ISIL’s strategy is to lure West to invade Syria

What was the strategic logic behind the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levantand’s (ISIL) terrorist attacks in Paris?
Yes, what happened was terrorism at its worst. But terrorism has always had a political purpose. When al-Qaeda attacked the US on Sept. 11, 2001, the goal was to provoke the superpower and this mission was successfully achieved. A few months after the attacks, the Bush administration was fighting two wars that ended up strengthening the global appeal and the power of al-Qaeda. The West is still paying a heavy price for the strategic blunder of invading Iraq.
To be sure, ISIL is not al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has never supported ISILand’s decision to declare a caliphate. For Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, declaring a caliphate was a premature step that was bound to exacerbate the sectarian civil war in the heart of the Arab world. Most critically, the caliphate was a distraction from the real fight against the andquotfar enemy.andquot
Jihad against Western powers is the bread and butter of al-Qaeda. Its appeal and strength comes from being a global ideological brand rather than a local, territorial entity. ISIL, on the other hand, began as a project with local priorities. It was determined to hold territory, consolidate power, govern and wage a military campaign with an apocalyptic vision against local enemies.
In that sense, ISIL acquired characteristics of a brutal state determined to savagely destroy the andquotnear enemy,andquot rather than targeting the West with random terrorist attacks. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIL had no initial plan to terrorize US or European civilians in the West. Instead, it barbarically executed Western agents — infidels such as journalists or aid workers — inside the territories of the declared caliphate.
It did not take long, however, for such medieval violence to trigger a Western reaction. Genocidal attacks against local minorities such as Yazidis further demonized ISIL in the eyes of the West. This is how the US-led coalition campaign against ISIL, which so far mainly consists of air attacks, began last year. The andquotfar enemyandquot was now going after ISIL. As a result, it did not take too long for ISIL to target the far enemies in addition to local foes.
Not surprisingly, these developments helped create a hitherto absent convergence between ISIL and al-Qaeda. Today, in the wake of the carnage in Paris, the convergence between ISIL and al-Qaeda is complete. In other words, ISIL is now targeting the far enemy in a fashion that is clearly reminiscent of past al-Qaeda tactics. The Paris attacks show that there is no longer any daylight between ISIL and al-Qaeda.
Some analysts will still insist that the Paris attacks were andquotlone wolfandquot endeavors with no clear strategy, vision or leadership. But if indeed ISIL is responsible for the attacks, there has to be some vision and strategy. It should not come as a surprise that ISIL believes the best way to galvanize more support to its cause is to lure a Western invasion of Syria. Today, Russia is already on the ground and paying a heavy price for its actions with a civilian airplane being targeted. If France, or a combination of NATO powers, follows the same strategy by invading Syria, ISIL will be finally facing the apocalyptic war against andquotCrusadersandquot it has been waiting for. All these dynamics indicate a disturbing new reality: the far enemy has now become the common target of both ISIL and al-Qaeda.
In addition to ISIL and al-Qaeda coming together, what is making things worse for Western interests is another convergence taking place between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and al-Qaeda in Egypt. The military coup in Egypt has pushed the MB underground. The brutal suppression of political Islam in Egypt is quickly radicalizing the movement. Under these new circumstances, the West is facing a much more cohesive radical Islamic bloc with the convergence of ISIL, al-Qaeda and the MB. If the West decides to put boots on the ground in Syria, it will manage to fully unite Islamists at a time when it needs to divide radical Islam.


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