Egypt says that it is 90% sure that the Russian Metrojet civilian airliner which exploded above the country’s Sinai Peninsula killing all 224 aboard was brought down by a bomb as opposed to ground fire, accident/pilot error or technical malfunction. One American intelligence official quoted by CNN went so far as to claim that he was “99.9%” certain it was a bomb. Many believe the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist gang to be responsible. ISIS has, gleefully, taken credit for the horrific disaster and loss of civilian life.
If they did then this airliner’s downing is doubtlessly a very calculated and shrewd attack on that group’s part. Not only has it demonstrably shown, once again, that despite the numerous powers arrayed against it ISIS is still nevertheless capable of striking in unexpected places, but more specifically it is a propaganda victory at the expense of Moscow since ISIS can now credibly claim that mere weeks after their country’s military deployment to Syria, ostensibly aimed at combating ISIS, Russian civilians can nevertheless be targeted and murdered by the very same Islamist terrorists its government claims it is afflicting lethal deathblows to in Syria. (The more optimistic view, which I certainly hope is correct, argues that ISIS lashed out in this way since the Russian air strikes in Syria are starting to hurt them).
Additionally it’s a slap in the face to the Egypt’s autocratic President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who has claimed that his government has essentially crushed the terrorist threat posed by the Islamists who made-up the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (‘Partisans of Jerusalem’) group in Sinai which merged with ISIS in late last year and was renamed ‘ISIS-Sinai Province’ after being impressed and inspired by ISIS’s bloody conquests and exploits in both Iraq and Syria.
Not only that, it will further affect Egypt’s tourism sector and further hurt that country’s economy as Sisi’s regime is seeking to promote itself as a stabilizing force for the region and an effective bulwark against this kind of Islamist terrorism which should be supported. Again, another, at least short-term, win for ISIS.
The fallout from this will also be telling. The Russian public may come out in opposition to its governments war in Syria or support it even more vigorously. The latter may see the Kremlin committing more forces than it had initially intended and see it become further embroiled in that costly conflict which has no end in sight. Similarly Sisi may respond in Egypt by intensifying his military operations against the Islamist’s in the society and further crackdown on the home-front where he has essentially eviscerated any political opposition to his regime with brute force. Something which has given ISIS the gift of many disenfranchised Muslim youths who have been radicalized by the violence of this repressive regime and can be more easily manipulated to join that group whose propaganda invariably portrays their cause as a righteous and revolutionary one against grave injustice, both real and imagined.
It’s quite striking how the bombing of a single civilian target could yield so many benefits for that terror group. But such a precise and calculated atrocity of the aforementioned kind certainly isn’t unprecedented for groups of this kind. In Iraq we saw how a single bombing – widely believed to have been carried out by ISIS’s Iraqi-based al-Qaeda predecessor – sowed the seeds of horrifying conflict and bloodshed.
The bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in the Iraqi city of Samaraa in February 2006 had devastating consequences for the Iraqi state and society. Those who bombed that important Shi’a holy shrine, correctly, calculated that it would ignite sectarian conflict at a critical time, turn Shi’ites against Sunnis and spark a vicious cycle of sectarian bloodletting which did great damage to the Americans efforts to establish a stable and successful post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. While the bombing itself did not kill, nor injury, a single human being the violence which came directly afterward was immense. Some estimates put the death toll as high as 1,000 throughout the course of the following day alone!
That widespread violence was dubbed a civil war by many who observed it. While the Americans and the Iraqi government did get the upper hand over those al-Qaeda forces the following year we have seen more recently how effectively ISIS was able to maneuver itself by exploiting rivalries and sectarian schisms in Iraq and Syria to their advantage which enabled them to takeover large parts of both those war-wrecked countries. In the Iraqi case the divides and rifts were quite severe as a direct result of the events sparked by the al-Askari attack.
As with al-Askari the Russian Metrojet airliner incident may prove to be not just another example of ISIS’s inhumanity (there are many examples of that already) but another indication of just how shrewd that group can be when it comes to undermining its enemies. We overlook these telling examples of such cold calculated shrewdness at our peril.
Photo by Swaminathan, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license