The atrocities committed in Paris on Friday evening was a reminder to Europe that the conflicts in the Middle East are spilling out of the Syrian and Iraqi borders and threatening to become a global issue, without end. The old borders created by the Sykes-Picot agreement have turned to dust in a post-Saddam Iraq, and Bashar Al-Assad’s government being propped up by Russian military support.The power vacuum created by western intervention and removal, or undermining, in the case of Al-Assad’s case, have allowed a battleground to flourish – supported by funding and agitation of the region’s more affluent and stable players: Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
ISIL, or Daesh as it’s known in Arabic, are handily placed for the key players of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), all of whom are majority Sunni states, with the exception Bahrain. Having ISIL controlling swathes of Syria and Iraq keeps the Shi’ite Iran in its place. It also allows their brand of Islam to flourish elsewhere. There is some evidence to suggest that these two countries have supported Islamic State – but is this really a proxy war being played out in a Sunni-Shia conflict? The attacks that have played out globally are more than a mere positing of Hezbollah-Shi’a/Al-Qaeda/Sunni posturing that we are supposed to believe in the battlegrounds of Iraq, Syria and, once again, Lebanon. ISIL have stepped in have taken over the running of a region that the US, the UK and other Western countries didn’t have the long-term strategy or guts to see through.
Islamic State’s influence has grown beyond Syria and Iraq and has now stretched into north Africa; with evidence of activity in Egypt’s Sinai penninsula, as well as control of control of Tripoli and the western part of Libya; the problem has spread to Europe’s doorstep, as was emphasised by the massacre in Tunisia in June. Further less-newsworthy armies, such as Boko Harem in Nigeria and Al-Sheebab in Eastern Africa, seem like isolated cases, and hang in a suspended reality that doesn’t fit with the building-block lego politics of Western and Arab relations and the investment deals that underpin them.
The oil and weapons industries go hand-in-hand, with the West very much an active agent in filling the Gulf States’ coffers with oil money, while selling back to them arms technologies. Saudi, Iran, Qatar and then UAE have all hugely increased expenditure on defence in recent years, and at some point there should be growing concern regarding their stockpiling. The UK makes large sums of money trading in arms to Saudi and agreed a contract to sell 100 fighter jets to the UAE for £6bn in 2012, endorsed by David Cameron. Saudi is currently putting to use this technology in its bombing of Houthi (Shi’a) rebels in Yemen. It wouldn’t be unthinkable to suggest that some of the huge cache of weaponry it has collected, might find its way to a growing army to the north of Saudi borders and beyond.
France and Russia’s involvement in Syria’s civil war has seen hundreds of their nationals die in terrorist atrocities in the space, bookending 14 bloody days. The message is clear from ISIS: get involved in Syria and you will be a terrorist target.
The question that needs to be asked has become ever-more pressing: is ISIL a rogue band of Islamic fundamentalists or is this a subsidiary army of the region’s powerful flexing their muscles, reminding western military and western intelligence that they are now competitors in the global power grab? As ISIL has gained a foothold in the more unstable states of the Islamic world, this is a creeping kind of theocratic imperialism where the radicalised become pioneers of old frontiers.
The flow of refugees from Syria and beyond that have overwhelmed European borders are escaping from a tyranny that threatens to go on tour for the foreseeable future. EU nations must weed out the radicalised while showing compassion for those who seek a better future. This is now a major challenge to Europe’s richest states.
Problems in Syria and Iraq will not go away through western intervention, as recent history has shown. The Middle East’s conflicts can only be resolved through local solutions and the will of the Arab world. The West must use political and financial pressures upon the sources of ISIl’s funding to bring about change; The Arab Spring’s failure to to bring stability and western-style democracy to the most oppressed sectors of the region, and the longer historical view – in terms of the tribal and religious schisms, as well as the hierarchical nature of Arab societies – demonstrates that regional conflict means business as usual.