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Contentions

The Helicopter Carriers of Cherbourg

Both the timidity of the European response to Russia’s Crimean conquest–and the hysteria of its stances on Israel–can be seen in the story of two naval contracts.

In the 1960s, Israel ordered a number of new missile boats from France. In 1968, Israel raided the Beirut airport, where it destroyed some empty planes on the ground, in response to an attack by the Lebanese-based PLO on an El Al flight. France reacted by imposing an arms embargo on Israel (Paris had increasingly abandoned Jerusalem in favor of the Arab world since the Algeria withdrawal, and even more so since the Six-Day War). But Israel had already paid for the boats–and in an extraordinary repo operation, spirited them out of Cherbourg harbor under French noses, and sailed them successfully all the way to Israel.

Now Russia has annexed part of Ukrainian sovereign territory, a much greater offense to the international order than Israel’s airport raid. As it happens, France has been building two new helicopter carriers for Russia. As of now, it has not imposed an arms embargo, impounded the ships, or otherwise iced the deal. Indeed, France’s foreign minister has suggested that he would only cancel the contract if Russia conquers more of Ukraine. Perhaps since one of the ships is called the Sebastopol, La Defense thinks it an appropriate conquest present. In any case, the ships are only due to be delivered next year, by which point all this will blow over, though the vessels may be useful for Russia’s cherished dream of reconnecting Kaliningrad.

As for France’s arms embargo of Israel–that came to an end just three years ago, after 42 years. It’s good for Russia that Putin seized a peninsula, not an airport.


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