Why Is France the Preferred Target for Terrorists?

, July 19, 2016

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 16, No. 11

Flag of France

  • After the murderous attack in Nice, France is sinking deep into depression; the Republic itself and its values sustained a heavy blow on the holiday of freedom.
  • The French people still have not totally internalized the fact that they are in an existential war, and they are having trouble recovering from the recent wave of terror.
  • France is the symbol of freedom, enlightenment, and democratic values, which stand in complete contrast to the dark, barbaric ideology of global terror organizations.
  • France was in the past a colonialist empire that exploited the natural resources of its colonies and repressed the local population.
  • The presence in France of eight to ten million Muslims strongly affects decision-making in both the political and intelligence domains. Unlike Germany, where most Muslims are Turks, or Britain, where most are from India and Pakistan, in France the overwhelming majority are of North African extraction.
  • The Europeans, and especially the French, must understand once and for all that jihadist terror cannot be completely uprooted because there is no single, specific target. It is the ideological and religious dimension that holds sway, and it is an entity without borders in all regards.

The terror attack in Nice occurred in the middle of the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations and just a few hours after President François Hollande stated in a television interview that “there has been a certain letup in terror activities, and in the coming days the state of emergency will be lifted.” Hollande added that he would be ramping up his war against Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

President Hollande and the French security services fully believed they could uproot terror in places far from their country. After all, the UEFA European soccer championship passed without incident two weeks earlier despite threats by radical Islamic organizations to mount spectacular attacks.  

Promenade des Anglais, the site of the truck attack, in Nice, France.

Promenade des Anglais, the site of the truck attack, in Nice, France. (Wikipedia)

Now, after the murderous attack in Nice, France is sinking deep into depression; the Republic itself and its values sustained a heavy blow on the holiday of freedom. The Muslim terrorist succeeded, in subverting the fundamental tenets of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity. The French people still have not totally internalized the fact that they are in an existential war, and they are having trouble recovering from the recent wave of terror.

After Paris, the city of light and culture, had undergone several mass terror attacks, suddenly Nice, city of the Blue Beach, which as usual in July was teeming with tourists and French enjoying their summer vacation, turned overnight into a ghost town, a deserted island with roving policemen and soldiers. The number-two city for tourism after Paris is suddenly a place of gloom, deep mourning, and memorial gatherings. For the first time since World War II, (apart from a few days during the Algerian War) France is again under curfew and normal traffic has come to a halt.

Major Attacks on French Soil Since 2012:

  • March 2012: A French terrorist of Algerian extraction, Mohammed Merah, murdered seven people in Toulouse, including a Jewish father and three of his children at the entrance to the Ozar Hatorah School. The terrorist was known to the security services.

  • January 7, 2015: Jihadists with French citizenship massacred the staff of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and Jews who had come to buy Sabbath bread in a nearby kosher supermarket. The next day saw a mass solidarity demonstration in which heads of government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, took part.

Makeshift memorial outside of Kosher Hyper Cacher Market in Paris, January, 2015

Makeshift memorial outside of Kosher Hyper Cacher Market in Paris, January, 2015 (Wikipedia)

  • February 3, 2015: Three French soldiers guarding a Jewish community center were attacked by a man with a kitchen knife.

  • April 19, 2015: An attempt to blow up a church in Villejuif, a neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Paris, was thwarted at the last minute. The terrorist, of Algerian extraction, was known to the security services.

  • June 26, 2015: The manager of a factory was beheaded by a Muslim terrorist. At the last minute this same terrorist was prevented from detonating a vehicle laden with gas cannisters.

  • August 21, 2015: Thanks to the quick reaction and bravery of American soldiers on leave, a Muslim attacker on an express train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris was neutralized.

  • November 13, 2015: Simultaneous attacks were mounted on restaurants, the Stade de France stadium, and the Bataclan concert hall. A national state of emergency was declared. The death toll was 130, with 350 wounded.

  • January 7, 2016: An attack on a Paris police station was thwarted. A terrorist clutching a butcher knife shouted “Allahu Akbar!” at the policemen.

  • June 13, 2016: A Muslim murdered a police-officer couple in their home, and the woman was beheaded. Police officers then demonstrated in the street and called for additional resources and beefed-up security.

  • July 14, 2016: A truck driver known to the police as a dangerous and serious criminal perpetrated a massacre in Nice. He had allegedly recently undergone brainwashing by Muslim preachers. The attack claimed the lives of 84, including 10 children, and wounded 300, including 50 who are still fighting for their lives in hospitals. The Islamic State took responsibility for the massacre. Security forces have launched an investigation of the terrorist, who was of Tunisian extraction, to determine whether he had indeed sworn allegiance to the Islamic organization and if he had accomplices.

    In this case as in others, the question is why were appropriate, drastic steps not taken to prevent further attacks? Why has France still not internalized the fact that the response to radical terror must be all-out war? It is also hard to understand why the driver of a 19-ton truck was allowed to take his vehicle into the heart of the Riviera during Bastille Day festivities. Why did police officers believe the driver when he told them he was hauling “ice cream for the holidaymakers?” Why was the truck not subjected to a thorough inspection?

Why Has France Become a Major Target for Islamic Terror?

  • France is the symbol of freedom, enlightenment, and democratic values, which stand in complete contrast to the dark, barbaric ideology of global terror organizations. The Bastille Day attack undoubtedly constitutes a devastating blow to the values of the French Republic and of Frenchness itself.

  • France is a Catholic country that separates religion and state. It is a secular national republic in which freedom of expression and of the press is a supreme and absolute value, anchored in basic laws. Apparently, the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 have not deterred journalists and authorities from continuing in their work.

  • France was in the past a colonialist empire that exploited the natural resources of its colonies and repressed the local population.

  • France is a signatory to the Sykes-Picot Agreement signed a century ago. Even today France tries to sustain the boundary-setting agreement precisely while Islamic organizations seek to invalidate the articles that were signed and erase the borders that were laid. Western states, and especially France, have failed to take into consideration the national sentiments of the locals and tribal complexities.

  • France has sought to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and is fighting the Assad regime which it believes must be overthrown at any price. Yet, at the same time, it is intensifying its war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as in Africa.

  • The Algerian war is still alive in French memory. Young people from the Maghreb (north Africa) who were born in France harbor deep resentment and a sense of frustration toward the authorities. Some of them join the Islamic State and other Islamic movements with vengeance as a goal.

  • The presence in France of eight to ten million Muslims strongly affects decision-making in both the political and intelligence domains. Unlike Germany, where most Muslims are Turks, or Britain, where most are from India and Pakistan, in France the overwhelming majority are of North African extraction, particularly Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian. Amid the chaos reigning in Libya, along with Islamic State’s conquest of part of the country, France will undoubtedly be endangered in the near future by terror attacks committed by Muslims coming from Libya.

  • In the 1970s and 1980s, France was generous to North African immigrants; today it receives ungratefulness in return. As long as Muslims in France fail to internalize the fact that they need to fit in as regular citizens, Muslim religious incitement will continue to provoke strong interest as well as further terror attacks.

  • What is occurring is a clash of civilizations and values between radical Islam and the West, between people of darkness and people of spirit and light.

  • It should be noted that the Nice massacre was perpetrated exactly one year after the nuclear agreement with Iran was signed in Vienna on July 14, 2015, with France as one of the signatories. Can French authorities rest assured that the terror attacks mounted by Hizbullah in the 1980s against French paratroopers in Beirut or against targets in Paris will not repeat themselves?

  • Why, then, did the French foreign minister choose to meet with Hizbullah members during his most recent visit to Beirut? Is he truly aware of the intentions of the Lebanese Shiite militia?

  • The French political leadership must completely change the rules of the game. At first it will be difficult for the French to absorb this fact and alter their very longstanding, comfortable way of life. However, they have no choice, and until further notice they must live with the daily threat of terror that Israelis have experienced for many years.

  • Although a state of emergency has been declared in Paris and the provincial towns, the presence of soldiers and policemen at every street corner will not suffice to deter the hate-ridden terrorists. France needs to adopt the comprehensive measures Israel has taken. Those include surprise roadblocks, and not refraining from entering dangerous neighborhoods where at present Muslims have a free hand to do whatever they want. A war without hesitation and without illusions must also be waged against incitement in the social networks and in mosques.

  • Although France has good intelligence services and advanced military and technological capabilities, in the case of the Nice attack, as in previous ones, all the systems failed. Clearly an intelligence and surveillance failure occurred that must be thoroughly investigated. The most recent report on the terror attacks issued by a state investigatory committee confirmed the failures of security and intelligence services and the lack of coordination between the police, the gendarmerie, and the secret service. It also shed light on the ego wars between these services, including the power struggles among the different professional organizations.

    France must also invest massive resources in intelligence and skilled manpower. It should be noted, however, that owing to a certain arrogance, France refused for years to cooperate with Western countries, including Israel. Today the situation has indeed changed for the better, and ties are very close on all levels.

  • There are still many intellectuals, philosophers, and “bleeding hearts” in France who see terrorists as freedom fighters, underground activists who wage a just battle against all occupation and oppression. That attitude is particularly evident on the issue of solving the Palestinian problem, even though there is no direct connection to our conflict.

  • The irony is that France, considered a friend of the Arab world and long supportive of its struggles, including taking initiatives to solve the Palestinian problem, always suffers a boomerang effect in the form of waves of terror in which it becomes a preferred target.

    In recent years we have warned more than once about the dangers confronting France. But the authorities, for various and peculiar reasons, including electoral considerations, have opted to turn a blind eye. They were of course mistaken when they were reluctant to call the perpetrators of the terror wave Islamic terrorists in the full sense of the term. They cannot ignore the fact that those who carried out the attacks in Paris and in Brussels were Muslim French citizens. Some of these operatives had also undergone training in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

  • The Europeans, and especially the French, must understand once and for all that jihadist terror cannot be completely uprooted because there is no single, specific target. It is the ideological and religious dimension that holds sway, and it is an entity without borders in all regards. It cannot be fought by using enlightened Western methods and holding pointless discussions and memorial assemblies after every massacre. The struggle will go on for years and involves changing a mentality.

  • France, which has implemented the correct measures in Africa and Afghanistan, and is currently doing so against the Islamic State, must engage in some real soul-searching. The terror has now crossed the Mediterranean and is pummeling Europe. France must forthrightly alter its strategy along with its naïve and obliging attitude toward radical immigrants. It must also take drastic – and legal – steps against incitement in the mosques, along with far-reaching measures even if these compromise individual freedoms. The actions must fit the circumstances. What is required is a total war to be waged until victory is won, while, of course, maintaining the basic values of an enlightened democracy.

  • Finally, it should be underscored that even though Israel is disappointed with France’s diplomatic behavior toward us, especially on the Palestinian issue, we stand united today with the French people in their mourning and their struggle against terror, and encourage the authorities to take all necessary measures. Israel, having accumulated great and painful experience, will always be prepared to offer succor and assistance.

About Amb. Freddy Eytan

Amb. Freddy Eytan, a former Foreign Ministry senior advisor who served in Israel’s embassies in Paris and Brussels, was Israel’s first Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He was also the spokesman of the Israeli delegation in the peace process with the Palestinians. Since 2007, he heads the Israel-Europe Project at the Jerusalem Center, which focuses on analyzing Israeli relations with the countries of Europe and seeks to develop ties and avenues of bilateral cooperation. He is also the director of Le Cape, the Jerusalem Center website in French. Amb. Eytan has written 20 books about the Israeli-Arab conflict and the policy of France in the Middle East, including La Poudriere (The Powder Keg) and Le double jeu (the Double Game). He has also published biographies of Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, and a book, The 18 Who Built Israel.