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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

France at War against Global Jihad

Filed under: Al-Qaeda and Global Jihad, Radical Islam

France’s operation in Mali was launched after previous French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s military intervention and intensive activity in Libya, which led to the overthrow of Gaddafi. The chaos that has prevailed since then has enabled the strengthening of the radical Islamic organizations and especially Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The strengthening of the terrorist organizations is a direct result of the Arab Spring and has worrisome implications for Israel. Global-jihad gangs, along with quantities of weapons and missiles, are flowing into the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza.

Paris is very worried about the presence of Islamist and Salafist groups within France’s Muslim community, which is believed to number more than six million people. This heightened presence encourages the Islamization of native French and even their participation in terror attacks. Mohamed Merah, who murdered three French soldiers and carried out the massacre at the Jewish school in Toulouse, has become a symbol and a hero among Muslim youth.

Socialist France, which decided to bring back its soldiers from Afghanistan, is now determined to continue its military intervention in Mali. It is, however, likely to get bogged down for a long time in the reaches of the Sahara. France is also very worried about terror attacks on French targets abroad and at home, including attacks on institutions of the Jewish community.

France shrinks from stating the names of the global-jihad terror organizations and instead uses the general term “terror.” That term is taken, among other things, from the Russian anti-Chechen lexicon. France, which previously failed to free an intelligence agent in Somalia, also declined to get its military entangled in the hostage crisis at the gas field in Algeria. Instead, France encouraged the independent operation by the Algerian army, which ended in a bloodbath and the brutal killing of dozen of foreign hostages. 

Israel has been warning for a decade about the strengthening of radical Islam, that is, Al-Qaeda, in North Africa. The Western countries, including the United States and France, did not relate seriously to the threat. Even after the September 11 attack, the War on Terror focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. With the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and the collapse of the regimes in Egypt and Libya, the anarchy prevailing in these countries allowed Islamic groups to raise their heads and consolidate around the bloody struggle against the West and the regimes it supports. Sunnis and Shiites set the stage for terrorist operations, with the aim of putting global-jihad policy in action.

In March 2003, France staunchly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and last December France brought back all its soldiers from Afghanistan. President Hollande’s decision to send a military force to Mali was taken in complete surprise and haste after a very real danger emerged that radical Islamic groups would take over the country and conquer its capital city, Bamako. Initially France sent 750 soldiers, but then quickly realized that the campaign would be complex and difficult. Today there are 2,500 French soldiers in Mali along with supplementary forces from African countries. European states support the French involvement in principle but are still reluctant to take part in the fighting, and instead have sent only logistical assistance.

Also struggling over control of Mali are the Tuareg, a Berber ethnic group numbering about eight hundred thousand that has striven for decades for the independence of their region in west-central Mali. Gaddafi supported the Tuareg and gave them both financial and military assistance. France is fighting against both Tuareg national aspirations and radical Islamic groups.

Mali is a huge and strategic country that borders seven other African countries. It attained independence in 1960. France still has important economic interests there including raw materials such as oil, gold, and uranium. 

Hollande is indeed acting according to the doctrine that any military intervention in Africa should be based first and foremost on economic interests and raw materials. The socialist president of France thereby continues the tradition of his predecessors, and fifty years after the end of the colonial era his country still is not free of obligations to francophone colonies (Lebanon, the Maghreb, and black Africa) and energetically extends them patronage in the form of military, economic, and cultural assistance. In the past France has intervened militarily in Zaire, Chad, and Ivory Coast.

France also has permanent military bases in Djibouti (located in the Horn of Africa), Gabon, Senegal, and in Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf. Its battleships and coast guard vessels also patrol the region to prevent kidnappings and attacks. Some ten thousand French soldiers and instructors are also helping train local regimes and armies. About a quarter-million French subjects currently live in Africa, and France’s annual imports from the continent are estimated at twenty billion euros.

It should be noted, then, that France conducts a hypocritical policy toward Palestinian terror and continues to define it as a legitimate struggle for the “liberation of an occupied people.” Thus Paris, practicing a double standard of morality, condemns Israel’s retaliatory acts against Hamas or Hizbullah, but sees fit to act against terrorists thousands of kilometers from its own territory. One should, of course, commend France’s determined fight against global terror. But the time has come for sober internalization of the fact that the Islamic terrorists in Mali and the terrorists in Gaza, Sinai, or Lebanon belong to the same family and must be fought and eradicated together.