There have been times in history when great things could be decided by four hours’ tussle between men in armour wielding spears. Those times and those battles convince us that fighting the right battle at the right moment can decide the course of history.
Daesh, a.k.a. ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate, have been seeking just such a decisive battle. They sought to provoke France, and they seek to provoke Britain. They know that if they drag us Brits in, the Americans (still bound by the North Atlantic Treaty in spite of Mr Trump’s efforts) will come too.
The decisive battle of Daesh’s war to give its miserable little caliphate global domination was to be fought at Dabiq, in northern Syria. That Dabiq was taken from Daesh forces last year matters not a bit. They still hunger for the great moment when the forces of the West will be drawn into a great fight we cannot win.
It’s a fair bet. We of the West have form. We have an alarming tendency to stretch our noses out across the globe and present them to be punched, particularly in the Middle East.
So as some deluded young men committed murder in London, they hoped to tug us that little bit closer to the overseas intervention that would take us outside the moat of the English Channel and the North Sea. Daesh is no match for the mighty ships of the Royal Navy, but drawing us back into the Middle East where we were battered by the Sultan a century ago is a plausible way to achieve our downfall.
Drawing us out from behind the wooden walls of our ships is the aim, to fight the decisive battle which will kick the Infidel out of the Middle East for a few decades: that will enable the Caliphate to coalesce. The great victories of the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants will be repeated. The Infidel will be powerless.
So three guys in London committed multiple murders last night, apparently while invoking the name of God in Arabic.
Car ramming and stabbing in London, a crude bomb in Manchester: these are the methods that are intended to bring the British lion roaring mindlessly into the Islamist Armageddon that Daesh depends on. Force the British Government to assert its power against Daesh by deploying a brigade to a place where the real fighting can happen: that is why these little men commit their big murders.
They give their lives great meaning, of course. Because they are committing suicide-by-cop, they presumably get their tranche of houris in the Afterlife, and a certain sort of website will proclaim them martyrs.
They will sadly not have their day in a high-security courtroom, with barristers soberly defending them in front of a fair-minded British jury. Some will lament that they were not captured alive and will attack the Metropolitan Police for what they will call a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy (as though automatic weapons were designed for anything else).
Londoners will carry on regardless, of course; and with Londoners I include those of us who live far away from the big city. Blitz spirit isn’t unique to the British: it’s just what people do.
Sadly, for those three chaps who spent their Saturday night looking for a bit of ultraviolence in the name of their God, it is unlikely that they will provoke the deployment of a British brigade. Even after the actions of their colleagues in Westminster and Manchester, similarly inspired by some filthy Daesh website, we seem to be doing very well at keeping the world out from under the orthodox Islamist boot of Daesh. No doubt there will be a few more attacks on pedestrians before the population of dimwitted youth with Islamist pretensions is depleted by brisk police response. Eight minutes of murderous glory before nine-millimetre death at the hands of the Metropolitan Police will inspire a few, but it isn’t going to inspire many.
The response by the United Kingdom government will very likely be closer surveillance, particularly using technical means; and increased budgets for specialist units of police forces.
Of course the great decisive battle could happen. We have been known in the past to act out of the desperate desire to be seen to be doing something. We used combat power to convert Libya from a vile but self-contained dictatorship among North African dictatorships into a toxic mess that exports violence across the region. We did so not because we thought the increasingly doddering Qaddafi was a menace, but because we felt the need to do something.
It would be the work of a few hours to create operational plans to involve ourselves far more deeply against Daesh than we already are. They are on the brink of defeat, after all; and we have expensive capabilities of proven effectiveness.
Keep baiting the lion, that’s the tactic. Keep baiting the lion until public opinion forces the prime minister to tell the highly professional but politically powerless generals to park a brigade in the Mediterranean littoral (again), only a few miles from the old British staff college at Haifa, and not too far from the graves of the British expeditionary force in Mesopotamia.
So to all those who wonder why three guys committed murder last night on London Bridge and by the shuttered stalls of Borough Market, that’s the story. They’re trying to draw us out, onto unfavourable ground, where we can be defeated.