Every action has a reaction although the reaction may be unanticipated. The Syrian civil war is being waged between forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime, the Free Syrian Army, the Kurds, Hezbollah and ISIS/ISIL and the many other fractional participants too numerous to mention. All of these players have their foreign sponsors, supporters and enablers. That is why the civil war has lasted for five years and is ongoing.
You can’t wage war without money and munitions. If you ain’t got the stuff someone has to make it available so that the fighting continues. This has been going on overtly or covertly in Syria and parts of Iraq for years. Just 13 days ago the United States announced that it was giving $100 million in aid to Syria’s “rebels” - whoever or whatever these may be – bringing the officially disclosed total so far to $500 million since 2002, while the unofficial, soft number is anyone’s guess. Since 2013 the US has trained and equipped “moderate rebels” in Syria with disastrous results – all of them being killed or captured within days of deployment and clandestine operations shrouded in secrecy.
As counterpoints there is the “axis of resistance”, the alliance that Syria and Iran forged to blunt Western influence in the Middle East after the US led coalition 2003 invasion of Iraq. Now Russia has weighed by lending tactical support to the Assad regime. Russian war planes have struck ISIS targets and, according to some reports, Kurdish and pro-Western rebel positions.
Forget post World War I history and the decades of intervention by foreign powers in the Middle East and concentrate on the here and now.
Starting in September France launched air strikes on ISIS targets in both Iraq and Syria. France’s President Hollande has demanded that Assad be removed from power as a prerequisite to any political settlement of the civil war. In 2014 Russia stepped up military support of the Assad forces by delivering armored vehicles “surveillance equipment, radars, electronic warfare systems, spare parts for helicopter, various weapons including guided bombs” and on September 30 with approval of Parliament “Russia started a military intervention in Syria consisting of air strikes against ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front and other perceived enemies of the Syrian government.” Russia will soon have boots on the ground to counter America’s advisors and trainers.
The United States led air campaign in Iraq, Syria and Libya has resulted in 8,100 strikes in the last 15 months. This Saturday the Pentagon announced that two F-15 fighter jets launched an air strike that killed Abu Nabil ISIS’ top commander in Libya whose death “… will degrade ISIL’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya, including new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya and planning external attacks on the United States.”
Europe, the United States, Russia and even Iran have declared war on ISIS but in doing so all of the foreign players are sharply elbowing each other in support of their pet surrogates in Syria and Iraq and in doing so they shove, kill and maim the opposition and as collateral damage the innocent civilian population without accountability and with impunity.
Is it any wonder then that ISIS, or for that matter any of the warring factions shove back? This is a base application of the “every action has a reaction” principle, the most notable being last Friday night’s callous, despicable murder of 129 civilian innocents in Paris. While no one can justify this attack it ignores the cause - was the attack provoked by state action?
When viewed from the perspective of the local Arab population that has witnessed the death, murder and maiming of over 500,000 Iraqis and the displacement of more than two million Syrian refugees the Parisian death toll is totally irrelevant and of no consequence, a mere bagatelle.
Provocation is not justification but it is an explanation of the brutal response to the state of affairs unfolding in Syria and Iraq. Without an air force or naval power a ground attack is ISIS’ sole available response.
As I write Reuters reports that 10 French fighter jets have launched the biggest raid to date on an ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria destroying “a command centre, recruitment centre for jihadist, a munitions depot and training camp for fighters” and how many civilians I ask? ISIS will no doubt retaliate, a tit for tat; how many more civilians will die in France next week, next month?
This is a harsh view of today’s foreign affairs real politik and my personal view of the Paris massacre. It will anger many. To continue to deny that a country’s actions in Syria and Iraq will result in reactions is to deny reality. Better to accept reality as it is and act accordingly, perhaps by letting the Middle East to its own devices.