Paris Under Attack: Towards Broader Cooperation in the War on Terrorism

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Hassan Maged

PhD candidate in strategy and national defense affiliated with the IRSEM Institute

The new war on terrorism entered a new phase following the liberation of the Kweires military airport by the Syrian army and its allies (including Russians) and of the northern city of Sinjar in Iraq by Kurdish and Yazidi fighters with U.S support. However, recent terrorist attacks prove the inefficiency of the current western approach to fighting ISIS. These flaws have become apparent after preliminary investigations results showed that one of the suicide bombers who carried a Syrian passport had been registered as a refugee in Greece. Consequently, a new counter-extremism strategy has to be adopted, the one that would take into consideration external as well as internal threats (including a refugee influx and ISIS fighters returning home from Syria and Iraq).

With a death toll reaching 132 victims and 300 more hospitalized, the Paris attacks were the bloodiest France ever knew. The November 13th attacks were different from previous ones in three main elements. First, there was a coordinated effort between several teams of terrorists (three, according to French investigators) capable of conducting simultaneous attacks in six different locations (unlike during the Charlie Hebdo incident where there was a significant time gap between two attacks). Second, terrorists possessed sophisticated equipment including explosive vests, which is a clear indication of their profile and know-how. Finally, the Paris tragedy is a clear transition from targeted and symbolic attacks of Charlie Hebdo to mass attacks perpetrated by experienced individuals (which is quite similar to the 2008 Mumbai attacks).

The Islamic State claiming the Paris attack will have both military and political consequences. On the military side, France now finds itself forced to increase its level of contribution to the western coalition in the war on terror. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France, a France that is together and does not let itself be moved, even if today we express infinite sorrow” said French President Francois Hollande on November 13.

Additionally, the state of emergency was declared in France for the first time since 2005. It enables the authorities to close public places and impose curfews as well as restrictions on the movement of traffic and people. Security at the country’s borders has been tightened as the country implemented border controls at all crossings and entry points.

In the political domain, the terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS affiliates in Beirut and Paris may lead to change sin the perception of the Syrian crisis by world powers. The US-led coalition, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, insist on Assad’s departure, while Russia and Iran as well as their allies emphasize the need to defeat the Islamic State first and let the Syrian people decide on Assad’s fate. These two coalitions may now have to reassess their approaches to the crisis and try to find common ground.

The Vienna negotiations between all parties of the Syrian conflict may open the door for broader cooperation in the new global war on terrorism in a scenario that may resemble the Elbe Day when Soviet and US forces met by the Elbe River marking the end of World War II in Europe. Will the Syrian-Iraqi border be the next Elbe River where the US- and Russian-led coalitions meet? The ongoing Syria talks will show.

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