Tuesday 20 August 2019

War alone will not defeat Isil

French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande

Following the savage attack on Paris, French President Francois Hollande has travelled widely, and with some success, in an effort to forge agreement among world leaders on how to "destroy" Isil.

President Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in talks in Moscow last Thursday to exchange intelligence on Isil and other rebel groups to improve the effectiveness of their aerial bombing campaigns in Syria.

The West has accused Moscow of targeting mostly Western-backed rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead of Isil.

In a welcome development, France's foreign minister said last Friday that President Putin had asked France to draw up a map of where groups fighting Isil militants operate in Syria in order not to bomb them.

Also last week, Germany announced that it would join the military campaign by deploying Tornado reconnaissance jets, refuelling aircraft and a frigate to the region, after a direct appeal from close partner France for Berlin to do more.

The decision to commit military personnel and hardware is a shift for Germany, which has resisted such direct involvement in the conflict. It still has no plans to join France, the United States and Russia in conducting air strikes in Syria.

However, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said last Thursday that it was time to join air strikes in Syria because Britain cannot "subcontract its security to other countries".

Many will be wary of entering into another war in the Middle East after Western intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya failed to bring stability to the region and some believe led to the rise of militants groups such as Isil.

But after Isil claimed responsibility for killing 130 people in Paris, many who were reluctant to launch further military action in the Middle East now feel it is needed to protect against such attacks.

These developments, while welcome, must form part of a broader strategy which will be needed to face down the threat from Isil, which, lest we forget, also seems to include Ireland in what it has called a "coalition of devils".

The US, Russia and other world powers have set a target date of January 1, 2016, for formal negotiations to start between the Assad regime and the opposition in the latest effort to craft a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

In a rare hint of diplomatic progress, Iran has also signalled it would back a six-month political transition period in Syria followed by elections to decide Assad's fate.

Western leaders privately express some confidence that a tangible international process now under way could exert real pressure on Syrians from all sides to end a four-and-a-half-year-old conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and sparked a huge refugee exodus.

While military action seems inevitable, such action alone will not be enough. A side-by-side political solution is also essential or Western leaders will be shown to have learned nothing from such interventions before. All factions in the area must be convinced that they can have decent representation in government. Islamic terror will end only when the Middle East lives in peace.

Sunday Independent

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