Ignore at your own peril
The series of coordinated gun attacks and suicide bombings in multiple targets in Paris and Beirut on Nov. 13, 2015, killed at least 170 people and severely wounded several hundred. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility of both attacks in France and Lebanon, once again demonstrating its capability to carry out large-scale attacks outside the territory it controls. On Nov. 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally accepted that last week’s downing of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula was as a result of a bomb.
All these incidents indicate an enhanced “outreach” ability of ISIL, apparently convincing all the interested outsiders that to solve the ISIL problem they need to find a solution to the protracted civil war in Syria. While the positions of Russia and Iran have differed from the Western countries –along with several Arab countries and Turkey– over the fate of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the recent attacks by ISIL outside Iraq and Syria generated urgency on both sides to reassess their positions and intensify their fight against ISIL.
This grudgingly slow change was already reflected on the outcomes of both the G-20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, and negotiations in Vienna last week. While the G-20 leaders reiterated their commitments on Nov. 16 to fight against terrorism by developing new measures including operational information-sharing, border management and combatting terrorism-related financial flows, the negotiations in Vienna ended up with a timetable on Nov. 14 for a diplomatic solution in Syria. The attendees of the third round of the Vienna talks agreed to encourage political negotiations between the opposition forces and representatives of the al-Assad regime by Jan. 1, 2016, which will then lead to a cease-fire. They also set an ambitious timetable for the political transition in Syria, giving six months from today to form an interim government and to draft a new constitution, and 18 months for free and fair elections. While the Western and Arab countries still emphasize the provisional character of the al-Assad regime during the transition period, it is clear that, with the Vienna agreement, they finally compromised in favor of Russian/Iranian position on Syria.
While the chances of this highly volatile consensus working on the ground are doubtful, it allows both Russia and the U.S.-led coalition to focus their efforts on ISIL targets. France, which had so far directed its attacks mainly towards targets in Iraq rather than Syria, has already increased its role in fighting by hitting ISIL targets in the Syrian city of Raqqa in response to the assaults in Paris. There are also confirmations that Turkey and the U.S. have finally hammered out a joint operation, soon to start, to clean a piece of territory on the Turkish border from ISIL forces, sort of creating a secure area for opposition groups and also finally cutting off ISIL’s connection to Turkey.
The attacks in Paris also fueled debates over Syrian refugees and the migration policy of the EU. During the debates, beleaguered Syrians fleeing from the war became scapegoats for the intelligence failures in France. While some of the EU members, including Germany, have suspended the Schengen agreement, enforcing border controls, others have built fences to keep migrants out. Obviously, halting migration flow could not ensure security of Europe from attacks, as most perpetrators of the recent assaults were once again homegrown terrorists.
It is the concert of policies among international actors that will determine the fate of the fight against terror, not focusing on strikes against ISIL targets. Only addressing the root-causes of the problem, i.e. the futures of Syria and Iraq, would help to eradicate the threat.