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analysis

Mark MacKinnon

It was rush hour Thursday in Beirut when two suicide blasts tore through the city's southern suburbs. Barely 24 hours later, and Paris was the target as eight gunmen, all wearing suicide vests, attacked a host of targets around the French capital.

Two attacks thousands of kilometres apart both claimed by the so-called Islamic State. The death tolls are numbing: 43 in Beirut, 129 and counting in Paris. Add in the 224 who died when a Russian passenger jet exploded over Egypt – which increasingly looks to have been the bombing IS claimed it was – and it's been a very bloody two weeks.

Almost as remarkable as the death toll is the range of targets IS chose to attack. A bombing in a Beirut neighbourhood populated with supporters of Hezbollah can be seen as spillover from Syria's civil war, especially as the Lebanese Shia militia has thousands of fighters on the ground in Syria aiding the regime of Bashar al-Assad, bringing Hezbollah into direct military confrontation with IS. There are few rules left in this Middle East-wide war between the two main branches of Islam.

On the surface, however, the attacks on Russian and French civilians make less strategic sense. Russia has waded deeply into Syria's war this fall, but Western governments had been complaining that most Russian airstrikes in September and October were targeting other, more moderate anti-government groups, with the effect of strengthening IS's position vis-a-vis its rivals.

Since the Oct. 31 Metrojet crash (which the Kremlin has yet to acknowledge was a bombing) Russia's air force has increasingly turned its attention to IS-held areas, clearing the way this week for Mr. Assad's forces to break a year-long IS siege of Kuwayris military airport in the northwest of the country.

In other words, the Metrojet bombing has arguably already translated into a military defeat on the ground for IS. More could follow if Russian President Vladimir Putin has been convinced that IS is indeed the main enemy in Syria.

Similarly, the Paris attacks, while celebrated online by IS supporters, could quickly turn into a major military setback, particularly if France asks NATO to consider the attack as having been directed by Islamic State, perhaps triggering the alliance's Article 5 mutual defense clause. (French President Francois Hollande came close to doing so on Saturday when he called the Paris shooting spree "an act of war.")

Warplanes from a U.S.-led coalition – which France is a part of – have already been bombing IS for more than a year, with little military impact other than a few minor gains on the ground by Western-backed Kurdish militias.

There will almost certainly be an escalation of the anti-IS military effort post-Paris.

IS is already at war with the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and its Shia allies, as well against other Sunni rebel groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda's local offshoot, the al-Nusra Front. It has now declared that it also wants to take on the Russian military and maybe even NATO.

In the current environment, it will be very difficult for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to explain and defend his decision to wind down Canada's involvement in the aerial campaign against IS. Look for plenty of tough talk – and maybe even the outlines of some new military effort – to come out of the G-20 summit meeting that begins Sunday in Turkey.

IS strategists must have known this. They might even welcome it. The organization seems intent on making as many enemies as possible.

But for an organization that grew out of past wars – its predecessor organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq is a child of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country – more killing and death is not a concern. It's a strategic objective in itself, a recruiting plan and a raison d'etre.