US President Barack Obama could have “wiped out Islamic State quickly” if he had acted earlier, but now that the group has spread and strengthened, it will be more difficult, said an Israeli Druse who is in frequent contact with the Syrian opposition.
Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse who served as former Likud deputy minister Ayoub Kara’s chief of staff, has independently met with members of the liberal and democratic Syrian opposition who oppose the Islamists and want friendly relations with Israel.
Safadi, who met with senior opposition officials last week, has traveled in the region, met with activists, and relayed messages from them to the Prime Minister’s Office.
He was responsible for relaying the congratulatory letters from the Syrian opposition to then President-elect Reuven Rivlin.
Islamic State should have been dealt with months ago, when it was concentrated in much smaller territory, Safadi told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Sunday.
“Islamic State is a cancer,” and just like the disease, “it needed to be attacked before it spread.”
“Islamic State now controls about a third of Syrian land,” said Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, as quoted in the Financial Times on Sunday. It also has made inroads in large swaths of northern and western Iraq.
Islamic State could have been finished off three months ago if the US had acted decisively at that time, said Safadi, but now that the group has spread, it will require a much more robust ground operation to eliminate the group’s hold on territory in Iraq and Syria.
Safadi showed the Post documentation identifying two apparent spies who infiltrated Islamic State and were sending him information about the group in return for cash.
Not all of the fighters affiliated with Islamic State are true believers, he said, noting that some have come to the conclusion on their own that the group is extreme and dangerous.
Safadi showed pictures of credit cards the two had sent him, which were allegedly used to make payments and transfer funds to support the terrorist group’s activities. For example, there was a photo of one Visa debit card from Moldova.
Safadi also claimed that his sources in Islamic State told him about the group’s upcoming declaration of a caliphate, a month-and-a-half before it was to occur.
Safadi said that he shared the intelligence with Israel and contacts in the United States six months ago, but no action that he is aware of was taken to halt the group at that point.
Asked about the view from the Prime Minister’s Office, Safadi said that it sees the possible long-term danger from radical Islamic groups, but that it cannot do anything about it and that the US is the one that could effectively act.
In addition, he said, Israel believes there are between 20-25 Israeli Arabs fighting with Islamic State, mostly coming from the Triangle region, east of Kfar Saba and near Umm el-Fahm.
It is also known that two Israeli Arabs were killed fighting for Islamic State.
In addition, Safadi said that there is an Israeli-Arab group in Israel promoting Islamic State.
Regarding the Western and Arab-backed Free Syrian Army, Safadi said that “they were willing to cooperate with Israel from the beginning.”
Asked about what kinds of aid Israel is supplying the FSA, Safadi asserted that only humanitarian and nonlethal assistance has been given, but no weapons.
Safadi showed the Post a map of Syria that charted which groups control certain areas, along with important assets, such as airports. He noted that the situation on the ground is fluid and therefore the map is constantly changing.
For the most part, the map showed that the FSA controlled much of the border area near Israel’s border on the Golan Heights, though other groups and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces are also in the area.
Asked about funding for Islamic State, Safadi claimed that the Gulf states – such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait – have wealthy individuals connected to the regimes supporting the group.
“The reason they are doing this is they want to create chaos in Syria and Iraq, in order to set an example for their people of what could happen in their own countries if they tried to start an uprising,” said Safadi.
Asked what he thinks the US should do to help the Syrian rebels defeat Islamic State and Assad’s forces, Safadi said that first the US needs to implement a no-fly zone; and second, to give weapons to the pro-West liberal opposition.
The current US policy, he asserted, is aiding and arming Muslim-Brotherhood-type rebels, whose views are antithetical to the West and Israel.
There is no chance that the Islamists in Syria could hold on to power, he said, since the population has historically been opposed to them, estimating that less than 25 percent of the population supports them.
If the US would support non-Islamist rebels, the war could be over “in a matter of months,” claimed Safadi.