Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

This is war

The horrible attacks in Paris open new opportunities for coordinated efforts, regionally and internationally, to stamp out terrorism. It is a war, and one that we must win, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Terrorism reared its ugly head once more in Paris in the evening of Friday, 13 November. In simultaneous attacks in various parts of the French capital, terrorists went on a rampage, killing 129 people and wounding more than 200 innocent civilians.

It was the second time in less than a year that Paris came under attack. Last January, two terrorists stormed the headquarters of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed more than five people. Both attacks were claimed by the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group, commonly known as Daesh.

Two days before the latest attacks in Paris, a southern suburb in Beirut was savagely hit by two suicide attacks that left more than 30 dead and many injured. The suburb was targeted because it is mainly inhabited by Shias and is is a Hezbollah stronghold.

The two terrorist attacks, one in Paris and the other in Beirut, took place in the context of proxy wars that have been going on in Syria for the last four years. I say proxy wars because this is, in my personal point of view, the fact of the matter.

It is not about democracy. It is not about human rights. It is not about the rule of law. And definitely, it is not about the Syrian people.

Proxy wars for geopolitical considerations among the great powers, mostly the United States and Russia. Proxy wars for regional hegemony between Iran and Turkey across the Middle East. Proxy wars for the hearts and minds of Muslims across the Islamic world between Iran and Saudi Arabia — regrettably, a deadly confrontation between Sunni and Shia Islam, the former led by Saudi Arabia and the latter by Iran.

One country has been, so far, absent from the list. Guess which? I am talking about Israel, of course. The Hebrew state has been watching the unfolding of the tragic events in Syria and the Middle East as a bystander for the last four and a half years, a period of time described as the “Arab Spring”, and a bloody one at that, while doing its best to draw maximum benefit from the mayhem that has gripped the region in order to abort the two-state solution in Palestine.

The deadlock in Syria, summed up as the inability of all these powers to impose their will as to the final outcome of this fierce struggle for power in the Middle East and beyond, made it possible for IS to expand and to metamorphose into the gravest terrorist threat that the Arab world has ever known.

The Paris attacks last Friday happened less than 12 hours before the convening of the second Vienna ministerial meeting on Syria on 14 November. The attacks were a reminder that the international and regional strategies to fight IS have been ineffective, and that the international and regional coalitions set up to carry out the job of rooting out this terrorist organisation have utterly failed in degrading and defeating IS.

For example, the American-led International Coalition to Degrade and Defeat IS was formed in September 2014. Ironically, the air strikes by the coalition against this terrorist group have not, so far, achieved great results.

On the contrary, this group has become entrenched in Syria, extended to Libya and, judging from the two terrorist attacks in Paris this year, IS has succeeded, to our greatest regret, in gaining a firm foothold in the heart of Europe. More attacks are not to be ruled out in European capitals. I do not want to enumerate the European capitals that have been threatened, but we should not be surprised by future attacks.

The Syrians, the Russians and the Iranians have stressed that the absolute priority before the international community is to fight IS and other terrorist groups such as Al-Nusra Front or, to be more precise, Al-Qaeda. Judging from the outcome of the second Vienna meeting on Syria last Saturday, 14 November, it seems that this fact has finally dawned on those powers, be they in the West or within the Middle East: we can no longer go on with business as usual, and a deep and credible rethink of strategies in Syria is called for.

In other words, to fight IS there is no other option but to work with the Syrian army, and to leave the future and role of President Bashar Al-Assad to the Syrian people to decide. The latest carnage in Paris made this change of approach possible.

It has widened the window of opportunity to fight IS more effectively and decisively, and to adopt a more credible and gradual approach to solve the Syrian crisis as a prelude to concentrating all efforts on defeating IS and other terrorist groups in Syria. This necessitates the end of all forms of support by various regional and Arab powers to these groups. Otherwise, the near consensus reached in the second Vienna meeting on Syria will ring hollow.

Two days after the deadliest terrorist attacks that the French capital has ever seen, the G-20 met at Antalya, on Sunday, 15 November. The meeting was overshadowed, understanbly, by the terror that engulfed Paris almost 48 hours earlier. It should be an opportunity for all participants to commit themselves to the cause of defeating terrorism, and to reach a consensus on how best to achieve such an objective.

The odds would be far greater in defeating terrorist groups if this war against terrorism was waged everywhere and not selectively, from a geographic and a political point of view. To put it differently, the war against IS must include the military operations of the Egyptian army in Sinai, as well as on the Egyptian-Libyan border.

It should mean engaging the enemy not only in Syria and Iraq, but also in Libya. With all sorts of terrorists roaming freely around, talk about democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and the like would be nothing less than a comedy — a tragic one at that. It is war, and we have no alternative but to win.

The writer is a former assistant to the foreign minister.

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