ISIL has taken war out of the Middle East by bombing a Russian plane and attacking Paris. These attacks follow increased Russian and Western involvement in Syria.
What was the purpose of these attacks? It is useful to examine two polar opposite cases : ISIL’s acts seek to provoke or seek to deter.
If they seek to provoke, the best case scenario for ISIL is that Russia and the West respond by repressing Muslims domestically. This anti-Muslim fervor will generate propaganda that is useful for recruitment. But of course, the attacks will provoke a strong counter-response by France, Russia and their allies in Syria. Finally, a Russia-Western coalition may even come into being. Al Qaeda’s diminished fate then awaits ISIL. A provocation cannot be targeted into only a domestic response and the international response will be so dramatic as to counterbalance any domestic response though, of course, it would also be wise not to give in to the temptation to cave in to anti-Muslim fervor.
If ISIL seek to deter – i.e. they are making us pay a price for increased involvement in Syria and giving us an incentive to retreat – well that’s totally going to backfire. The French, British and Russians are more likely to engage than less as I said above. In this case, ISIL’s strategy would be a complete misreading of the situation.
So, either way, the ISIL strategy is going to fail.