PRESIDENT Putin yesterday announced that the downing of the Russian airliner in Egypt, killing all 224 on board, was caused by a bomb explosion. Russian experts who carried out investigations of the wreckage had found “traces of foreign explosives” on the debris of the Airbus and said the explosion “explained the wide dispersal of fuselage pieces.” A branch of Islamic State had already claimed responsibility for downing the plane but the Russian government wanted proof.
There was no such need in the case of Friday’s co-ordinated suicide bombings and shootings by jihadists in Paris that took 129 lives. This was the third terrorist attack claimed by IS in two weeks, as a day earlier a double suicide attack in south Beirut killed 40 people. It is difficult to explain the Beirut attack because Lebanon has not been carrying out air attacks on IS. Then again, it is also difficult to explain the acts of terror against France and Russia as this was bound to lead to the stepping up of their attacks on IS.
Putin’s confirmation that there had been a bomb explosion led to an immediate escalation of its air campaign, the Russian defence minister announcing yesterday that Russia had used long-range bombers and cruise missiles. Putin had made his intentions clear yesterday, saying that air strikes in Syria “must be intensified so that the criminals understand that retribution is inevitable.” President Hollande reacted in a similar way, describing Friday’s attack as an “act of war”, the implication being that France would hit back hard and try to persuade Western allies to do the same.
It seems certain that the world’s most powerful countries will now join forces against IS. Hollande will be visiting the US and Moscow next week for talks with his respective counterparts, while Putin has ordered the Russian navy in the Mediterranean to establish contact with the French navy and “work with them as allies.” Meanwhile, British PM David Cameron yesterday, in parliament, raised the issue of air strikes on IS targets in Syria. He had not asked for parliamentary backing for air strikes in the past because he did not believe the move would command a majority.
The latest terror attacks could create a ‘war coalition’ against IS, which would be a positive development in a way. Nobody enjoys war but in current conditions there does not seem to be an alternative. IS has gone too far and as Putin said, rather crudely, the “criminals have to understand that retribution is inevitable.”