While the French seeking revenge against the British is hardly a new historical trend, these recent acts of vengeance could bear fruit in the continuing fight against global terrorism. This is brought into sharp focus following the drone terror attack on an oil tanker in Abu Dhabi, which killed three and injured six on 17 January. The attack was claimed by the Houthis, the Iran-aligned Yemeni movement. The UAE has since, with American support, prevented a further attack on 25 January, firing interceptor missiles to destroy ballistic missiles aimed at Abu Dhabi.
France’s outrage at the Australian decision to terminate its contract for French submarines in favour of joining the new AUKUS pact with the USA and UK was fiery. Their response has been to broaden and deepen their alliance with the UAE, signing a historic €16bn agreement for the sale of Rafale fighter jets; renewing the Louvre Abu Dhabi Partnership, allowing the UAE to continue to use the Louvre branding at their museum on Saadiyat Island, and committing to cooperating on new energy projects including renewables and hydrogen fuel.
France is also on a collision course with the forces of political Islam. As the main defence guarantor of the European Union, it is increasingly drawn into conflicts such as the escalating Turkish provocations against Greece and Cyprus. Further, France’s strong laïcité secularist culture has been the subject of Islamic rancour. The flames which led to the gruesome beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in October 2020 were fanned by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who equated cartoons of the prophet Mohammed with holocaust denial.
Working with the UAE, which takes a robust stance against political Islam, France can build a bulwark to guard against the spread of the fundamentalist menace peddled by Iran and its circus of pariahs throughout the region. The UAE’s efforts to promote inter-faith dialogue highlight the government’s suspicion of religious zealotism.
While the defence partnership with France strengthens the UAE’s hand in deterring Iran, Abu Dhabi is also trying to establish a new role as peace-broker in the region. Despite ongoing hostilities, the UAE is trying to deescalate tensions with Iran. The attack will doubtlessly encourage closer scrutiny of Iran and its allies and their roles in these terrorist attacks, and Tehran’s recent re-imprisonment of French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah strengthens the case for carefully coordinated diplomacy between Abu Dhabi and Paris.
“International relations are not a zero-sum game. It is possible for both the UK and France to be on good terms with the UAE”
The UK also maintains good relations with the UAE, with London aiming to double exports to Abu Dhabi by 2030 and the two countries signing an agreement to boost cooperation on clean energy solutions and striking a £1bn deal to invest in life sciences.
International relations are not a zero-sum game. It is possible for both the UK and France to be on good terms with the UAE. And France deepening its partnership will inevitably help counter nefarious Iranian activities in the region, leading to a more stable environment for international trade. This alignment may even lead to a cooling of tensions in the region more broadly and could be Libya’s last best hope for an end to years of war. All this is in the UK’s strategic interests and can be achieved without any additional British effort. French revenge may be best served cold, but it may be just the medicine needed.
This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group