If you had to guess the number one spot for terrorism worldwide, what would you guess? Afghanistan?
According to a new document from the defence and security intelligence and analysis group IHS Janes, first prize for terrorist attacks belongs to Syria. Putting aside the pedantic untidiness of who the terrorists actually were, Syria certainly suffered a lot of grief over 2012, with 2670 attacks, more than 10 times the number of attacks in 2011. No aspect of the war there is going well.
There would be a reasonable expectation that, putting aside this definitional anomaly, Afghanistan would slot securely in at number two, given the war still rages there. But the number of terrorist attacks in Iraq has increased 10% to 2296 following the conclusion of the war.
As more than a few pundits have observed, if the war in Iraq was a success, you’d hate to see a failure. Coming second in motorcycle racing is referred to as being "first of the losers", which seems particularly apposite in this context.
In a recent conversation with a foreign affairs colleague who was a survivor of one of the Afghanistan attacks, I suggested that Pakistan was really the centre of the anti-Taliban war now, rather than Afghanistan. The terrorist attack figures in Pakistan bear that out, with 2206 attacks, also up around 10% on 2011. Pakistan is a seriously dangerous place, and not one to be visiting any time soon for a holiday.
Try as Afghanistan (or some people there) might, it did not make the podium, in part due to an overall decline in attacks, from 1821 to a much more modest 1313. One might assume that this reflects the success of the International Security Assistance Force strategy there and the ultimate defeat of the Taliban. Or one might be a little more realistic and assume that the Taliban is dropping the tempo of its attacks until after the ISAF withdraws next year, at which time it will return in full force.
India is a surprise inclusion at fifth place, with almost three times as many attacks as Somalia in sixth, just ahead of Israel, which also suffered an increased number of attacks, in seventh place. Israel only just outpaced Thailand, which comes close to averaging an attack a day. Almost all of these attacks are in the troubled Muslim south.
What the HIS Janes figures show is that, if there really is a "war on terrorism", it has not been particularly successful. Overwhelmingly, things got worse, globally, rather than better.
If there is a positive side to any of this, at least very few terrorist attacks occurred in developed Western countries, which is where we live. We are safe, so long as we are careful about where we travel, for the time being.
It had elements from the outset, but the war in Syria is looking more like a war by proxy between outside interests. It may be that it can now only be resolved from outside.
Most wars are proxies to some extent, perhaps the most notorious recent war being the three-cornered contest in Cambodia between 1978 and 1992. Syria is now starting to look like such a multi-faceted contest, but perhaps with even greater potential for complication.
The air attack last week by Israel against a Syrian military target raised the spectre of a wider conflagration. Initial reports said the target was a convoy that was presumed to be carrying guided surface-to-air missiles to Syria's Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. However, reports now indicate the target was a military research centre at Jamraya, north-west of Damascus about 15 kilometres from the Lebanese border.
It is starting to look like Israel’s apparent reaction to the Palestinian Authority (PA) being granted ‘observer state’ status at the UN last Friday is about to backfire. In a rapidly changing world, Israel’s heavy handed response is seen as less and less seen as an appropriate way forward.
Last Friday, the UN General Assembly voted 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions, to grant Palestine observer state status. While not recognising Palestine as a full state, which requires nine of the 15 UN Security Council members to also vote in favour, including all veto-power members, the vote was a significant step towards Palestine’s eventual statehood recognition.
Contrary to claims by Israel’s spokesman, Mark Regev, the vote gave the PA overwhelming international endorsement for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
The escalating battle between Israel and Hamas has raised questions as well as tensions.
With the Middle East in a state of flux, why did Israel strike at Hamas military leader? More importantly, why did Hamas respond in a way sure to invite an Israeli attack that it could not possibly fend off?
While Hamas’ military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, had long been on Israel’s hit list and had, consequently, kept out of sight, his killing may be a calculated attempt to derail the Oslo peace accords, linked with trying to stymy the Palestinian Authority’s bid for UN recognition, due on the 29th of this month.
Israel’s leaders would have been all too aware that al-Jabari’s death would escalate regional tensions.
When Gilad Shalit was dragged away in a cross-border raid in June 2006, it’s doubtful he or his captors would have imagined five years’ of negotiations lay ahead.
Nor in their most fevered imaginings would they have expected 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of them with multiple life sentences for murder, would be the price of his release.