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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Vers une Syrie et un Moyen-Orient remodelés sur des bases ethniques

by Marc de Miramont

Syria and the Middle-East In For a Reshaping on Ethnic Bases

Alain Chouet is interviewed by {l’Humanité}

Translated Wednesday 17 April 2013, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

Syria’s infrastructure is being devastated by the day. The fighting is getting closer to Damascus and accelerates its inhabitants’ exodus. Marc de Miramon interviews Alain Chouet, a specialist on Syria, who became head of the French general security and intelligence service (the DGSE) before he retired in 2002. In this interview Alain Chouet analyses the evolution of the balance of forces and exposes the inconsistency of the French policy in this affair.

HUMA : It would seem that March has been the bloodiest month since the beginning of the Syrian uprising. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the rebels’ losses at 2,000 and the regular army’s at 1,500 - almost on a par. How do you interpret these figures?

CHOUET: What I find embarrassing concerning the Syrian Observatory is that it is the media’s single source of information, but I do not contest their figures: nobody can check them. Maybe there were twice as many losses, or merely half: far too many in either case. What these figures do show is that the conflict has developed into a civil war, Lebanese style, which can last 15 or 20 years.

HUMA: How do you interpret François Hollande’s going back on his proposal to arm the Syrian rebels? This sudden about-face went almost unnoticed.

CHOUET: International issues do not seem to arouse much interest, especially at a time when there are so many difficulties at home. I think François Hollande mostly made a public move at first, saying that whatever happened, France was going to provide weapons - implying he knew who he was going to give them to. In this affair, there has been no foreign or European legal basis whatsoever. Besides, whether one likes it or not, the Syrian régime is still recognized on the international level. You cannot arm rebels against a country that has a seat at the UN. That would be a flagrant breach of the UN Charter. And the Arab League, that has recognized the rebels and officially provides them with weapons, is also violating its own charter in doing so, but it has succeeded in getting rid of all the nationalist leaders and has been taken over by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

HUMA: Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s influence within the Syrian National Coalition - together with the Muslim Brotherhood’s preeminence - are now all quite public. Earlier, if you even suggested as much, you would lay yourself open to the charge of serving the Syrian régime’s propaganda!

CHOUET: Obviously, all the democratic or liberal opposition forces that ever existed after World War II in Syria have been strangled over the forty or fifty years of dictatorship. The Muslim Brothers’ impressive presence was not at all surprising: they enjoyed unceasing foreign support while their leaders were able to live abroad on the Gulf monarchies’ provision of petrodollars. They were the only fully constituted national force capable of opposing the dictator’s rule.

HUMA: Jean-Pierre Filu [1] a researcher and former diplomat, explains that in arming the rebels, President Hollande is defending the Syrian population, and he even contrasts this attitude with France’s inaction during the Spanish war. Is the reference relevant?

CHOUET: That is definitely mixing things up! Comparisons with the Spanish war are unfounded. Some of the arguments I have heard are simply surrealistic. When I am told not to criticize Qatar because it amounts to stabbing the French economy in the back, I just can’t remain silent. The same applies when I am told that the moderates must be armed in order that the Islamists not be the only ones to use violence. Should the armed Islamic Front in Algeria (FIS) have been armed so that the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria not be the only force to use violence? This is absurd. We jumped with both feet into the Libyan mire: the UN had given us a mandate to protect the civilian population from the Gaddafi regime’s heavy artillery. And so we did, but we shouldn’t have gone any further: nobody had asked us to bomb out public buildings or kill the dictator’s children before lynching him.

HUMA: Do you think the US strategy in the Libyan crisis might lead to a peace agreement in the coming months?

CHOUET: For one thing, the US strategy in this region is far from clear. The only objective seems to be to remodel the greater Middle-East on the basis of homogeneous ethnic or communitarian entities. That was the Neo-Cons’ formula, whereas Obama, it seems, has been dithering, being unsure what he is really heading for. The Arab League or the Europeans have been allowed to get involved, and then he more or less lost interest, maybe because the global stakes relative to the sources of energy are changing. In such a context the US seems to be at a loss for ideas, even though it definitely holds the key to untangling the situation.

[1In ”Syria is our Spanish War”, le Monde, April 2d, 2013.

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