Thursday, November 05, 2015

Convincing Enough

"I don’t think we know yet. Whenever you’ve got a plane crash, first of all you’ve got the tragedy, you’ve got — making sure there’s an investigation on site. I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board. And we are taking that very seriously."
"We are going to spend a lot of time making sure our own investigators and our own intelligence community figures out exactly what’s going on before we make any definitive pronouncements. But it is certainly possible that there was a bomb on board."
U.S. President Barack Obama

"As a result of that review we have concluded there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft." 
"Passengers who are on the ground in Sharm el Sheikh will be returned to the U.K. We are working with the airlines, and the Egyptian authorities put in place emergency procedures and additional screening and additional security [to get those travelers home]."
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

"All those interested in the matter are welcome to participate in the investigation."
"When there is propaganda that it crashed because of Isis (IS), this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt. Believe me, the situation in Sinai - especially in this limited area - is under our full control."
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
Graphic of plane and crash site

So there they are, all the Brits who decided to take their holidays in Egypt, stranded, marooned, but not for very long. It's just that Britain has decided, based on what they see as the evidence before them, not to risk courting another disaster. After all, they too are engaged in fighting Islamic State, part of the international engagement in the U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria. What befell Russia, newly entered into the arena on its own terms and reversing the gains made by the U.S. team, could happen to other enemies of Islamofascism.

So the Brits will get to go home, with hand luggage, their other belongings to follow, all in good time. Now France believes that Britain's move is good enough for them as well, and they too have suspended all flights of their national airlines in and out of Sharm el Sheikh. The Netherlands and Belgium have decided to follow suit. They are all awaiting guarantees on airport security. A pity that Egypt has been brought to this state of assault against its tourism.

The conflict it has had to deal with in the Sinai Peninsula for years just will not evaporate. If Egypt did indeed have everything under control it would be enabled to rout the Bedouin Salafists, Hamas brigades, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic State-linked Sinai Province out of its sovereign territory completely, allowing some semblance of normalcy in the country without the constant threat of attacks. But that, sadly, is not the case.
 Germany's Lufthansa has announced that its subsidiaries Edelweiss and Eurowings also are in the process of stemming flights from Zurich and Dusseldorf to Sharm el Sheikh as a purely "precautionary" measure. They too will have to make arrangements to rescue their nationals providing return flights to accommodate their need to return home. Russian planes, however, confident in their mission, both in Syria and in Egypt, are continuing flights in and out of the resort in Sinai.

Julian Bray, an aviation security analyst states that it is "highly probable" that a relatively unsophisticated group like Sinai Province could procure a bomb and place it on a jet leaving the resort, as they imply they did. "It is unlikely a passenger would be able to stow it on board the aircraft, but it is quite likely it could have been taken into somewhere like the cargo shed and then into a container in the plane."

"All passenger aircraft nowadays carry cargo as well, which often comes as a complete sealed unit, and the concern is that at airports like Sharm security is lax around cargo. A lot of the airports in the Far East and Middle East are running on a shoestring and they have to turn round aircraft and cargo as fast as possible", he stated with an expert's measure of confidence. Despite which no concrete evidence has yet been uncovered pointing to a bomb attack.

However, as US media reported that a military satellite had detected a "heat flash" over Sinai at the time of the crash, it is certainly suggestive of an explosion, although officials have not ruled out the possibility of a technical malfunction having taken place. For its part, Sinai Province reiterated its claim of responsibility in an audio recording circulated on social media, refusing to give any details about the method used.

"We brought it down by God's help, but we are under no obligation to reveal the mechanism we used. So search the wreckage of the plane, and find your black box and analyse it." According to Dr. HA Hellyer, an expert on the Middle East with the Royal United Services Institute, an attack of some kind by Islamic State was expected. The scale of the Metrojet attack would however, came as a surprise: "I don't think anybody expected an attack on a plane, maybe on a hotel or a kidnapping ... but nobody expected something this large."

"I don't think it will surprise anyone such a radical and extremist group has targeted civilians, but certainly the nature of this attack is very dramatic." There are, of course, infamous precedents, which no one expected of al-Qaeda. If confirmed, the attack would represent a propaganda victory for Islamic State, according to Dr. Hellyer: "It would mean that they've taken out a huge number of civilians at once, and struck a blow against two of their enemies at once, Russia and Egypt."

"If it turns out that they didn't do it, that is still a victory in a sense. We are having this conversation now. They have managed to dominate the discussion, and that in itself is a communications victory."

Debris from crashed Russian jet lies strewn across the sand at the site of the crash, Sinai, Egypt, 31 October 2015.
EPA Debris from the plane was spread over a wide area, indicating it broke up in mid-air

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