February 12, 2009


Iran And The West (BBC2, Saturday) (James Delingpole, 11th February 2009, The Spectator)

Just in case you needed another reason to loathe and despise the French (I mean, as if Olivier Besancenot wasn’t enough), there was a corker in Norma Percy’s characteristically brilliant new documentary series Iran And The West (BBC2, Saturday).

It concerned the Lebanese hostage crisis of the 1980s when the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia (‘practitioners’ as Jon Snow would no doubt call them) kidnapped dozens of Westerners, among them American journalist Terry Anderson, Archbishop’s envoy Terry Waite, and various Frenchmen and seemed determined to hold them indefinitely.

Our then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was adamant on how to deal with this: there could be no concessions to hostage-takers for it only encouraged further hostage-taking. However, at a joint press conference, her opposite number in France took a more nuanced (i.e., typically devious, cheese-eating, surrender-monkey-ish) line. ‘I don’t think one can negotiate with people who commit such crimes but the problem is very delicate because we are talking about human life,’ said François Mitterrand, preparing his get-out clause, and the contemptuous curl of the blessed Margaret’s lips as he uttered it was glorious to behold.

But in terms of pure weaselry, Mitterrand had nothing on Jacques Chirac who was then campaigning for election as prime minister. Chirac’s opposition party, we learned from episode two of the series — ‘Pariah State’, produced and directed by Delphine Jaudeau — had no qualms about manipulating the hostage crisis for its own slippery ends. A deal had secretly been negotiated by Mitterrand’s government whereby the French hostages would be released for an eye-watering bribe — sorry, repayment of money owed — to Iran of around $1 billion. Then, at the very last minute, the deal was called off.

Why? Well, Chirac has always firmly denied that any skullduggery was involved but, then, you would, wouldn’t you, if you thought there was no way on earth you could ever possibly be found out. But Chirac had reckoned without the tenacity of Brook Lapping (The Death Of Yugoslavia; Israel and The Arabs; etc.), the remarkable documentary production company that always gets its men, be they presidents, prime ministers, ayatollahs, or just the guy who chauffeured them or the hack who interviewed them at a pivotal moment in history.

In this case the unlikely Deep Throat was one Sheikh Tufeyli, a member of the Hezbollah Central Committee which had decided not, after all, to release the French hostages. The committee, Tufeyli explained, had ‘received some envoys from the French opposition party’ (i.e., Chirac’s lot) who had asked them not to release the prisoners till after the forthcoming French elections. Mitterrand’s foreign minister revealed what he had been subsequently told by the Iranians: ‘Where you offer us ten, your rivals the French opposition offer us one hundred.’ (As a result at least one French hostage spent an extra two years in confinement.)

One of the proudest accomplishments of George W. Bush was so alienating America from Chirac, Schroeder, and Chretien that all were replaced by their people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2009 2:16 PM
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