Analysis: The mega-attack in Paris changes, in the short run, the nature of the international debate over Syria’s future. The West wanted to have it both ways: Destroy the Islamic State and topple Assad’s regime. Now, it must reconsider its list of priorities.
[Paris] – Saturday evening is usually a pretty busy day at the French capital’s cafés and restaurants, but that’s not what Paris looked like this Saturday evening. There was a high police presence at street corners in the city center, many of the eateries were closed and others were quite empty. The pedestrian traffic on the streets was very light although the weather was warm and pleasant, as the weather in Paris often is in the fall.
I passed by the Stade de France, one of the centers of the terror attacks. The area was brightly lit up, but completely empty.
My taxi driver, a native Algerian, compared the shock in France to the terror attacks in New York 14 years ago. He spoke painfully about the Muslim community, which on one hand is trying to shake off any responsibility or affiliation with terror, and on the other hand is wondering why France of all places and why now.
He protested the fact that France was bombing in Syria: What does France have to do with Syria? Its army should take care of business much closer to home. He asked why France was investing millions in funding the opposition organizations in the civil war in Syria. Why should it care if Syrian President Bashar Assad remains in power there?
I asked him if he was scared. He said he wasn’t afraid personally. I asked if there was no racism in France, anti-Muslim racism. Of course there is racism, he replied, we are all racists. One hates Muslims, another hates Jews. The question is the level of hatred and why it turns into murderous violence.
The tragedy in Paris is so big, the scale of the killing is so difficult, the ramifications are so wide that we tend to forget that this was first and foremost an act of retaliation. France is the only European country bombing in Syria, apart from Russia. Britain avoided doing it because of the opposition in the British Parliament. Canada stopped bombing after Justin Trudeau replaced Stephen Harper as prime minister.
Russia lost a civilian plane full of passengers in the Sinai skies. France was hit in Paris. It seems that the Islamic State, or its extensions, is not as insane as one would think, and is much more dangerous. The fact that in both cases there was likely no early intelligence information should concern every intelligence organization whose government is hostile towards ISIS, from Washington, London, Paris and Berlin, through Moscow, Riyadh and Tehran, to Jerusalem.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US went into a bunker. Some of the steps taken since then were necessary: largely thanks to them, there were no additional attacks in the 14 years that have passed since then. Some of the moves were disastrous, led by the American invasion of Iraq, which aimed to crush Saddam Hussein’s regime but basically collapsed the stability of the entire Middle East. This void was entered by murderous terror organization of the kind that makes the world miss Al-Qa’ida.
The mega-attack in Paris changes, in the very short run, the nature of the international debate over Syria’s future. The West wanted to have it both ways: both to destroy ISIS and to oust Assad’s regime, through minor military intervention and limited aid to the opposition organizations and Kurds.
The events in Paris must change the list of priorities. First of all ISIS, and everything else will have to wait, perhaps even be forgotten. This is good news for Iran, Assad’s patron and the enemy of ISIS. It’s good news for Assad and for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the slightly longer run, Europe will likely take another step to the right. Until Friday, the refugee issue split the European Union leadership in two. The debate focused on humanitarian, demographic, economic, national arguments.
The Paris attacks have imposed the security-related argument on the debate and opened a window to far-reaching moves in the domestic policies of governments, draconian moves. Europe will not only label products in supermarkets; it will label populations. This is bad news for the centrist parties in Western Europe and good news for Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and its sisters in other countries.
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