Is revenge a dish best served indiscriminately?

Is revenge a dish best served indiscriminately?
Comment: Egypt and Jordan have both very publicly taken revenge on the Islamic State group for the murder of its citizens. But what did they really achieve?
4 min read
22 Feb, 2015
Jordanians demonstrate against Kassasbeh's murder [AFP]

For many in the Middle East, tribalism is a fact of life.

Tribalistic values also drive the desire for revenge, even in national foreign policy. One cannot blame individuals for taking revenge when states themselves commit vengeful acts to vent their anger. These acts are approved by the people, neighbouring and remote countries alike.

I am in particular referring to the Jordanian and Egyptian reactions to the footage showing Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh being burnt alive, and another video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.

Both Cairo and Amman handled the incidents in the much same manner, except Jordan also executed Sajida al-Rishawi, a convicted terrorist who had been languishing in Jordanian prisons for eight years for her role in attacks in Amman.

Jordan clearly favoured an "eye-for-an-eye" response to the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis).

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The Egyptian air raids on the IS in Libya were absolutely arbitrary, particularly as the IS does not have a strong foothold in Libya.

Amman and Cairo cannot be blamed for their reactions.

After all, both countries just followed in the footsteps of the US-led international coalition, which was formed to respond to these sorts of crimes.

But the coalition only started its raids after lengthy and thorough discussions to identify a plan of action, objectives and the scope of any possible action. This is because the coalition is operating in a region in which it does not have ground forces, and has only been observing the IS for a short time.

While Jordan's air raids on IS were on targets designated by the international coalition, the Egyptian air raids in Libya were absolutely arbitrary, particularly as the IS group does not have a strong foothold in Libya, unlike its presence in Syria and Iraq.

But the Egyptian regime did not hesitate to strike IS positions in Libya, according to Egyptian media - as IS positions are so obvious they can apparently be identified via Google Maps.

Egypt's reaction implied that it was very easy to strike IS in Libya and declare victory for Egyptians who backed the regime in combating terrorism - but were surprised when they themselves were then targeted by terrorism.

The Egyptian forces hit targets that remain unidentified, and there is conflicting information as to where the beheading of the Egyptian Copts took place. However, the location did not really matter to the Egyptian regime, which was only preoccupied with retaliating for the crime and appearing to be a strong state able to hit with an iron fist at whoever undermined stability.

Egypt's reaction did not take anything else into account.

Lashing out

Egypt's warplanes launched airstrikes at unidentified targets in Libya, and reports emerged they were targeting civilians.

This prompted Libyan authorities to condemn what they called "Egyptian aggression". However, the airstrikes fulfilled their objectives, at least for Cairo, by giving it the chance to brag about Egypt's powerful response - a response that overlooked a number of facts regarding the international coalition's experience in Iraq and Syria.

The coalition is beginning to realise that the airstrikes launched on Syria and Iraq have failed to downsize the IS group.

Though equipped with a massive amount of weaponry and smart bombs, the coalition is beginning to realise that all the airstrikes launched on Syria and Iraq have failed to downsize the IS group and lessen the threat it poses, and that no concrete achievements will be reached without sending in ground troops.

However, the coalition is unwilling to embark on this course of action at this time. The Egyptian regime is also unwilling to start a ground war with undesirable consequences, particularly as its war in Sinai has yet to yield tangible results.

Cairo does not want to get embroiled in the Libyan swamp without a strong backup plan.

Until such a backup is in place, Cairo can launch a few indiscriminate airstrikes and brag about it in the media. After all, someone else is paying for the fuel and bombs. And some are paying with their lives.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.