The French are back in the Middle East—or at least, it seems that way. With all the talk these days about Russia or China filling the space in the Middle East that the United States is alleged to be vacating, France is now making a bid to be part of the conversation. In the past month and a half, President Emmanuel Macron has visited Lebanon twice and turned up in Baghdad for meetings with President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, Nechirvan Barzani. Macron has also beefed up the French military presence in the area, deploying naval units including a helicopter carrier and frigate to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Officially, these movements were ordered to support relief in Lebanon after the devastating port explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4. That does not explain the French troops and aircraft that arrived on the Greek island of Crete or the two fighter jets that appeared in Cyprus. The naval units in particular have made a show of linking up with the Hellenic Navy and conducting exercises.
French policymakers have long maintained the fiction that France remains a power in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean. They sell some big-ticket weaponry to a variety of countries, have joined the Americans and Britons in a variety of military operations (though not Operation Iraqi Freedom), and are involved in counterterrorism operations, especially in North Africa. And every now and again, a French president declares his determination to find a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.