What to Expect After the Downing of a Russian Fighter Jet

Stratfor - November 25, 2015

Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet in Syria has raised the stakes in an already crowded and complicated conflict. The Nov. 24 incident will also likely undermine efforts to find a solution to the country's protracted civil war.

Since Syrian air defenses intercepted a Turkish aircraft on June 22, 2012, resulting in its destruction and the deaths of its two pilots, the Turkish air force has maintained an assertive stance toward aircraft that violate Turkey's border with Syria. On Sept. 16, 2013, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian Mi-17 helicopter that flew into Turkish airspace; about six months later, a Syrian MiG-23 that reportedly strayed into Turkey's airspace met a similar fate.

The number and frequency of incidents in the air above the Turkey-Syria border have risen since Russia's Sept. 30 intervention into the Syrian conflict. Turkey has lodged many complaints against both Russia and Syria, alleging numerous airspace violations (including one confirmed by Russia in which an Su-30 accidentally crossed into Turkey) and the harassment of Turkish aircraft patrolling the border region.

Over the past week, as Russian forces backed several loyalist offensives against rebels in the area, Russia's aerial activity near the Turkey-Syria border has been particularly high. The rebel groups, including the 1st Coastal Division, the 2nd Coastal Brigade and the Sham Brigade, contain a large number of Turkmen fighters and are closely linked to and supported by Turkey, further stoking Ankara's anger over Moscow's presence in Syria.

The New Great Game Between China and the U.S.

Pepe Escobar - November 23, 2015

This article was originally published by TomDispatch.

The U.S. is transfixed by its multibillion-dollar electoral circus. The European Union is paralyzed by austerity, fear of refugees, and now all-out jihad in the streets of Paris. So the West might be excused if it's barely caught the echoes of a Chinese version of Roy Orbison's "All I Have to Do Is Dream." And that new Chinese dream even comes with a road map.

The crooner is President Xi Jinping and that road map is the ambitious, recently unveiled 13th Five-Year-Plan, or in the pop-video version, the Shisanwu. After years of explosive economic expansion, it sanctifies the country's lower "new normal" gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5% a year through at least 2020.

It also sanctifies an updated economic formula for the country: out with a model based on low-wage manufacturing of export goods and in with the shock of the new, namely, a Chinese version of the third industrial revolution. And while China's leadership is focused on creating a middle-class future powered by a consumer economy, its president is telling whoever is willing to listen that, despite the fears of the Obama administration and of some of the country's neighbors, there's no reason for war ever to be on the agenda for the U.S. and China.

The Lure of Returning to Business as Usual With Russia

Judy Dempsey - November 23, 2015

Ukraine should not be used as a pawn in Western cooperation with Russia in fighting the so-called Islamic State.

The EU's sanctions on Russia come up for renewal in the coming weeks and months. Until now, it was assumed the measures would be rolled over. The so-called Minsk II accord, which was negotiated in February by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his French and Ukrainian counterparts to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, has not been fulfilled. Merkel has always insisted that the terms of the accord be implemented fully before the EU considers lifting the sanctions.

But two issues-the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 and the unremitting flow of refugees to Europe-are already changing Merkel's role in Europe. These emergencies are also putting Ukraine on the back burner.

Both are to Putin's advantage. If several EU leaders believe they need Putin to confront the self-styled Islamic State, then they also have to calculate whether they are strong and principled enough to ensure that their policy toward Ukraine is kept separate from the terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis.

ISIS Builds a Network in Jakarta

Sidney Jones - November 23, 2015

Jakarta has reacted to the Paris attacks with condolences, assurances that everything is under control, and scepticism from all sides that there could be any fallout at home. From senior officials to hardline Islamists, the message is that it can't happen here. But it's not that simple. It's true that a coordinated attack on the scale of Paris is not going to happen in Jakarta or Bali or anywhere else in Indonesia. We could, however, see a change in tactics on the part of pro-ISIS groups here, including a decision to target foreigners.

Those who say there's nothing to worry about are correct on their key points. Indonesia is not a member of the Western coalition bombing Syria; there's no reason for it to be a target like France or the US. There's no chatter that any Indonesian agency has picked up about plans for violence. The jihadi groups still active in Indonesia are focused more on getting to Syria than on undertaking any action and anyway, they are poorly trained, poorly led and largely incompetent.

But there are other signs that suggest that this is no time for complacency. More and more Indonesians are getting killed in Syria. Earlier in the year, those deaths came in battles against the Kurds, but the most recent deaths have been airstrikes - and revenge is a powerful motive. If Indonesian police have been the main victims of homegrown terrorism since 2010, we could now see a shift back toward Westerners and soft targets.

The Paris attacks drew praise from Indonesians with ISIS in Syria, among them Bahrun Naim, an ex-prisoner and jihadi intellectual who was involved in trying to organise an attack in Central Java from Syria last August. In a blog posting entitled 'Lessons from the Paris Attacks' (Pelajaran dari Serangan Paris), he urged his Indonesian audience to study the planning, targeting, timing, coordination, security and courage of the Paris teams. His readers aren't fellow fighters in Syria, they're too busy. He's writing for the terrorist wannabes on Java.

Success in Ukraine Could Threaten Western Unity

Andrew Moravcsik - November 23, 2015

WASHINGTON-Today's headlines about Syria obscure a major triumph for Western policy. Ukraine seems to be heading toward an informal settlement largely on European and U.S. terms. Yet this success could threaten the very Western unity that brought it about.

Over the past three months, Ukraine has witnessed a stable cease fire, partial withdrawal of military equipment, scheduling of federal instead of separatist elections, and a plan to bolster OSCE monitoring. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems resigned to pursue his aims primarily through economic and political means. In hard-headed Kissingerian terms, two years of conflict have shifted Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence into the Western camp. Putin's actions in Crimea have failed to undermine the post-Cold War global order elsewhere in the world.

This marks a considerable Western achievement. Of course the result is not perfect. Crimea remains - and, realistically, will remain - Russian. Ukraine continues to be economically vulnerable. Complex negotiations will be required to unfreeze the conflict in its eastern provinces - and they may fail. For the moment, however, facing a no-win situation, Putin is playing along.

Yet over the next six months, transatlantic and intra-European tensions may distract Western governments from the successful formula they have pursued, which stresses civilian power wielded by a German-led Europe. Three dangers loom.

A Unified Effort Needed to Destroy ISIS

Pierre Atlas - November 21, 2015

On Oct. 31, an airliner exploded over the Sinai, killing all 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists. Last Thursday, suicide bombers targeted a predominantly Shiite section of Beirut, killing 43 and wounding over 200. The following evening, a coordinated assault on the people of Paris killed 129 and wounded more than 300. We now know that all of these barbaric acts of terrorism were committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and its affiliates.

ISIS, also known by the disrespectful Arabic acronym "Daesh," is not just a terrorist group but an army taking territory in the Middle East. It is committed to erasing all borders and states in the Arab world (as well as Israel) as it seeks to consolidate its "caliphate." It beheads, rapes and crucifies civilians; has jihadist affiliates in Sinai, Libya and even Afghanistan; and encourages and facilitates terrorism in the West.

ISIS is a global security threat that requires a coordinated, multinational response, which uses military, intelligence and law enforcement tools as well as counter-radicalization efforts. As a common enemy, ISIS ostensibly could unite Sunni Arab states, Shia Iran, Israel, Turkey, the West and Russia. But deep-rooted geopolitical, sectarian and ideological divisions will hamper any coalition-building.

Many adversaries of ISIS are on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war: Shia Iran and Hezbollah as well as Russia support the brutal Assad regime (which is responsible for most of the civil war's 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees), while the U.S., the European Union, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states want Assad gone. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been reluctant to do anything that would shore up the Assad regime - including taking military action against ISIS, an enemy of Assad. The test will be whether these countries can be convinced to set aside their rivalries in a common cause.

Suspected Paris Attack Mastermind Killed in Raid

Raf Casert - November 19, 2015

PARIS (AP) -- The Belgian jihadi suspected of masterminding deadly attacks in Paris was killed in a police raid on a suburban apartment building, the city prosecutor's office announced Thursday.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins' office said 27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud was identified based on skin samples. His body was found in the apartment building targeted in the chaotic and bloody raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday.

Police launched the operation after receiving information from tapped phone calls, surveillance and tipoffs suggesting that Abaaoud was holed up there.

Killed along with Abaaoud was a woman who blew herself up with an explosives vest at the beginning of the raid. Eight people were arrested.

2 Dead, 7 Arrested in Raid Targeting Paris Attack Mastermind

Jamey Keaten - November 18, 2015

SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) -- A woman wearing an explosive suicide vest blew herself up Wednesday as heavily armed police tried to storm a suburban Paris apartment where the suspected mastermind of last week's gun and bomb rampage was believed to be holed up, police said.

They said one man was also killed and seven people arrested in the standoff, which began before dawn and continued more than six hours later, when a loud bang rang out around the streets near the apartment building.

Police said one person was thought to be still inside the apartment, but it wasn't clear who.

A senior police official said he believed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian Islamic State militant, was inside the apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis with five other heavily armed people when the raid started.

Europe's Foreign Policy Reaction to the Paris Attacks? Noise

Jan Techau - November 18, 2015

For the military protection of their interests, Europeans still rely on the Americans to come to their aid. The November 13 Paris attacks are unlikely to change that.

The terrorist mass murder committed in Paris on November 13 warrants a decisive foreign policy reaction from France and its European partners. Most political leaders and commentators in Europe seem to agree that the attacks are not just a homeland security matter but also one with immediate relevance for Europe's external affairs. But what happened that night in Paris has hit a continent that stands empty-handed in the face of the big foreign policy challenge posed by the self-styled Islamic State and other Islamist groups.

The problems start with what seems to be the easiest of things, air strikes. France duly conducted a few bombing runs against Islamic State targets in Syria's Raqqa province. These strikes might even have inflicted some damage on the group's military infrastructure, but in reality they were largely symbolic. France needed to demonstrate that it was willing and able to strike, and that the perpetrators should not feel too safe in their hideouts in the Middle East.

However, the real value of these strikes is negligible. A much larger bombing campaign against the Islamic State has been going on for months, with rather limited impact. Additional French firepower in this campaign is useful and welcome, but it won't turn a halfhearted campaign into a military success. Most other European countries are absent from the operation.

A Delicate Balance in Beijing

Rodger Baker - November 18, 2015

In China, a fear of social instability has long constrained government efforts toward economic and structural reform. After three decades of nearly unrestrained and uncoordinated growth, China's leaders are now facing a moment in which change is no longer simply desirable; it is a necessity. The global economic system is rebalancing, economic power is becoming more diffuse, and China's export- and investment-driven economy has, as its regional predecessors, largely run its course.

Beijing talks of a shift to an internal consumption-based economy - one less susceptible to the vagaries of international trade and overall more self-sustaining. But that is not a simple change, particularly in a country where the government is dictating that the transition take place over a very short span of time. Decades of redundancies and inefficiencies in the economy, significant overcapacity in some sectors and undercapacity in others, and a pervasive culture of local self-interest and corruption further complicate the desired transition.

Any change will of necessity lead to higher unemployment, to pockets of significant economic downturns, to changes in the overall balance of power among the Party elite. Moreover, the Party is no longer able to rely on its tool of social cohesiveness - the promise that all will get rich, even if some get rich sooner - and is instead emphasizing the economic "new normal" of lower and slower growth rates. Constraints on internal migration, expanding gaps between the interests of central and local government officials, and a middle class that is both comfortably established and focusing its attention on the next layer of social rights, particularly environmental issues, leave China prone to the very social instability that has thus far curtailed significant economic reforms.

Social Stability and Centralized Power

Western Unity Is More Difficult and Essential Than Ever

Ivan Vejvoda - November 18, 2015

BERLIN - The terrorist attacks that Paris suffered on Friday evening have caused tremendous shock and grief, but also fear and insecurity, not only in France, but throughout Europe. This new wave of Islamist terror, which may be followed by further attacks in Europe and elsewhere, has hit France and the EU at a particularly sensitive moment. The atrocious killings may have disruptive effects for European integration, liberalism, and democracy in Europe, in particular given the multiple crises the Union is already facing.

European policymakers have three prime tasks now. The first is to continue to show unequivocal solidarity with Paris and stand united. But European states must now work much more determinately toward a unified, robust response to the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State group (ISIS). And they need to decide how to confront the multiple challenges posed to our societies.

Beyond supporting France, the priority for Europe's states is now to get their act together on foreign policy in the Middle East. The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, not even a year after Paris had been the target of a terrorist attack that killed 17, leading France's President Hollande to declare that "France is at war with Daesh." France will not be able to win this war alone.

It is time to set aside differences over how to deal with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Divisions over Assad between France, Germany, the United States, Russia, and others has stood in the way of a more robust response to ISIS, but also to a better response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Under the shadow of the dramatic scenes in Paris, Saturday's meeting in Vienna of the International Syria Support Group of 17 nations, the United Nations, the EU, and the Arab League led to the first breakthrough in devising a political solution for Syria. The question Western leaders yet need to tackle is whether more military intervention will be required to support the envisaged political process on the ground.

Paris Attacks Come at a Dangerous Moment for Europe

Robin Niblett - November 15, 2015

I was living and working in Washington when Al-Qaeda carried out its terror attacks on 11 September 2001. Apart from the shock, there was an overpowering determination in the aftermath to bring Al-Qaeda to account and to destroy it so it could never again mount such attacks. After the horror in Paris last night, will France and its EU partners follow a similar instinct and logic towards Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? If not, what are the alternatives?

As with 9/11, the 13 November attacks in Paris were of a scale and nature to appear to qualify as an act of war. President François Hollande explicitly stated this today, and so have several French newspapers - reflecting the numbers of casualties and the careful planning inside and outside France that the attacks apparently involved. In this context, any talk of halting French military strikes on ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq is politically untenable.

Given the debacle surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is easy to forget that there was broad public and political support in 2001 in Paris and London, as well as Washington, that the battle should be taken to Al-Qaeda in its base - Afghanistan - from which the attack had been mounted. NATO launched an Article V operation to help protect US air space, while European military forces supported the ensuing NATO-led military operation. Allies will also now want to show solidarity with France depending on its chosen course of action. Moreover, as with Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks, ISIS has a physical presence across Syria and Iraq which provides targets for military strikes.

But there are two key differences with the aftermath of 13/11 in Europe. First, French and European reactions will play out in a post-Iraq environment, in which the risks and limitations of military intervention have been made painfully apparent to publics and politicians alike. Some will argue that continued or increased military intervention in the region will not only have little effect, but will prompt further attacks at home. The number of returning fighters means that ISIS has a much larger group of potential supporters in European societies than Al-Qaeda did with its small cells, which still planned and in some cases carried out devastating attacks. This factor amplifies the potential risks to European governments of escalating their military intervention. At the very least, adopting a unified position for a more muscular response among European governments and across the Atlantic will be extremely difficult.

France's President: 'An Act of War'

Sylvie Corbet - November 14, 2015

PARIS (AP) -- French President Francois Hollande blamed the Islamic State group for orchestrating the deadliest attacks inflicted on France since World War II and vowed Saturday to strike back without mercy at what he called "an act of war."

Hollande said at least 127 people died Friday night in shootings at Paris cafes, suicide bombings near France's national stadium and a hostage-taking slaughter inside a concert hall.

Speaking after an emergency security meeting to plan his government's response, Hollande declared three days of national mourning and raised the nation's security to its highest level.

Hollande blamed the carnage on what he called "a terrorist army, the Islamic State group, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we defend everywhere in the world, against what we are: a free country that means something to the whole planet."

What Obama and Netanyahu Failed to Address

Anthony Cordesman - November 13, 2015

There is no better way to pick a fight in Washington than to address the most sensitive issues affecting Israeli and Arab relations. Few other subjects begin to be as polarizing, or lead to the same degree of almost instant misinterpretation. The fact is, however, that the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu may have helped bring Israel and the United States back together, and lay the groundwork for better cooperation in military security, but it did not address what could be far more serious set of issues in terms of Israel's security, the actions of our Arab allies, and U.S. strategic interests.

There seems to be a consensus that any real progress in a peace settlement is dead for at least the near term, that the "two state" solution must be left in the equivalent of a coma, and that Israel's growing tensions with the Palestinians can be left to fester because America's Arab allies are so involved in dealing with Islamic extremism, Iran, and other security challenges that there will be no serious Arab protests - but rather a kind of de facto "alliance" where Israel and Arab governments focus on common enemies.

There is probably all too much truth to some of these views in the short term. Neither the present Israeli government nor any major Palestinian voice seems to believe real progress is possible in moving to a two state solution or any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Both sides seem willing to let the situation move towards another - and possibly far more violent - Intifada.

Continued anger, murder, and violent repression not only seem to be a possibility, they seem to be the future that both Israelis and Palestinians are both coming to see as inevitable. Fights over settlements and shrines and temples, and Palestinian and Israeli killings, have become an acceptable future in which the other side can always be blamed for a future that has no clear prospect of getting better for either side.

What to Expect After Nov. 13 Paris Attacks

Stratfor - November 13, 2015

Update (6:00 CST): According to French media reports, French security forces have stormed and secured the Bataclan theater. The attackers apparently used grenades inside the main concert hall, Aujourd'hui Paris reported Nov. 13. Details are still emerging.

As many as 60 people died Nov. 13 in multiple terrorist attacks throughout Paris. At least five gunmen - likely jihadists judging from witness's accounts - conducted the attacks.

Timeline of the Attack

The attacks, which were clearly coordinated, took place in multiple locations and involved different methods. In the first wave, two suicide bombers detonated their explosives at locations near the Stade de France, where a soccer match between France and Germany was taking place. (French President Francois Hollande himself was at the stadium at the time of the attack. He was escorted from the scene and met with French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in a closed meeting shortly thereafter.) It is unclear whether grenades or other explosives were used, and it is possible a suicide bomber may have been involved.