Counter-Terrorism: Kill Those Arab Pilots

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October 9, 2014: When Arab warplanes (mainly from Saudi Arabia and the UAE/United Arab Emirates) joined NATO aircraft in attacking ISIL in late September it was not long before ISIL issued threats, some of them quite specific, to kill the Arab pilots involved. This threat was made more urgent because some of the air attacks involved a 35 year old woman who was the commander of a UAE F-16 squadron. She flew some of the bombing missions herself and despite being a mother, was not bashful about taking credit for it. The Arab countries involved did not, as is the custom in the West hide the identities of the pilots involved (as protection against possible Islamic terrorist attacks on the troops or their families) but gave the pilots, including the female one, lots of coverage in the media.

It is understood in the Middle East that this publicity was a direct challenge to ISIL, to either succeed in killing one or more of these pilots or be branded as impotent braggarts who are more talk than action. This sort of posturing is important in the Middle East because it, more than formal speeches and official media announcements, resonates more with most people. In this case it is a dangerous game, because if ISIL manages to use human shields effectively and Arab bombs kill a lot of civilians, the number of ISIL supporters in Arabia (especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE) will increase, perhaps to the point where someone will be able to kill one of the pilots. In this part of the world politics tends to be a full contact sport. 

 


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