Jean-Charles Marchiani and the Lebanon hostage crisis
During the 1980’s, Lebanon is torn by a civil war, opposing the country’s many religious communities. In 1985 and 1986, nine French civilians are captured by Hezbollah militias in Beirut.
It will take more than two years to identify the terrorists who kidnapped the hostages, and to negotiate their release with hidden actors of the crisis: Iran and Syria.
French Prime minister Jacques Chirac sends in early 1988 a new lead negotiator, after many aborted attempts to free the hostages. His name is Jean-Charles Marchiani. He is a former secret service officer and counter-terrorism counsellor for French minister of Interior and homeland security Charles Pasqua and is tasked with holding parallel negotiations with Hezbollah leaders.
Jean-Charles Marchiani quickly finds out that the Islamic Jihad (the Hezbollah branch which has claimed the kidnapping) is not the deciding body for the hostages’ release. He is actually facing two invisible and yet powerful actors: Syria and Iran. The two countries are widely funding and supporting Hezbollah in the civil war and have been secretly blocking negotiations for more than two years.
Jean-Charles Marchiani meets with Syrian officials in April 1988 in Damas, Lebanon and in Istanbul, Turkey. He makes a deal with the Syrian government: France will erase a 200 million francs debt owed by Syria. In exchange, Syria will stop interfering with the negotiations.
However, a key challenge remains: Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has an old and highly sensitive business dispute with France over financial stakes in a multinational nuclear conglomerate, Eurodif, based in France. After the Islamic revolution took place in Iran, France had refused to recognize the new Iranian leadership as one of Eurodif’s business stakeholders.
After making a deal with the Syrians, Jean-Charles Marchiani secretly meets with Iranian officials to settle the Eurodif dispute. France agrees to compensate Iran with over 330 million dollars for its loss.
This was the last main obstacle to negotiating the hostages release and Jean-Charles Marchiani has just lifted it. A few weeks later, he drives into the Hezbollah controlled suburb of Beirut entirely by himself to free the three last French hostages: Marcel Carton, Marcel Fontaine and journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann.