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French kiss

Obama & Sarkozy: special relationship?

By François Heisbourg

The conventional wisdom is that under the Obama administration, the transatlantic relationship will flourish anew, along with a substantial improvement of French-US relations. On 3 April, the 60th Anniversary Summit of Nato on the French-German border at Strasbourg and Kehl is slated to be the crowning point of the new rapprochement. It would be hard not to improve on George W Bush’s abysmal legacy; furthermore, Obama and Sarkozy appear to get along well, personally and politically. However, it is not going to be as easy as many expect, and for a simple reason: what is most important for Obama is not what is most important for Sarkozy.

The American president wants to repeat in Afghanistan an adapted version of the “Surge” so ably conducted in Iraq by General Petraeus. That means more soldiers with robust rules of engagement: US troops, but also European, notably high-quality, tough, British and French soldiers. France, more so than Britain, has the military ability to reinforce significantly its presence in Afghanistan, so the Americans will lean hard on Paris. However, Sarkozy encountered substantial domestic opposition when he sent reinforcements last September.

Then there’s the issue of France’s fully re-entering Nato’s command structure. The French president wants to link France’s reintegration into Nato with progress in the EU’s security and defence policy (ESDP). Sarkozy will want strong support from Obama in favour of ESDP, and behind-the-scenes leaning by the US on the recalcitrant British – with Prime Minister Gordon Brown wary of anything too European in the run-up to Britain’s general election.

So, the makings of a great friendship are there, but it’s not going to be a cakewalk.

François Heisbourg is special adviser at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique and chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies

Patriot gains

UAE [DEFENCE MISSILES]

The UAE is set to become a regional missile powerhouse, following the delivery of a major package of the most advanced US-built Patriot missiles currently available. Under the deal, 10 launchers and around 200 Patriot GEM-T missiles – worth over €2.5bn – will be handed over to the Gulf state in 2012.

The country is also the first customer for the US Theatre High Altitude Air Defence system, providing an extra layer of shield against aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 200km away. For a country with relatively little “strategic depth” to retreat into, that’s a lot of protection – outdone regionally only by Israel. Paranoia over Iran is proving very good business for Raytheon.

Sun and air

Israel [ENERGY]

The Israeli Air Force is planning to go green. It aims to install solar energy systems in all its bases around the country by the end of this year and save several million dollars a year on its annual $25m electricity bill. The devices, 50kw/h each, should eventually provide all the power that’s needed for the administrative offices of the Air Force.

Mobile force

Gaza 01 [COMMUNICATION]

Mobile phones were a key factor in Israel’s strategy for controlling information coming out of Gaza as it bombed Hamas targets there. They were taken from Israeli soldiers on entry into the conflict zone to prevent them sending messages and video files to friends and family.

Israel suspects that during the war in Lebanon in 2006 soldiers sent messages (some of which the enemy is thought to have intercepted) detailing their position and combat plans.

Gaza 02 [URBAN COMBAT]

Israel may have used its operations in Gaza to test a new form of explosive if Palestinian sources are correct. It appears that Israel may have become the first to use dense inert metal explosives (DIME) warheads in anger.

In essence, DIME consists of a mix of traditional high explosive with a powderised dense metal, such as tungsten. When the explosive detonates, it radiates a powerful blast. This is localised, however, because the metal absorbs the blast so it dissipates over a relatively short area, minimising collateral damage.

Israel declined to discuss whether it used DIME in operations, but Palestinian sources’ analysis of some explosive debris suggests that it could be.The Palestinians and NGO observers might also argue about the limits of collateral damage.

Jobs for the boys (and girls)

Spain

Spain saw an 82 per cent jump in applications to join the army in 2008. Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU and there are three applications for each army vacancy.

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