This weekend, a Russian passenger jet flying Egypt to Russia crashed over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 passengers aboard. Immediately after the news broke, the local ISIS affiliate in the peninsula claimed responsibility for bringing it down. Initially, this claim was largely written off for two reasons: First, ISIS has tried to take credit for other incidents in the past that it clearly had nothing to do with. And second, this plane was flying at a high altitude that’s out of range for the anti-aircraft weapons believed to be in ISIS’s possession in Sinai.
However, evidence is beginning to mount that could point to a bomb on the plane or a sabotage operation. That is, it looks like it might have been an ISIS operation after all. Here’s a story that provides a decent summary of this evidence. (You just have to disregard the information toward the end about how much of a threat terrorists are and some of the commentary on Russia.)
We probably won’t have conclusive evidence one way or another for some time on this, but I think it’s plausible that ISIS was responsible. Of course, the US has an incentive to lie about this because it inflates the ISIS threat and could make Russia look weak. But on the other hand, plane accidents are incredibly rare, so there’s inherently a chance that foul play was involved.
In any case, the US appears to be convinced that ISIS terrorism was the culprit here. And accordingly, there is one morbid silver lining that could emerge here.
When the US says this is a terrorist attack, they will also note that the reason for the attack is the recent Russian airstrikes in Syria. Indeed, the ISIS affiliate explicitly cited Russian action as their motivation in their claim of responsibility. The fact that US officials are acknowledging this causal relationship is important for two reasons.
First, it partially dispels the notion that Russia has just been attacking the moderates in Syria. Moderates, pretty much by definition, aren’t interested in blowing up passenger jets. You can see the CNN piece try to deal with this cognitive dissonance by saying that very few of Russian attacks have been against ISIS. This is probably true–Russia appears to have been more focused on Al-Qaeda thus far because they are closer to areas held by the Syrian government. But at least, the US is finally acknowledging that Russia is attacking ISIS too. This may be helpful in avoiding heightened conflict with Russia since the US and Russia actually are on the same side against ISIS.
Second, in a more general way, it’s important that the US is making a link between airstrikes by Russia and terrorist attacks against Russia. In fact, when the airstrikes began, many US commentators were suggesting this outcome as a possibility (for example, here). Again, they’re probably right that Russia will experience more terrorism as a result of their policies. But it matters because when terrorist attacks happens against the US, it’s completely taboo to even mention the possibility that there’s a cause-and-effect link between US military actions and terrorism attacks. When it happens to Russia, it’s because of their bombs. When it happens to the US, it’s just because Islam made them do it. Obviously, this is ridiculous. But maybe, the prominence of this story about the plane crash and the media’s strong desire to make Russia look bad at this juncture, may accidentally combine to help regular Americans realize that terrorists have a reason when they attack us too. And it’s not Islam. It’s intervention.