Britain enters the Syrian Quagmire

Britain has now officially joined the campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria. The Royal Air Force has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq since last September; part of the impetus for action then was the fear of the imminent execution of British taxi driver Alan Henning, who was taken hostage by Islamic State.The government motion passed with an overwhelming parliamentary majority of 397 to 223; Britain is now conducting such missions in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic State ‘capital’ of Raqqa is located. The majority with which this most recent vote passed is comparably small when the vote to allow airstrikes in Iraq is considered, it passed 524 to 43.

The government motion passed with an overwhelming parliamentary majority of 397 to 223

The opposition to Syrian airstrikes can best be understood as being because of the drastically more complex situation in Syria. Unlike in Iraq, Britain is not joining the bombing campaign at the behest of the country’s sovereign government. British intervention will be with an international coalition aiming to stop Islamic State, whilst also being opposed to the long term survival of the Assad Regime. David Cameron framed his argument for airstrikes around a series of key concerns. He argued that airstrikes were necessary to stop the ‘evil’ of Islamic State, to halt their outward expansion and support a supposed 70,000 strong army fighting Isis, the size of which has been questioned. He has also sought to frame the debate around the need to support France, Britain’s erstwhile ally, who has called for British support after the Paris attacks of last month. Arguing that Britain itself is already under threat from Islamic State and that proactive action needs to be taken to tackle this threat. This won over MPs but not quite public opinion, which remains evenly split.

The attacks in Paris on the 13th of November, the downing of Russian passenger plane over the Sinai and deadly bombings in Lebanon have all mobilized the international community in a way not seen since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. UN resolution 2249 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council and called for the redoubling of efforts against Islamic State. The document called for UN members to ‘take all necessary measures’, Britain has interpreted this as military action, others, including Germany, have redoubled their intelligence and support efforts.

I wrote of the Russian intervention into Syria that more isn’t merrier. The same can probably be said of Britain’s entry into the conflict. Bombs dropped from British planes are no less likely to radicalize those whose families are killed and homes destroyed. Civilian casualties may be less than those of Russian attacks due to Britain’s more sophisticated intelligence gathering, but they can’t be avoided completely.

Bombs dropped from British planes are no less likely to radicalise

Ultimately, Britain is unlikely to tip any sort of balance in favour of anti-IS forces given the small numbers of forces that will be deployed. The recent downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey displays the risks that deploying in the crowded skies of Syria may represent.

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