Macron is sending the humanitarian ship to Gaza
The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Israel and its neighbours coincides with the dispatch of a French navy vessel to the eastern Mediterranean.
There is a widespread misunderstanding that the Tonnerre is a hospital ship.
As part of its humanitarian mission in Gaza, it will provide medical relief.
The French navy’s Mistral class amphibious helicopter carrier is one of the most important vessels.
Despite this mission’s differences, the Tonnerre is capable of landing hundreds of troops with tanks and armoured vehicles on foreign shores.
On Wednesday, the ship left its home port of Toulon. It is the same ship France contracted to supply to Russia ten years ago, but then reneged on the deal, fearing its offensive capability against an enemy like Ukraine.
Besides its force projection capabilities, the Tonnerre has a small hospital unit with 69 beds and two operating rooms, equivalent to a hospital in a city of 25,000 people.
Gazan needs are so great that the impact will be minimal.
Humanitarian gestures are important, however. This allows President Macron, who has been criticized in France since 7 October for tilting policy too far in favor of Israel, to rebalance a bit towards Arab concerns.
There may also be more operational considerations to consider. As a result of the Tonnerre’s sophisticated communications equipment, France could have its own intelligence source in the conflict.
It could also be important to have ships on hand to evacuate French nationals if the situation in the Middle East degenerates into a wider war – particularly in Lebanon, where there are many of them. Tonnerre has limited armed power, so in a conflict zone it needs an escort – in this case two frigates: Surcouf and Alsace.