By Brigitte L. Nacos
If anyone had told me a few days ago (1) that the governments of five Arab states would join the United States and Western allies in flying air raids against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (abbreviated IS, ISIS, or ISIL) in Syria and (2) that the 15 member states of the UN Security Council (including Russia and China) would unanimously adopt a legally binding resolution requiring them to prevent and suppress their citizens from joining terrorist organizations abroad, I would have considered it a most uninformed prediction, a bad joke.
Well, I was wrong.
Five states, all with Sunni majorities, have been involved in the first two days of targeted air attacks on strategically important sites of Sunni jihadists. It does not matter that unquestionably the U.S. took and will take the lead in these joint raids. What matters is that Arabs now fight with U.S. and other Western forces against their barbaric ISIS brethren.
To be sure, Jordan and the four Persian Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, and Qatar did not get involved to keep terrorists from threatening Americans inside and outside their homeland. Rather, these governments are well aware that in ISIS’s grand Caliphate design their states are the next dominos to fall after the full conquest of Iraq and Syria. For this to happen, ISIS bets on new recruits in the neighborhood so that the Arab monarchies can be attacked from within and outside.
It may well be that other Arab states, perhaps Egypt, and Turkey step up. The Turkish government can no longer hide behind the four dozen or so Turkish hostages held by ISIS. Whatever prize Ankara paid for their safe return, at minimum Turkey must now secure its borders to prevent ISIS recruits to enter Syria.
However important the involvement of all of these states is, an air war will not defeat ISIS. Like Hamas in Gaza, ISIS fighters use civilians as shields—particularly, while under attack. And both Western nor Arab countries do not want collateral damage in form of killed civilians. Ultimately, the only hope to get the better of guerrilla types of terrorists like ISIS would mean fighting them on the ground.
The Free Syrian Army is not more of a factor or prospect than a short time ago, when President Obama considered them junior varsity. They were too weak to fight the Assad regime—and now they are supposed to be trained to fight both ISIS and Assad’s military?
I hope nobody up there counts on this.
And what about my second surprise, Russia’s and China’s “yes” to the UN Security Council resolution earlier today? I was sure that for both these governments it would be politics as usual and that they would oppose the U.S. sponsored resolution.
Of course, on the face of it, Moscow and Beijing had reasons to agree. The Kremlin is very concerned about Muslim jihadist in the Northern Caucasus, not only Chechen separatist within Russia but also extremists in neighboring former Soviet republics.
Beijing characterizes Muslim Uighurs in the Western Chinese province Xinjiang as terrorist threat and cooperated for the same reasons with Washington in the immediate post-9/11 years. While critics argue that Beijing uses the alleged threat to persecute Uighurs, the recent reports about Uighur fighters in the ranks of ISIS strengthened the Chinese government’s argument.
I have no doubt that those concerns were behind Moscow’s and Beijing’s vote in favor of the resolution. Of course it was the right vote.
Hopefully, many countries will implement what they committed to.