(photo credit: )
The first time I met a French officer was 50 years ago, on October 29, 1956, when he arrived at the 890th infantry battalion paratroopers' base in Tel Nof a few hours before our jump.
He came to the Mitla Pass to teach us how to use the 106-millimeter anti-tank recoilless cannons that the French dropped to us that same night from a base they shared with the British in Akrotiri, Cypress. That secret collaboration 50 years ago against a common Arab enemy - Egypt led by Gamal Abdel Nasser - will be marked this coming Sunday at a special gathering of the surviving soldiers of Battalion 890 and Regiment 202 at Bar-Ilan University.
How sad it is that the two commanders of that victory over Egypt in the Sinai in only 100 hours - regimental commander Ariel Sharon and battalion commander Raphael Eitan - will not be able to be there.
I recall all this during a visit now to the lovely city of Paris, as I read and hear in the media about highly placed French officials "warning" the Israel Air Force where its planes may and may not fly in Lebanon to monitor Hizbullah activity. As if the job of the new UN force is not to expose Hizbullah's ongoing rearming and arms smuggling, but rather to fight against Israel.
Indeed, as expected, times and conditions have greatly changed in the past 50 years. Although France has been paying a tax to keep its millions of Muslims citizens calm, the French are damned if they do and damned if they don't. The purpose of the muscles that France is willing to flex vis- -vis Israel - both during the days of Yasser Arafat, whom to its shame it supported, and now with the "neutrality" that it is demonstrating in Lebanon between Israel and Hizbullah - which has not stopped smuggling arms from Syria and Iran into Lebanon - is apparently to soothe the crackling tension between the millions of French Muslims and the French government.
It is possible that if Nicolas Sarkozy wins the election, France's policy will become more balanced, although it should be noted to Jacques Chirac's credit that since his conciliatory meeting with Ariel Sharon in the Elys e Palace in late July 2005, he has been making an effort to considerably improve ties and coordinate relations between Paris and Jerusalem.
THE OFFICIAL explanation given by David Ben-Gurion in 1956, when he sent the paratroopers to the Mitla as part of the secret alliance with France and Britain, was that Israel could no longer tolerate the terror attacks launched from Gaza against the Jewish communities in the Negev carried out with the support of the Egyptian intelligence services.
That was the official explanation we received before we jumped from the planes at 5 p.m. on October 29. Today, the terrorism against the communities of the Negev and the anticipated threats are a hundred times worse.
Now the problem has moved even closer to the heart of the country. The Philadelphi Corridor is being used to smuggle weapons and foment war: All sorts of armaments go straight from there to the Palestinian arsenal in Gaza, with the exception of planes and tanks.
This is the result of negligence - criminal negligence on the part of the Defense Ministry and the IDF General Staff under Ariel Sharon as prime minister: Senior officers and officials did not hesitate to deceive the prime minister, explaining their failures in the war on the tunnels with all kinds of tall tales. The corruption exposed recently in the Lebanon war began there.
When I asked Sharon's military adjutant at the time, Brig.-Gen. Ya'acov Galant, why Sharon's orders in the war on the tunnels were not being obeyed, he gave me a confused, evasive answer. It is good that Galant has recruited Yom Tov Samia to help him now.
NOW THE question remains how to fight the war: There is no French connection, but should it be waged with an American understanding and Egyptian cooperation? Perhaps, in face of the danger posed to Israel from the Hamastan that has arisen in Gaza, we need to make a courageous Ben-Gurion-like decision to completely destroy the Philadelphi Corridor, driving out 20,000 or so of the residents of Rafah in Gaza, so that we can properly supervise it.
For now, no foreign elements, including the French, can be seen on the horizon willing help us, and it is doubtful that the Egyptians will be willing to cooperate. They also need a certain insurance policy against al-Qaida/Hamas terror.
Based on the typical groveling of the French before the Palestinians and Hizbullah, any hostile action taken by Israel will meet with criticism from France and the entire Quartet.
BUT IN the situation that has been created, Israel has no choice but to take its fate into its own hands. The various political party maneuvers being carried out so that Lieberman-Peretz can provide artificial respiration for the government will not resolve anything.
Perhaps, the desperate state of our national security will give rise to the development of innovative thinkers in the IDF and the government in the style of Ariel Sharon and Moshe Dayan, or like Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin before them. Indeed, if we don't get a grasp of the situation soon, understanding may be forced on us by means of the constantly mounting pressure against us - against the very existence of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.
We will wake up slowly but surely. And when we mark the 50th anniversary of the parachute jump in the Mitla this coming Sunday, we can be confident that we will succeed in the coming 50 years too.