United against Terrorism

'The effort against Islamic State must be collective'

A woman lights candles during a ceremony honoring victims of the attacks in Paris, as the Tel Aviv municipality is lit up in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag, on November 14 (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
A woman lights candles during a ceremony honoring victims of the attacks in Paris, as the Tel Aviv municipality is lit up in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag, on November 14
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
On Friday night, nine terrorists carried out attacks against people, targeting a stadium, a concert hall and several restaurants and bars in Paris. They killed more than 130 French and foreigners and wounded 350. The attacks were coordinated: they were decided in Syria and planned in Belgium. At least half of the perpetrators were French. They used means unheard of in France. Some blew themselves up to maximize the casualties. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
French President François Hollande described these attacks as acts of war.
Border controls were restored. A state of emergency was declared.
You may have seen pictures of buildings in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem and all over the world, lit up in bleu-blanc-rouge, statements of sympathy, and gatherings of people all over the world.
FRENCH AMBASSADOR to Israel Patrick Maisonnave. (Marine Crouzet/Ambassade de France en Israel)
In Israel, we have received uncountable messages of support. I would like to thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to fly Israeli flags at half-mast on Saturday and for his words immediately after the attacks. I would like to thank those who were with us on Saturday at Rabin Square: Shimon Peres, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, Opposition head Isaac Herzog, members of the Knesset, ambassadors, and thousands of people who came to pay tribute to the victims and share Liberté-Egalité-Fraternité.
Similar demonstrations were organized here in Jerusalem; let me thank Mayor Nir Barkat for this. In critical moments like these, we measure the unwavering friendship that unites our two countries. I would like to thank the Israeli people from the bottom of my heart.
THIS IS where we are today. The priority is to arrest the culprits and those who helped or inspired them. And to prevent similar attacks in the future. Decisions have already been announced. Additional armed forces will be deployed, our intelligence community will get new means; more judges, prosecutors and police forces will be hired.
France does not stand alone. I am grateful to the members of the European Union, which decided yesterday to provide support to my country in its decision to challenge Islamic State wherever it stands. I’m grateful to the United States, to the State of Israel and to others who will enhance their cooperation with us.
In a few days, world leaders will meet in Paris to discuss climate change: they will prove to the terrorists that they support my country and that life is going on.
JERUSALEM’S OLD City walls are illuminated in the tricolor of the French flag in solidarity with that country, after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. (Marc Israel Sellem)
France, like Israel, has a long history of being the target of terrorism: state terrorism in the ’70s and ’80s, groups linked to the civil war in Algeria in the ’90s, individuals who embarked upon the path of jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday, in Syria and Iraq today.
Radicalization was on our radar screen way before the attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher. We are not awakening to a new reality, but merely struggling like many other nations to adapt to a new phenomenon, characterized by “foreign fighters” who are converging in Iraq and Syria. They often go through a process of self-radicalization that is challenging our traditional way to do counterterrorism.
The fact that more than half the perpetrators of the November 13 terrorist attacks are French and that France provides more “would-be jihadists” that any other European country should lead us to answer some tough questions. Why has my country just been attacked twice? Why are so many young French fascinated by the prospect of “go and kill” in Syria, or getting killed there, or killing as many people as they can once they are back home? Is our model of integration broken? Can France and Europe find a better balance between accepting diversity and demanding adherence to its core values?
Tough questions don’t always get simple answers. Terrorism challenges our certainties. We must find a way to protect our citizens and defeat our enemy while preserving our principles. Our armed forces have been engaged for many years in overseas operations against terrorist groups and have paid the price in blood.
In Afghanistan, 89 French soldiers were killed and 700 were wounded in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Altogether, 40,000 French soldiers were deployed there. In January 2011, we prevented al-Qaida from constituting a safe haven in Mali. Since January 2012, 3,000 French soldiers have been fighting jihadist groups in a territory as large as Europe and 11 have been killed.
Islamist terrorists are tough enemies. We know them well. Fighting them, sometimes far away from our homeland, requires great capabilities in the field of intelligence, projection of forces and logistics. It also requires resilience and very high military values.
Syria has become the biggest factory of terrorism the world has ever known. The response of the international community is still too incoherent and divided. We will reinforce our intervention in Syria and Iraq to fight Islamic State. Already, French planes have targeted training camps and command centers in the region of Raqqa. You will see more of this in the coming days and weeks.
FRENCH AMBASSADOR to Israel Patrick Maisonnave addresses the crowd who arrived in Rabin Square to show solidarity with the victims of the Paris terror attacks, on November 14. (Marine Crouzet/Ambassade de France en Israel)
THE EFFORT against Islamic State must be collective. My president has announced he will consult with US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin to build up a broad coalition. Our search for regional stabilization is also a driving line for our relations with moderate states in the region, in particular Jordan and Egypt, which are strong partners in our common fight against terrorism. The recent tragic attack against a Russian aircraft over Sinai showed unfortunately how vivid the challenge remains.
While pursuing our military action, we must promote a political transition towards a united, independent and non-sectarian Syria, preserving its territorial integrity. Fighting Islamic State is our priority, but you can’t ignore that this movement, as well as other radical movements, are fueled by the chaos created by Bashar Assad. Under such circumstances, Assad cannot represent the future of Syria.
Beyond the moral argument, very few in Syria would accept such a scenario.
I hear some people asking where France was when Israel was attacked. Let me be crystal clear: terrorism is terrorism. Not only when it affects us on such a horrendous scale. Also when it hits Israel. And let me take this opportunity to have a thought for all the victims of the last few weeks, their beloved ones and the injured.
Yes we have our well-known differences towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The solidarity and empathy we feel towards the Israeli democracy when it is under attack by terror is sincere.
We do not seek any justification for radical Islamic terror. And we know that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the source of everything that is wrong in neighboring countries. At the same time, we precisely need to prevent this national-territorial conflict from turning into an existential religious clash hijacked by Islamic State and fueling all kinds of extremists. For this, we are convinced that parties must provide a political horizon, a hope for a solution.
We are not at war against any civilization, and French people of Muslim faith were not and will not be our enemies. This is not being naïve. It’s about who we are. I strongly reject that kind of broad categorization of an entire population. In a democracy, there is only one relevant criterion: are you ready to abide by our laws and our values? Individuals who propagate hate and violence, be it anti-Semitic violence or anti-French violence, will be dealt with a strong hand and by all available legal means.
While respecting our core values, rest assured that France will continue to fight terrorism inspired by radical Islam. It is a cruel and elusive enemy, but I am certain together we will prevail.
The writer is the French ambassador to Israel.