France busy selling more arms to Arabs in Mideast

From North Africa to the Indian Ocean, a French-speaking commentator on Jordan television's evening news reminds his viewers, Frence's patient support of the idependent Arab Palestine is paying France and French companies big dividends.

* After having long supplies both sides in the present Iran-Iraq war, the French defense industry has concluded a $3.5 billion sale of warships, missiles, and helicopters for the new Saudi Arabian Navy. This effectively breaks the United States monopoly on arms sales to the strongest US Arab ally and chief foreign oil supplier.

* With funds provided by Lubyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi from his huge North African oil reservoir, syria's President Hafez Assad, armed with a new defense treaty with the Soviet Union, will soon make major French as well as new Soviet arms purchases, Mideast defense analysts predict.

Persistent reports circulating among Arab governments forecast that the least one-third of a $1.6 billion Libyan bankroll for Syria (a dowry from colonel Qaddafi to celebrate Libya's new paper union with the Syrians) may go to pay for French warships, Crotale anti-aircraft missiles, and other French military hardware.

* French intelligence, by leaking what are said to be accurate details of a clandestine Israeli air strike Sept. 30 against the French nuclear research reactor at Tammuz, near Baghdad, Iraq, has helped assure that France retains pride of place in Arab accounts of countries helping Iraq.

(Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin flatly denied Oct. 3 that Israel was involved in any way in the air attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor.)

Two unmarked Israeli Phantom F-4 fighter bombers, says this French government account given to reporters, carrying only extra fuel tanks and rockets but no bombs, streaked across 1,200 miles of air- space between Israel and Baghdad. They returned to base after their rockets bounced off the reactor's heavy concrete wal and exploded in surrounding buildings of the complex. Iran was blamed at the time.

Seventy French workers flew out, leaving volunteers to care for the installations. Twelve of the 72 kilos of enriched uranium, which Israel believes could give Iraq its first nuclear weapons, had already been delivered to Iraq, the Paris newspaper Le Monde reported.

* In earthqueke-stricken Al Asnam, algeria, rescue teams and supplies from Algeria's former coteams and supplies from algeria's former colonia master, France (and from many other countries) were already hard at work when the Algerian government rejected help from US Sixth Fleet helicopters.

The US military help, said President Chadly Benjedid's third-world oriented government, was politically suspect. since algeria's Arab friends in the militant "rejection front" might misunderstand, Algeria had to decline the offer (though welcoming thousands of American blankets, tents, and other US relief supplies not delivered directly by the naval helicopters).

France has a number of Arab deals, ranging from a reported pending agreement for co-production of air defense systems with Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the civilian "cooperants" -- members of a kind of French peace corps it sends to several Arab states. And in all of them, one theme stands out.

This, as French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing pointed out last week during a tour of Gulf off states, is that France's tenacious support for the rights of the Arab Palestinians to their own state deserves Arab commercial rewards for France. This means close competition with the US, and relentless pressure on Britain to yield up some of its lucrative, long- protected markets for technology and arms throughout the Arab world.

Arab defense specialists believe the key $3.5 billion Saudi naval order was clinched in November 1979. France sent anti-terrorist officers and equipment to help the Saudis contain the incipient revolt in the holy Muslim shrine of Mecca.

Israel has reacted to all this by accusing France of conducting an "anti-Israel" policy that encourages current anti-Jewish terrorism in France. French officials and diplomats indignantly reject this. They recall that the French honey moon with the Arab world really got under way in 1967 -- following a stormy period during the colonial emancipation of algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco and the Suez war in the 1950s, and ending with Algerian independence in 1962.

That was the year the late President De Gaulle, furious with Israel because it had disregarded his advice not to attack the Arabs in the June 1967 war, began to curtail arms to Israel. France embargoed them almost totally after French-made Israeli helicopters attacked Beirut airport in 1968.

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