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A Vile Crime... But Productive

An Egyptian military helicopter flies over debris from a Russian airliner which crashed at the Hassana area in Arish city, north Egypt, November 1, 2015. (Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Whoever bombed the Russian airliner that was destroyed over Sinai last week must be having a hearty laugh watching the ensuing chaotic reaction of the great powers.

As of this writing, it increasingly appears that the Russian Metroliner A321-200 Airbus was indeed downed by an explosion. Curiously, no traces of explosive residues have yet been found –or at least yet reported. There remains the much smaller probability that the aircraft’s tail may have fallen off as the result of metal fatigue caused by a ground collision over a decade ago.

Egypt, whose vital tourist industry has been battered this year after bloody repression of opponents of its brutal military dictatorship, refuses to admit a bomb was involved. The crash was due to poor maintenance, claims Cairo.

Sharm el-Sheik, the Metroloiner’s departure point, is Egypt’s primary resort for low-budget travellers. An estimated 20,000 Britons and 40,000 Russians were at the isolated resort or in Cairo. Even so, Egypt’s once thriving tourist industry is down by over 50%.

Briton’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, urgently ordered all of his nation’s tourists at Sharm el-Sheik home. But the cheap charter flights to evacuate them were denied landing rights by Egypt which was eager to downplay the crisis. This mess will eventually be sorted out but the damage to Egypt’s tourist industry was done.

After refusing to admit that a bomb had downed the Russian A321, and rebuking US President Barack Obama for suggesting sabotage was involved, Russia’s president, Vlad Putin, caved in and ordered the 20,000 Russians in Egypt home. A huge airlift operation is under way – though the travellers will have to leave their luggage behind for ‘later shipment’ – ie kiss your bags goodbye.

Egypt’s dictator al-Sisi is furious at both Britain and Russia. Western media is filled with stories about Egypt’s loosey-goosey airport security. Some years ago, when my luggage didn’t show up at Cairo, I went out on the tarmac, climbed into the baggage hold of the aircraft, and actually retrieved by bag, which had been forgotten in the dark interior.

Actually Egypt is one of the world’s harshest police states with a huge army, police force and secret police, the dreaded ‘mukhabarat.’ Whipping with electrical cables and anal rape are two of its favorite techniques.

It would be hard for Cairo to further increase security.

The most likely scenario at Sharm el-Sheik was the bomb was secreted aboard the aircraft by a baggage handler or catering staff member. Sinai is in armed rebellion against the Cairo military regime, with attacks and bombings occurring almost daily. Many inhabitants of Sinai look to the local branch of Islamic State as a legitimate liberation movement against Egypt’s US and Saudi-backed military junta which has lately been also getting very chummy with Moscow.

What better way to poke the eye of Cairo, Washington, and Moscow than by downing a Russian airliner over Egypt. A terrible, despicable crime, to be certain, but effective.

Russia’s air offensive against rag-tag Islamic State forces in northern Syria is intensifying. Russian, American, French and British bombs are killing Syrian civilians, so why not give the unbelievers a taste of their own medicine?

This presents a 64,000 ruble dilemma to President Putin. He came to power by promising to “kill the Chechen terrorists in their sh*t houses.” He is the consummate no-nonsense strong man. Putin may be forced to take harder measures against IS: more bombing or shelling of its main base, Raqaa; use of Russia Spetsnaz special forces directly against IS, or even dispatch of main force army units to Syria.

Putin has made clear he does not want a wider conflict in Syria and is only trying to add punch to President Bashar Assad’s beleaguered army. But ‘mission creep’ lurks in all wars, particularly Syria where US special forces are already involved.

Let’s hope Putin’s famously steely nerves restrain larger involvement. Meanwhile, the criminals of IS must be laughing and back-slapping over just how much they have sown discord in the ranks of their infidel foes.

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Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis is a columnist, author and a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East. Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.

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