Friday, January 21

Macron in the Gulf: Rafale record order and sensitive meeting with Saudi Arabian MBS

The United Arab Emirates on Friday signed an agreement to acquire 80 Rafale fighter jets, a record order for the fighter jet that entered service in 2004, on the occasion of French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Dubai.

This commercial success was obtained on the first day of an express tour of the Gulf of the Head of State, who arrived in Qatar in the evening to meet with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

He was expected on Saturday in Jeddah, the great port city of Saudi Arabia, for a delicate meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman (MBS), whose international image was strongly tarnished by the assassination in 2018 of Saudi journalist Jamal. Khashoggi.

Thirteen years of effort, with ups and downs, were necessary to seal the success of the Rafale in the United Arab Emirates, a wealthy state with growing geopolitical influence which has forged close relations with Paris.

This order represents “the biggest military contract with a French component in our history”, welcomed Emmanuel Macron after having recorded it with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed ben Zayed Al-Nahyane, said MBZ. And it shows, according to him, that the Emirates consider France as “a solid partner” and “reliable”, which “keeps its commitments”.

In total, the amount of military contracts concluded on Friday – which also include the purchases of 12 Caracal helicopters and armaments from the manufacturer of missiles MBDA – represent an amount of more than 17 billion euros, including 14 for the Rafale alone, according to the Elysee.

– Partnership criticized –

The Rafales will be delivered by the Dassault Aviation group between 2027 and 2031 and are intended to replace the 60 Mirage 20009 acquired in 1998 by Abu Dhabi.

They will be delivered to the F4 standard, a program under development of nearly two billion euros and presented as a “technological, industrial and strategic leap” by 2024.

For Emmanuel Macron, this order is “very good for France” because it “creates jobs” in the country and allows “to guarantee the sustainability of the Rafale production chain until the end of 2031” according to the Ministry of Armies.

Before this contract, the Emirates were already the fifth most important customer of the French defense industry over the decade 2011-2020, with 4.7 billion euros in orders.

In recent years, Paris has been criticized because some of these weapons had been used in the conflict in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and its allies are suspected of war crimes.

In France, the announcement of this record contract four months before the presidential election was applauded by political leaders, especially on the right, while it was strongly denounced by the environmental candidate Yannick Jadot, according to which “France shames us when it arms authoritarian regimes which despise human rights and whose wealth has been built on fossil fuels “.

In Dubai, other Franco-Emirati agreements have been signed, in particular by the powerful sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, which has pledged to increase its investment envelope in French companies to eight billion euros.

– For Lebanon –

Before Saturday’s stage in Jeddah, Mr. Macron defended the merits of his meeting with Mohammed ben Salman in the face of criticism from NGOs and human rights defenders.

“Who can think for one second that we are helping Lebanon, that we preserve peace and stability in the Middle East if we say: ‘we no longer talk to Saudi Arabia, the most populous country and the most important to the Gulf? ‘”he asked.

“This does not mean that I endorse, that I forget, that we are not demanding partners” but it is “just a question of acting for our country and for the interest of the region”, according to him.

Faced with MBS, the French president intends to plead the cause of Lebanon where the economic crisis was worsened by the diplomatic crisis that began in October with several Gulf States, foremost among which Arabia, which had frozen its imports.

These efforts should benefit from the resignation, announced Friday, of the Lebanese Minister of Information, George Kordahi, at the origin of the crisis by having criticized the military intervention of Riyadh in Yemen. “The French want me to resign before Mr. Macron’s visit to Riyadh because that could help them start a dialogue with Saudi officials regarding Lebanon,” he explained.

Welcoming his resignation, Emmanuel Macron indeed expressed his hopes of “being able to re-engage all the Gulf countries in the relationship with Lebanon”. “We are not yet at the end of the road but I hope that the next few hours will allow us to move forward,” he added.

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