ISIS, the West, the Region and Syria

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Por: Lander Michel 

Abogado – Internacionalista / Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara; Magíster en Derecho Internacional / Universidad de Leiden

Correo electrónico: lmichel@miderainternational.com

The decision of several countries in Europe and in the Middle-East to attack ISIS in Syria and Iraq marks the beginning of the first regional conflict of the 21st century. Not only are almost of the nation-states in the region, and their citizens, linked to the conflict, either supporting or opposing it, they have now accepted carrying out airstrikes on a sovereign nation. Furthermore the fact that ISIS has thousands of fighters from many of the countries carrying out strikes against it will no doubt lead, at some point, to retaliation by ISIS.

Given that the USA did not wish to attack ISIS in Syria but circumstances have dictated it must, it has sought, and obtained a broad amalgamation of interests to converge of different countries to launch air strikes against Syria however this strategy is at best a short-term solution and, in practical terms, will not deter or weaken ISIS as the alliance is not likely to sustain a protracted air campaign. The fact that the American government is willing to arm moderate groups will likely backfire as these groups do not have the command, control, or manpower to take on either Assad or ISIS furthermore, as they having different agendas and operate in different regions, they would have grave difficulties facing Assad and ISIS, and none to fight against both. In addition the Syrian government and allies (Hezbollah and Iran) will capitalize on airstrikes and renewed airpower capability to focus on rebel groups which are likely to be defeated, overtime. The weapons given by the US and allies will likely end up in the hands of the Assad regime or, if ISIS counterattacks, ISIS.

Turkey will most likely intervene to create a buffer zone along its border but the war of attrition that it will fight cannot be won because the phenomenon of ISIS has evolved into a concept and will, likely, continue to survive. Furthermore, Turkey, even if it intervenes, will face a backlash from both ISIS and the Syrian government who will consider a ground incursion an invasion and some retribution will be taken to sap the will of Turkey to fight.

It is not unreasonable that overtime, some governments are faced with threats to their stability; Lebanon being a case in point. Current allies in the region may become neutral towards the US or even oppose it and its allies. The French will capitalize to market the Rafale and its combat performance in the conflict for a future sale to UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.

The only true way to stop ISIS would be boots on the ground. As the 2006 Lebanon war demonstrated there are limits to airpower. In order to weaken ISIS targeting its cash flow is essential however, it has, and will continue to enjoy, broad support from affluent individuals and a steady stream of fighters. In this respect Turkey is the most important country as regards controlling the influx and training of fighters from its territory into Syria. To the extent that the Turkish government stands firm we should see a drop in ISIS capability in the 6-9 month period.

In essence, ISIS is having an impact on all the countries in the region and, in particular, their relationship with dealing with radical Islam and dealing amongst themselves. That said there are many countries, and their people, that still support a very conservative view of Islam and who are not opposed to ISIS but, rather, the contrary. It is quite possible that, in the short-mid term significant terror attacks occur on the interests of the West as well as those countries in the region which have supported the coalition against ISIS. It is also likely that Iran no longer be considered a Pariah State as its role in the stability to the region will offset its nuclear program and opposition to the West which it is likely to tone down in order to end the sanctions and improve a deteriorating economic situation.

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