The militant group is targeting its message at the West with new, deadly forceby Sharif Nashashibi / November 14, 2015 / Leave a comment
Friday’s multiple attacks in Paris represent a quantum leap in the capabilities of the Islamic State (IS) beyond the Middle East and North Africa, its primary arena of operations (the day before, it carried out a twin suicide bombing in Lebanon’s capital Beirut that killed dozens and wounded hundreds).
The group has repeatedly called for attacks against the West, but until Friday it had relied on “lone-wolf” sympathisers. The scale and coordination of the Paris attacks—the deadliest in Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings—suggests a heightened level of planning, and potentially IS’s direct organisational involvement.
The group made its motivation clear in a statement published on Saturday, threatening further attacks against France “as long as it continues its Crusader campaign” of airstrikes against IS’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria. “As long as you keep bombing, you will not live in peace.”
France has been carrying out airstrikes against IS in Iraq for more than a year, having been the first country to join the US-led coalition. However, Paris only extended its strikes to Syria in late September, citing national security. As such, while President Francois Hollande declared the Paris attacks an “act of war” by IS, from the group’s point of view the war began long before Friday.
IS’s clear aim, then, is for France to pay such a high price for its air campaigns that they come to an end. The voices of those in France who were already opposed to their country’s airstrikes may become louder, and there will likely be public anger over a major lapse in domestic security.
However, the Paris attacks may strengthen French resolve to take on IS. Hollande’s decision to extend airstrikes to Syria came amid domestic approval for such a move. A poll in May showed 55 per cent favouring French action in Syria (64 per cent were against this in 2013), and a poll in September showed 56 per cent in favour of ground intervention as part of an international coalition.
These are not overwhelming majorities, however, so IS may be hoping for an easy reversal in French public opinion. However, unlike the Madrid bombings—which took place days before Spanish elections that led to a change in government and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq—the next French presidential vote is not due until 2017.
As such, Hollande may well feel that he can weather any potential fluctuations in public opinion following the Paris attacks. He will also be mindful of the certainty of being accused of giving in to IS should he change course.
The Paris attacks can also be seen as a warning to other countries that are carrying out airstrikes or considering doing so. This will complicate British Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for a second parliamentary vote on whether to carry out airstrikes in Syria (his first attempt was voted down in 2013). The influential Foreign Affairs Committee, which has a majority from Cameron’s Conservative Party, this month urged him not to go ahead with another vote.
The Paris attacks may also serve as a message from IS to Moscow that it can make good on its threat, made on Thursday, to carry out attacks in Russia “very soon” in response to its air campaign in Syria that began on September 30.
IS had previously claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31, which killed all 224 people on board. The intention may also be to dissuade Russia from launching airstrikes against IS in Iraq, which Moscow last month said it would consider at Baghdad’s request.
The people of Paris have paid a high price in blood for a message that is meant to resonate far wider than France. It is too early to tell how that message will be taken by IS’s various opponents beyond the Middle East and North Africa, but it will not be the last threat or the last atrocity.