Camp David agreements and Israel broad movement towards a policy of withdrawal from the lands seized in 1967.

Mitterand felt betrayed by Menachem Begin when Israeli troops crossed into Lebanon in  6th June 1982. Israel claimed that it was simply pushing back the PLO threat. He proposed the “neutralization of West Beirut under the monitoring of UN observers,” presented to the UN Security Council as a French draft resolution. But the Reagan administration, apparently won over to Israel’s plan to liquidate the PLO and roll back Syria, vetoed the draft on 26June. Despite this humiliation, Mitterrand, convinced that the PLO had to be saved as a negotiating partner for the success of any eventual political settlement, kept up the diplomatic momentum within the ten-member European Community.



Continuity in French policy has been most evident in the Socialist government's close links with Iraq. The close relation ship between Paris and Baghdad dates back to the mid-1970s when the Gaullist leader, Jacques Chirac, was Prime Minister.

Several large arms deals were concluded together with many civilian contracts, including an agreement for nuclear cooperation. Delivery on a number of these arms contracts was not due until after 1981 and the French Socialist government, true to its word, has honoured all of them.

France has continued to supply Iraq with sophisticated weapons throughout its long-running struggle with Iran. Indeed, French aircraft and advanced munitions now provide the backbone of Iraq's strike potential. Indeed, in recent months Iraq has shown a growing proficiency in its ability to operate its advanced French weaponry. Since August 1985, Iraq has mounted a concerted effort to knock out the Iranian oil installation at Kharg Island. Defence experts suggest that Mirage F-l jet-fighters have borne the brunt of these operations using French manufactured Exocet, laser-guided AS-30 missiles and with anti-radar missiles to neutralise ground defences.

France's outright support for the Iraqi war effort has evoked a mixed response from other western powers. On the one hand, it was clearly seen to be in the west's interests that Iran should not emerge victorious from the conflict. However, there were fears that the fact that Iraq has been provided with the means to escalate the fighting could, in turn, provoke Iran to widen the conflict, perhaps by striking at other Gulf states . Such fears were prompted by France's decision, taken during the summer of 1983, to lease to Iraq five Super Etendard maritime strike-aircraft for two years. France was unrepentant about those arms deliveries to Iraq. The French government has consistently argued that its support for Iraq does not mean that it is against Iran. France says that it has not taken sides in the Gulf War. French officials stress France's active diplomacy at the UN in search of a settlement.

Perhaps we can leave it once more to Marcus to summarise the character of Mitterand's Middle ast policies:

Since President Mitterrand came to office, French policy in the Middle East has increasingly displayed a sense of realism, an awareness of France's limited ability to influence developments in the region. While the goals of French diplomacy have re- mained broadly the same, in 1981 the people guiding French foreign policy changed and with them came a new tone.

This change in atmosphere has been most evident in the markedly better relationship between Paris and Jerusalem. President Mitterrand has himself described French policy towards the Middle East as one of being present and seeking balance and peace. Presence, because France takes its respon sibilities in the world seriously - it is a Permanent Member of the Security Council and has historic ties with the region. But it is the search for balance which has most characterised French policy. President Mitterrand has emphasised that, while France's Arab policy cannot be and never will be anti- Israel, so its policy towards Israel will not be and is not today anti- Arab. Clearly, France cannot please everybody all the time, and there is a risk of falling between two stools and satisfying nobody. However, President Mitterrand seems to have managed to strike this balance with some skill.


However, Filiu takes a rather different tone in his assessment of Mitterand's Middle-East policy:

He was elected president in 1981, at a time when France consistently took the lead in shaping the Middle East agenda of the ten-member European Community. By the time he left office in 1995, his country’s role in the region, as elsewhere, was much diminished, dwarfed by the overwhelming power of the United States.



Pia Wood has noted: "Presidents Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing had perceived the advocacy of certain rights for the Palestinian people to be the best means of supporting French interests, which included the protection of access to Middle East oil, arms sales to the region, regional security through a just peace settlement, and the maintenance of French political influence and independence.

Although both presidents repeatedly declared their support for Israel's right to exist, Pompidou also supported "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people." Giscard d'Estaing had called for a patrie, self-determination for the Palestinians, and sponsored the European Community's (EC) 1980 Venice Declaration.2 French policies under Pompidou and Giscard d'Estaing, however, antago-nized both the United States and Israel. The United States believed that European "interference" might undermine its own efforts, while Israel adamantly opposed any French participation because of its relations with Arab countries. Thus, US and Israeli policies threatened France's political objective of playing an active role in an area of the world deemed vital to French interests. French policy under Mitterrand has been a constant attempt to maintain French involvement in the affairs of the region-particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict-despite the role of the United States as the dominant outside power."


On 8 April 1996,French President Jacques Chirac, in the midst of a high-profile visit to the Middle East, proclaimed to students at the University of Cairo that "France's Arab policy must be an essential element of its foreign policy."' Invoking the tradition of one of his predecessors, President Charles de Gaulle (1958-69) and his famous 'politique arabe,' Chirac stated his intention of giving new momentum to French foreign policy. He thus signalled his determination to reverse France's marginalization as a political player in the Middle East, particularly noticeable in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, and reassert an active and influential French role in the region.

France's backing of the "land for peace" option in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, its support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and for Palestinian leader Yasir 'Arafat, and its willingness to denounce certain Israeli practices, such as the building of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, contrasted with the more unqualified US support for Israel.

In addition, France opposed US threats to launch air strikes against Iraq to force compliance with UN resolutions, and was one of the major supporters of the decision in February 1998 to allow Iraq to increase the amount of oil it could sell under the "oil for food" agreement. France was also critical of the US embargo of Iran and the US policy of "dual containment," which penalize foreign companies conducting business with Iran among other countries.

Earlier, in April 1997, France had successfully urged the European Union to propose a "code of conduct" whereby the Palestinian leadership would redouble its efforts to combat terrorism, while Israel would agree to freeze Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu rejected the idea, maintaining that Europe's role should be essentially economic. Thus, France has been unsuccessful in its efforts to use the European forum as leverage to promote French political ambitions in the Middle East peace process.

By mid-1997, it was clear that only the United States could bring Israel back to the negotiating table with the Palestinian leadership.3I As a result, the French government stepped back and concentrated on criticizing specific Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, such as Netanyahu's refusal to carry out agreements signed by previous governments, and the Israeli prime minister's decision to construct additional settlements in East Jerusalem.

Chirac sought to readjust the status quo in French policy and shift Paris's sympathies further toward the Arab world. Speaking in Cairo in April 1996, Chirac declared, "France's Arab policy must be a dimension of its foreign policy. I wish to give it a new boost." The French government expanded its trade and cultural exchanges with the Arab world.

By 2002, France was among the top three trade partners for most Arab countries: first in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Saddam's Iraq, second in Lebanon, and Syria, and third in Egypt. France was also first among foreign investors in Jordan.

Ahmed Youssef, author of L'Orient de Jacques Chirac, argues that Chirac's policies have made inroads with the Arab states:

As soon as the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians deteriorated, Chirac appeared, in the eyes of Arab opinion, to be the only Western leader that could counter the unconditional support of the United States to Israel. Chirac then became more popular than certain leaders or kings in the Arab capitals

However, perhaps as with Mitterand, Chirac's pursuit of  a sympathetic line with the PLO and therefore an antipathy towards Israel (as Israel would see it) did not ultimately permit him to develop a successful Middle East policy. The final sings of failure were brought out in 2006 at the end of his Presidency when there was a major spat with his Minister of Interior, soon to be President, Nicolas Sarkozy.


The FY reported it thus:

Jacques Chirac, France’s president, on Monday exposed deep ideological divisions at the top of the French government by rebuking Nicolas Sarkozy, his rebellious interior minister and likely successor, for toeing an overly pro-US line. Mr Chirac also set up another possible clash with the US over the Middle East by urging the UN Security Council to scale down its threat of sanctions against Iran, ahead of Tuesday’s General Assembly meeting in New York.

The French president, widely expected to step down next year, is thought to be furious about Mr Sarkozy’s speech in Washington last week, when the interior minister criticised France’s “arrogance” in its relations with the US. Mr Sarkozy struck at the heart of Mr Chirac’s foreign policy legacy by suggesting Paris went too far in 2003 by threatening to use its UN veto to block a US-led invasion of Iraq.

In a rare radio interview, the French president distanced himself from his interior minister, saying: “We have relations [with the US] that can only be between equals, which cannot be a relationship of submission.” The 73-year-old Mr Chirac defended his opposition to the war in Iraq. “When I look at the situation, I do not feel I have committed an error,” he told Europe 1, before flying to New York for today’s UN meeting, where he will meet US President George W. Bush.

In a private conversation with aides, Mr Chirac went further, slamming Mr Sarkozy’s speech as “irresponsible” and a “lamentable . . . error” that was “a danger for France”, according to yesterday’s Libération newspaper. The president sees France as a natural counter-weight to US hegemony. But Mr Sarkozy wants closer relations, declaring last week: “We must rebuild the transatlantic relationship on the basis of trust and shared responsibility. I don’t want to see an arrogant France with a diminished presence.” Mr Sarkozy’s pro-US stance has drawn flak from leftwing opponents.

Laurent Fabius, former Socialist premier and presidential hopeful, described Mr Sarkozy as “Mr Bush’s future poodle”.


Sarkozy 2007-2012

Charillon portrays the decline of France's Middle East policy influence thus

Chirac led a coalition to oppose the neoconservative George W. Bush administration’s war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003. Yet in leading this opposition, France managed only to voice its disapproval without being able to block the American invasion. Meanwhile, Chirac’s good relationship with Arafat could not save the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. Also, his personal friendship with Hariri could not stop Lebanon being bombed in 2006 during the Israel– Hezbollah War. Finally, Chirac’s goal to create a new friendship treaty with Algeria (based on the model of the French–German relationship) remained unsuccessful. 

Chirac’s successors met with the same difficulties attempting to turn goodwill into political breakthroughs. Just like the 1995 Barcelona process (largely a French initiative) was ruined by dramatic regional events, Sarkozy’s 2008 project of a union for the Mediterranean collapsed after Israel’s war on Gaza in 2008–2009 and the Arab uprisings of 2011. As such, France’s initiatives post-Chirac in 2007 were brave but unsurprisingly met many obstacles. 

The Arab Spring deprived France of long-term allies such as Ben Ali and Mubarak and caught Paris off guard. France’s attempt to take the initiative during the Arab uprisings led to its strike against Gaddafi in 2011, which was at first considered a success because of the operational military know-how and the last-minute rescue of Benghazi. However, the resulting regime change and Gaddafi’s demise created a collapsed state, infuriated many emerging powers, and spread weapons and fighters throughout the Sahel. The operation is now considered a strategic mistake by Macron and by Barack Obama. 

The biggest French trauma in recent times, though, remained the Syrian civil war. After the outbreak of the war in 2011, Paris quickly adopted a tough tone and made the demise of Bashar Al-Assad a sine qua non or essential condition for any resolution of the conflict. However, Iran’s support for Damascus, Washington’s reluctance to strike the Al-Assad regime in 2013 after the use of chemical weapons against civilians, then the Russian intervention in 2015, were crucial game changers. As the civil war dragged on, the French position began to appear somewhat naive. Finally, with the advent of the Astana process—led by Russia, Iran, and Turkey—Western and Arab diplomatic efforts featuring the removal of Al-Assad were pushed aside. 

The sea-change in Sarkozy’s foreign policy, has been the relationship with Israel. On the ground in Israel, the relationship between the French Mission and the Israeli public is like day and night to what it was before. And this despite all the difficulties created by the Israelis themselves, from Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (December 2008-January 2009) and the storming of the Turkish relief ship to Gaza, the Mavi Marmora, on May 31, 2009, and the ensuing nine Turkish deaths.


Hollande 2012-2017

When Hollande came to power in 2012, French exports of military equipment were worth $5.3bn. By 2016, the orders amounted to more than $22bn, a remarkable performance by the French military industry under Hollande.

This recipe for success was not limited to the Arabs, but the contribution of Arab customers (Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and, of course, Saudi Arabia) to the French military industry's dynamism was significant. The performance of the French military industry was remarkable under the Hollande presidency

Hollande reaped the rewards of a political context, the instability and violence that followed the Arab spring, favourable for France to increased arms sales opportunities. At the same time France lacked the inclination to push its allies on human rights, and made the most of the country's image as a “friend of the Arabs” – probably unjustified – since De Gaulle’s presidency.

Relations between France and two of its former colonies, Algeria and Morocco, were largely unproblematic under Hollande. What were thought to be Hollande's warm sentiments towards Algeria were confirmed by the content of his December 2012 and June 2015 visits, and by his decision to participate in the March 2016 commemorations of the ceasefire that followed the Evian Agreements that ended Algeria's war of independence from France.

In January 2016, Paris released $1.1bn to help Tunisia with socio-economic programmes. In addition, the two countries agreed on their security cooperation, a critical factor for France given concerns over terrorist risks.

Hollande took great care of his relations with the Gulf countries, notably Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, three countries behind military orders worth billions of euros. But it is the relationship between Hollande and Saudi Arabia that was significant. The former president, nicknamed “Hollande of Arabia” by some, appears to have been at ease with his pro-Saudi inclination, while his predecessor, Sarkozy, was leaning towards Qatar.

This stance was solidified because the French-Saudi military relationship  kept France’s military-industrial complex busy by injecting billions of euros. Yet Hollande managed to balance this relationship with Saudi Arabia while leaving the door open for dealing with Iran.

Hassan Rohani’s accession to the Iranian presidency, combined with the seal of conformity guaranteed by the nuclear agreement, left France unable to oppose the reintegration of the Islamic republic into the international community.

Former foreign minister Laurent Fabius cast an extremely suspicious glance on any possibility of granting Iran nuclear capabilities, pursuing Sarkozy’s policy and rallying Hollande behind his point of view. But when the US under President Obama had validated the return of Iran to the concert of nations, any obstruction on the part of France would have proved useless. Rouhani’s visit to Paris in January 2016 was a strong sign of this French bid to consolidate bilateral relations. Hollande went so far as considering investment opportunities in Iran, a request French manufacturers had made for years.


Syria and Hollande: Holande opted for a strategy that would facilitate the departure or the fall of Bashar al-Assad. Recognition of a Syrian ambassador for the Syrian opposition, facilitating of the strategy of the armed groups fighting the regime, joint action with the United Kingdom to lift the European arms embargo imposed on rebels, attempts to promote UN resolutions, in addition to France’s aspiration to highlight the responsibility of the Syrian regime in the use of chemical weapons, both in 2013 and 2017. Hollande struggled until the end to find the breakthrough which would bring an end to the Syrian regime

Essentially, Hollande remained in search of an international mobilisation – preferably led by the US – which would overthrow the Syrian president.  Hollande was even tempted for a while with the idea of assassinating Bashar al-Assad, but struggled until the end to find the breakthrough which would bring an end to the Syrian regime

Things got somewhat complicated when the question of bombing IS's positions in Syria arose. Engaged in the anti-IS coalition in Iraq since 2014, France initially refused to extend its action to Syria. It changed its stance at the end of 2015, deciding to conduct reconnaissance flights over Syria to carry out “strikes” against IS, an evolution of strategy that nevertheless excluded any intervention on the ground.

France’s participation in the anti-IS bombing campaign in Syria did not prevent the attacks on the Bataclan (November 2015) and in Nice (July 2016). Focusing entirely on a security approach while eluding questions of French policies in the region, the French government intensified its resolve in its struggle against IS, opting in return for a lessening of its criticism of Bashar al-Assad. Even in his official reaction to the Khan Sheikhoun gas attack in April 2017, Hollande appeared less confrontational towards Assad.


The Palestine Question and Hollande: This is reflected in France’s support for Palestine’s bid to gain the status of a non-member state at the UN in November 2012; or in the fact that France voted in favour of a Palestinian resolution at the UN, giving three years to Israel to withdraw from the territories that it has been occupying since June 1967 – among other things.

However, important as they may be, these steps have not succeeded in raising the stature of France among Palestinians or the Arab world in general. Nor did they show that he actually wanted to find a solution – and in this case a fair solution – to Israelis and Palestinians.

'The solution will never be imposed by the international community, never' – Francois Hollande at the CRIF dinner, March 2017

His refusal to recognise the state of Palestine before the end of his term - and his last speech as president before the Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) in March 2017, in which he stated that “the solution will never be imposed by the international community, never”– eventually symbolised legacy of the Hollande years in the Middle East: a record that questions whether he ever had a strategic vision, considering the many contradictions displayed during his term, notably regarding the defence of human rights, of which France claims to be guarantor.

Egypt is another example. In April 2016, referring to Hollande’s visit to Cairo, the media praised the French president’s courage for mentioning the question of human rights to his “annoyed” Egyptian counterpart. However, in addition to what was actually weak criticism of the situation in Egypt by the French head of state, less attention has been paid to the fact that France, in a position of strength, confirmed the signing of several investment contracts during the same visit.


Macron: 2017-

Macron’s has a vision of multilateral dialogue with all actors - keep everyone talking and negotiating and exchanging goods - a sort of neo-liberal approach to International Relations

Macron continued his resistance against conservatives in his open contempt of the Donald Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Macron said in March 2018 about Trump’s decision that he believed it was unfortunate and contravened international law. He has gone on to call the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal a mistake and refused to side with Saudi Arabia or Qatar when relations soured between the two countries in 2017.

In the cs of Libya,  Macron has increased French visibility as an arbiter between warring factions convening two meetings in Paris, the first one in July 2017 with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, General Khalifa Haftar, President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, and Khaled al-Mishri, head of the High Council of State.

The second meeting was held in May 2018 which led to a fragile agreement over the planning of elections in December 2018. These were important initiatives that showed a French will to remain an actor in the Mediterranean region. These two Libyan meetings were not enough, however, to bring France back into the two most complex diplomatic processes of the moment: Syria and the Palestinian conflict. 

Syria. The challenge facing French diplomats now is how to come back into the region post-Astana, while taking into account the new balance of power, and the likely political survival of Bashar Al-Assad. 

So far, and despite a substantial military presence in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), France has yet to offer solutions. Its diplomacy has to take Al-Assad’s political survival into account, while continuing to state that Al-Assad cannot be the future of Syria. 

Palestine and the moribund peace process, Paris can do little but pay lip service to its official support of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution. Before the end of its term, Hollande’s government had organized two conferences on the Palestine–Israel peace process in Paris (June 2016 and January 2017), with no results, and in the absence of the main protagonists. With a U.S. administration now siding clearly with Benjamin Netanyahu and European partners unwilling to get involved in a viper’s nest, Paris’s room to manoever remains narrow


Relations with Turkey, Israel, and Iran. Interestingly there has been an absence of strong regional Arab partners in recent years following the demise of leading Arab foreign policy voices. As a result, Turkey, Israel, and Iran now have the upper hand across the region. 

Each of the three leading Middle Eastern powers has complex relations with France.

1) Turkey, because France was among the most skeptical countries about its application to become a European Union member, now worries about conflicts with France connected to Ankara’s alleged support of radical Islamic elements in Europe.

2) Israel, because France’s former De Gaulle-ian policy (often deemed pro-Arab in Tel Aviv) harbors uncertainty about France’s ambitions in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict.

3) Iran, because, as has been stated, Paris and Tehran have remained at bitter odds as far as the situation in Lebanon is concerned


Charillon's conclusion is that

The Washington–London–Paris axis (or “triumvirate,” as once hoped for by De Gaulle) is not operating anymore in the Middle East. With Washington abandoning its traditional role as peace-broker (to grant unconditional support to Israel) and threatening to withdraw from the Syrian issue, France is now looking in vain for regional interests that could bring the old partners together again. 

Many European leaders now associate the region with domestic security issues more than with international strategic considerations. Paris is, unfortunately, no exception to this trend. Yet, despite the hardships ahead, the Middle East remains a key test for France’s international influence and political capacity to defuse crises at its Mediterranean border.