UK Airstrikes on Syria: Five Things You Should Know

Airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria have re-emerged in recent weeks as a potential British response to the escalating refugee crisis. Here, Neil Quilliam sets out five things you should know about the possible military operation.

(1) David Cameron decides if and when Parliament will vote on airstrikes.

The PM has made it clear that he wants to extend operations into Syria.
But he cannot afford another humiliation in parliament and has therefore begun a public campaign, which he hopes will win over enough Labour MPs, even if not the new Labour leader. The vote will only go ahead if he feels confident that it will be carried.

(2) Airstrikes alone do not win wars.

The protracted battle over Kobane demonstrated that ISIS is an organised and tenacious force. Boots on the ground (in that case, Kurdish boots) were critical to that operation’s success, just as they will be to future campaigns.

(3) ISIS is only half the problem.

The UK’s decision against intervention following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in 2013 hurt Britain’s reputation in Syria. Airstrikes against ISIS, but not Assad, could lead ordinary Syrians to further question the moral content of UK policy.

A Royal Air Force Tornado fighter jet prepares to land at the RAF Akrotiri airbase after returning from a mission over Iraq in 2014

(4) Airstrikes often act as a recruitment tool for extremists.

Previously, British extremists travelled to Israel to carry out suicide attacks following IDF airstrikes against targets in Gaza. With no accompanying political solution in Syria, ‘indiscriminate’ airstrikes fit the extremist narrative that the West wants to destroy Islam.

(5) Intensified violence increases refugee flows.

Without a political process or settlement in sight, there is a significant risk that, by increasing the violence through airstrikes, the UK will further contribute to the flow of refugees from Syria.

For more on this topic, see Chatham House’s work on Syria and the Levant.