The flames of terrorism burn on in the Middle East, its violent conflagrations continuing to erupt in quick succession. While the commencement of an intensive Russian air strike campaign against the Islamic State terrorist organization in recent months had found a degree of success in suppressing Islamic State group activity, the group survived bloodied but unbroken, and its terrorist operations did not completely abate. It was at this juncture that a Russian civilian passenger jet crashed in the Middle East, and with Western intelligence hinting at links to terrorism, several airlines immediately halted flights over the Sinai Peninsula. On the surface, although Russia does not hold any concrete proof and has claimed that it is still too early to draw any conclusions, it appears to be on high alert under the lingering specter of terrorism.
Disjointed US and Russian Strategies an Opportunity for Islamic State Group
Despite the fact that Western nations have brought their best resources to bear on terrorists, more than a decade of fighting has won no resolution, but has rather seen terrorist organizations growing in strength. Take the brutal Islamic State group as an example; the group currently does not control just a few pieces of land, but occupies an enormous swathe of territory sufficient to make a bid for national authority. In the face of such an invasion, nations should have banded together from the start and fought back with their combined forces, but the implications to their individual interests and spheres of influence have ultimately resulted in a vacuum that Islamic State group has been all too happy to exploit.
That a terrorist organization such as the Islamic State group has surpassed al-Qaida in power and prestige in the space of a few short years is inescapably connected with the Middle East policies of Western nations. Policies, derived from blind spots in Western politicians' views on religious and societal development in Middle Eastern history, served as catalysts for Islamic State group expansion. If those nations continue to draw lines in the sand instead of standing together as one against the Islamic State group, the inevitable result will be an increase in terrorist activity and more tragic losses of innocent civilians' lives.
The West and Russia must find a way to collaborate in countering terrorism, as each side fighting its own war will only lead to each side losing its own battles. Recently, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for supporters of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group to unite and collectively face enemy nations. With al-Qaida having become a faint shadow of its former self following the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces in 2011, al-Zawahiri sought in his statement to revitalize his organization through that partnership. It is imperative to recognize that al-Qaida's cooperation with the Islamic State group would put the world in a much more dangerous place, foment terrorism and heighten the difficulty of a head-on strike against terrorists many times over.
It is worth noting that, as some analysts have pointed out, al-Zawahiri's appeal for unity was most likely recorded after Russia began its airstrikes in the Middle East at the end of September. This suggests that Russian military operations and the participation of other nations in bombing runs have put significant pressure on terrorists, forcing them to band together for survival. If the United States and Russia now each move according to their own calculus with separate Middle East policies, it will only erode the effectiveness of anti-terrorist units and move the world no closer to a solution.
US and Russia Must Fully Commit to Stop the Spread of Terrorism to the Homeland
The reason that fighting the Islamic State group independently would be misguided policy is that even with frequent air strikes from Russia and Western nations, their independent combat strength will be limited in the context of urban warfare and claiming territory. Such offensives have not been fruitful up to now even with air support, and have only resulted in the retaking of a minority of villages, with the Islamic State group still obdurately in possession of many major cities. In fact, after seeing that the Islamic State group would not be easily defeated with one round of airstrikes, Russia has more recently begun to cooperate with Syrian moderate and opposition forces in exchanging intelligence and collectively hunting Islamic State group elements. This could signal a turning point; if each side can cast aside the enmity and bias of the past, first concentrating their forces to fight terrorist organizations together and later resolving the Syrian issue through peace talks identifying the primary vs. secondary points of contention, the world can put a stop to the rampant terrorism that plagues it today.
The United States and Russia linking arms to fight terrorism will have salutary effects on the general situation in the Middle East, but even more urgent is the emerging trend of terrorism in the homeland. Both nations have been threatened domestically to varying degrees, with the 9/11 incident in the United States and Moscow's headaches settling Russia's holdings in Central Asia, as well as the loss of its passenger plane making headlines. At its root, the key point is that the United States and Russia have done little to strike at the heart of terrorist organizations, but have instead, each preoccupied by their regional contests, drawn up separate plans. Fighting terrorism has only been a pretense here while their other interests have remained at the core, and moving forward in such a manner will only breed more terrorism. The United States and Russia are both traditional stakeholders in the Middle East and command enormous influence in the region. If they can take the first step to unraveling conflicts of interest and forming a united front against terrorism, with the combined military might of the two nations, exterminating terrorist organizations should prove no difficult task.