France strikes back: France Airstrikes Syria

Published: November 16, 2015

France strikes back: France Airstrikes Syria, Two themes have emerged from the horrific slaughter of at least 129 people in Paris on Friday night: that France is engaged in an all-out war with Islamic State, and that Paris is unlikely to be unable to prevent further attacks on her territory.

“France will be merciless against the barbarians of Daesh,” president Fran├žois Hollande said on Saturday, using the pejorative, Arabic abbreviation for “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

The attacks were expected. With chilling prescience, French prime minister Manuel Valls warned in an interview with L’Opinion, published on Friday, that he feared “attacks at any moment”. He alluded to the downing of a Russian aircraft that killed 224 people over the Sinai desert, and the bombing that killed 43 people in a Shia neighbourhood of Beirut last week. “Will they come to Europe?” Valls asked. “They want to.”

On Saturday night, Valls promised that France will respond “blow-for-blow . . . [to] annihilate terrorism”.

In Parisian conversations, on media talk shows and among opposition politicians, there’s a subdued but persistent questioning of Hollande’s Syrian policy, saying France would not have suffered such tragedy if Hollande was not bombing IS. Nonsense, say government supporters: it would have happened anyway.

The first important date in Hollande’s policy towards Syria was August 2013, when France was poised to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons. The French president, reluctantly and bitterly, cancelled plans when US president Barack Obama backed out.

In September 2014, France decided to bomb IS targets in northern Iraq, because it feared the jihadists would seize Erbil and massacre its population.

Hollande initially refused to bomb Syria on the grounds that it might help Assad. The Syrian dictator mocked him before a French delegation to Damascus on Saturday, saying “erroneous French policies . . . contributed to the expansion of terrorism”.

France’s fervent opposition to Assad has in no way endeared it to IS. On the contrary. France is the most ardent supporter of the Free Syrian Army (mostly Sunnis who’ve defected from the Assad regime) and “moderate” Islamist rebels opposed to Assad. These groups are arch enemies of IS.

Hollande reversed policies two months ago, when he announced that France would, after all, participate in the coalition that is bombing IS in Syria. His primary motivation was to prevent exactly the sort of attacks that occurred on Friday night.

Some 1,800 French citizens or residents are involved in jihadist networks, and Hollande saw the air strikes as a pre-emptive measure. French aircraft have targeted French citizens in Syria, in particular on the night of October 8th-9th, when they sought to kill Salim Benghalem, the man believed to oversee the training of French recruits to IS.


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