Yasmeen Aftab Ali

By Yasmeen Aftab

What will be the impact of Paris attack on French involvement in the Middle East? France in September this year started air raids on militant jihadis from ISIS in Syria. France has also been involved in raiding ISIS in Iraq for many months. President François Hollande is likely to respond more aggressively and more intensely after the attack, especially with the regional elections coming up next month.

The refugee crisis over time has worsened. Europe is facing a crisis. Policies for accepting refugees all over Europe will change. “It can already be detected in Poland,” the incoming Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymanski said, adding, “we will accept refugees only if we have security guarantees.” (BBC News, November 15, 2015)

“With Germany set to receive more than one million refugees this year — most of them from the war-torn Middle East — the domestic pressure on Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to close her country’s borders to new migrants was already mounting. Even before the Paris attacks, Sweden — which has taken more migrants per head than any other EU country — had announced a partial closure of its borders to new refugees, albeit as a temporary measure.” (Gideon Rachman for FT,November 14, 2015)

The future of Schengen seems to be at a grave risk right now. Many countries have, following the Paris attacks, suspended the Schengen agreement including Germany that had previously welcomed refugees warmly. Under the agreement, every EU citizen was allowed to travel freely within EU, live, work, settle without any formal paperwork or legalities. It did not allow border controls to hamper movement of citizens from the EU countries.

Will the Paris attacks create problems for Muslims settled in European nations? Probably yes. Extremism has no face. One can judge by the reaction of Robert Chardon, the UMP Mayor of Venelles in Southern France, tweeted: “The Muslim religion must be banned in France,” and added that anyone practising the religion must be “immediately escorted to the border”. He also claimed Islam will be banned in France by 2027. The tweet was a part of a discussion former President Nicolas Sarkozy began with the public, using the hashtag #NSDirect. (The Independent, May 17, 2015) This predates the incident but only goes to show how much sharper the reaction can be now. The same newspaper reports vandalisation of a mosque in Travis County, and a young boy of seven offering his piggy bank to donate to the vandalised mosque a few days following the attack.

David Cameron says he’s ready to bomb ISIS in Syria without the approval of the UN. “The PM insisted going to the world body would be pointless because Russia would veto any Security Council resolution. And he argued it was already fully legal for Britain to join the US and France in the aerial onslaught against the terrorists responsible for the Paris bloodbath.” (The Sun, November 18, 2015)

One likely outcome of the Paris attack will be a shift in paradigm; the west more than ever will focus on beating down the ISIS with removal of Bashar-al-Assad relegated to the subtext. “Russia is not fussed about Assad being the one that leads Syria for the long-term,” Royal United Services Institute’s (RUSI) Sarah Lain said. “It’s almost a small point now in the bigger picture of the Syrian political process because, basically, the West wants to crush ISIS and whether Assad is in power at the time or not is almost a secondary objective. Obviously, the peace process and the political transition in itself will be something that Russia wants very much to be involved with and now the West is on board more with Russia being at the forefront of that sort of process. So I think you’ll get some sort of agreement where there is no security of Assad’s position in the long-term, but I think Russia will win in the short-term of allowing him to stay as head of the government in the transition process.” International Business Times, November 16, 2015) France however has always seen Assad as a part of the problem.

Interaction between Putin and Obama has not been great lately. However, their one to one talk in Turkey G20 Summit extended to a good thirty minutes. A White House briefing afterwards said the pair “agreed on the need for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition”. There is reportedly disagreement regarding the fate of Assad but this interaction focused on what needs to be done in Syria may be a new start for both leaders to reset the relationship between Washington and Moscow. The sanctions against Russia and Russia’s stance in Ukraine did not sit well with the US.

In an interesting development reported by NYT,“Russia on Tuesday said that it was coordinating with the French military in sharply ratcheting up attacks on Syrian territory, especially areas held by the Islamic State, as the government for the first time acknowledged that a bomb had destroyed a Russian charter jet that crashed more than two weeks ago in Egypt. In a related move, President Obama said early Wednesday that he was open to cooperating with Russia in the campaign against the Islamic State, which has asserted responsibility for destroying the charter plane and for the deadly attacks in Paris on Friday, but only if the government of President Vladimir V Putin begins targeting the militant group.” (November 17, 2015)

It does look like both Russia and US want to repair the bridge between them, at least use this situation to do so on the issue of Syria. It is an excellent opportunity for Russia to strive and try putting an end to its global isolation that is the cascading effect of its stance in Ukraine.

The Independent has reported that world powers are poised to forge a single resolution at the United Nations Security Council to declare a common war against ISIS and “eradicate” jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Thierry Meyssan, French intellectual, founder and chairman of Voltaire Network and the Axis for Peace Conference, writes, “The war which has now spread to Paris is incomprehensible for those French citizens who are ignorant of practically all the secret activities of their government in the Arab world, of its unnatural alliances with the Gulf dictators, and its active participation in international terrorism. These policies have never been discussed in Parliament, and the major media have rarely dared to take an interest in them.” (November 17, 2015)

Irrespective as to who supported whom, when, where and at what point, serving vested interests, “A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defence Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became ISIS) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria.

Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”, the Pentagon report goes on, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” (Seumas Milne, The Guardian).