‘Only Arab nations can fix Syria’, says Nicolas Sarkozy

  • 14 January 2016

ABU DHABI // Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, has called on Arab nations to deploy ground troops in Syria.

In a lecture at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Mr Sarkozy praised the “courage and vision” of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, but said only ground intervention by regional powers such as the UAE could solve the crisis brought about by civil war in Syria.

“Terrorists [like ISIL] have declared war on you as on us,” he said. “We share this common enemy and we must be partners and stand united in this common war we are waging.

“I think the Muslim and Arab worlds have a crucial contribution to bring to this war – it is your people who have been most hard-hit by this barbarism, it is your religion which has been perverted and it is your identity that is being insulted and, without you, we cannot win this war, neither militarily nor ideologically.”

He said air strikes alone were not enough. “If we truly intend to eradicate Daesh (ISIL) then we need to strike them from the air but also to occupy the ground,” he said. “And who can occupy Arab soil if not first and foremost a coalition of Arab countries and Arab armed forces? Air strikes are helpful but the only ground troops that will be helpful are Arab troops, not French nor British.”

Mr Sarkozy’s views were not shared by analysts. One said his solution of an Arab force in Syria was over simplistic.

“I think he is wrong on this because the Syrian crisis is too complicated, much more complicated than saying that you need an Arab force to solve it,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, political science professor at UAE University. “You have the United States, Russia and everybody’s involved. It is much more than just ‘sending troops and it will be settled’, I think that is just being too naive and playing to the local audience.”

He said one potential solution would have to involve a United Nations resolution permitting military intervention in Syria.

"I assume we need more direction and a mandate coming from the world community and that is lacking,” he said. “Before anything else, you need to see [Syrian president Bashar Al] Assad gone for any real thing to happen, so there is so much [more] to this before the UAE or any country sends troops to Syria.”

On ISIL, Mr Sarkozy said there could be no compromise.

“This is what I would describe as a third world war,” he said. “This war can only be won through the annihilation of extremists, terrorists and jihadists and I weigh my words, when you are waging war, you wage it to win it. If we want to win this war, we will have to stand united.”

Dr Albadr Alshateri, senior researcher at the Armed Forces, said: “Mr Sarkozy was supposed to give a lecture but chose to give a political speech, more accurate a campaign or stump speech.

“Regarding the Arab ground intervention, I think he’s half right. The [ISIL] phenomenon is not an apparition from nowhere, it is a direct product of western intervention in Iraq and as such cannot be the sole responsibility of the Arab countries as if it is some sort of natural disaster befalling the region.

“The international community should face extremism with all tools of state power – and not only by annihilation of [ISIL],” he said. “It is quite curious that Mr Sarkozy elided the biggest source of conflict in the Middle East, the proverbial elephant in the room – the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Such negligence, by omission or commission, is fair telling on how serious the presidential hopeful is in addressing the region’s persistent agonies, or France’s lofty ideals.”

Mr Sarkozy touched on other issues in the region. He said Iran as a nuclear weapon powers would be unacceptable. “Any naivety or complacency on a topic of such importance must be ruled out,” he said. “They must demonstrate that they want to be reintegrated in the community as a constructive power, which has not been the case so far.”

Regarding the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Mr Sarkozy said it was one that fed into the crisis in Yemen.

"Peace negotiations are gradually getting under way,” he said. “They must be successful and we must reach peace because local populations have paid a high price. Terrorist and jihadist groups stand to benefit the most from this regional chaos which is why it is so urgent to see these peace negotiations through.”

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