The UK Government has suspended all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh due to information received by British intelligence about last week’s crash of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai. The decision, and Downing Street’s use of the words about the possibility of an ‘explosive device’ lends support to claims made by Islamic State over the weekend that it was responsible for the doomed flight’s plunge from the skies.
Some would see the announcement as bad timing as the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi flew into the UK for a two day visit. Egyptian authorities have expressed their disappointment over the UK announcement, and would prefer to wait until more investigations are carried out. The Russians, similarly, feel it is too early to say what the cause of the crash could be.
This is a new and alarming twist in the familiar tale involving the West and their inactions, rather than actions, in handling the rise and rise of the Islamic State (IS).
So now IS, according to its own propagandists, has somehow managed to evade security and plant a bomb on a commercial flight. That it was heading to St Petersburg should not be a surprise to anyone. Russia has been bombarding so called ISIS strongholds in Syria with all its military airpower for the past four weeks now.
Members of IS will not be daunted by a superpower. They do not fear death but in fact welcome it as it gives them the assured seal of martyrdom, and guarantees their families a place in Jannah (paradise) for a further seven generations.
This is perhaps the crux of the tale; the West simply does not understand the psyche of the Islamic State fighter any more than it understands why groups of Muslims established in the West are leaving their comfortable lives behind and heading to a warzone. They are not fighting for territory, power, or status in this ‘dunya’ (world). They are fighting a holy war they believe will guarantee them a place amongst the martyrs and thus a stake in Jannah. They are trying to secure their hereafter in this world, one brutal beheading and blazing pilot at a time.
And how will Russia take the latest news and the murder of nearly 200 of its citizens? The Bear does not like to be poked, and this; an unprovoked attack against many of its innocent civilians, is likely to be one of the factors that tip Russia’s involvement in Syria from short term into a more long term matter.
Since 9/11 we have lived with the fact that air travel safety is something not to be taken lightly. This brings us back to the claims made by IS; if it is proved that an explosion brought down the plane, how did Islamic State manage to get an explosive on that flight when we live in an age of such stringent air travel security?
The level of planning involved in this act of sabotage and political manoeuvring is breath taking. On one hand, Islamic State has sent a powerful message to Russia. ‘Keep bombing us from above and we will bring your own planes down in flames’. The second message is to Egypt and the Westerners who go there. For many years, Egypt’s two main holiday resorts, Sharm el Sheikh and Hurgada, have been left out of the general strife the country has seen through its political upheavals and transitions to democracy and back. The visitors have flocked to enjoy the sun, sea, and all-inclusive alcohol. Some followers of IS believed that it was about time it showed its mettle in Egypt the way it did in Tunisia. What better way than to bring down a civilian plane? The stuff of American aviation nightmares now visited upon the Russians? Finally, seeing another Islamic country being sucked into the bloodletting chaos of the Middle East is quite an achievement for Islamic State, all the more so because of Egypt’s location close to the Maghreb. The IS fanned flames are moving closer to Western shores. The refugee crisis that resulted from the region’s fighting is keeping Western leaders preoccupied for the time being, and this is allowing Islamic State to now start a much more precarious strategy.
Attacking Russia, or even claiming to have done so, will not bring a swift end to bombs being bestowed from above. In fact, it will make the Bear even more determined to subdue Islamic State.
Putin is no Gorbachev. He will not allow Islamic extremists to undermine Russian supremacy and might the way they did in Afghanistan (although the Mujahedeen did have generous benefactors in Washington and a Saudi billionaire’s son on their side). If it is proved beyond doubt that IS did indeed bring down the flight, this will bolster Moscow’s argument that it’s military intervention in Syria is justified. The danger could be that the current spate of aerial assaults may not be enough to sate the calls for retribution. If more Russian boots are put on the ground, this could tip the entire region towards a boiling point of no return.
Some scholars may consider this point to be the start of the ‘end times’ as prophesised in the Quran. The pieces are slowing shifting into place, and each of the world powers lining up to play their parts, some with more reluctance than others.
Einstein said ‘I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.’ He knew a thing or two of small regional squabbles escalating into long, bloody, world wars.
Aisha Ali Khan is a human rights activist.