As Israelis unite in collective concern for the fate of the three kidnapped teenagers, it seems the rest of Middle East is deteriorating from day to day.
In Syria, the civil war rages on, and the fighting has spilled over to Iraq, as well.
Since March 2011, when the clashes began, Sunni extremists, particularly of global-jihad variety, have been drawn to the fight against the “apostate” Alawite Bashar Assad and his primarily Druse and Christian supporters. Many of these Islamists now make up the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has successfully conquered several key cities in Iraq, including Mosul and Tikrit. They are fighting to wrest control of Iraq away from the “infidel” Shi’ite majority.
The real danger of Baghdad falling to ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaida, is not only a devastating blow to the US, which invested more than a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives in liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime between 2003 and 2011,but it is a threat to the stability throughout the region.
ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has reportedly discussed with his lieutenants the possibility of extending the group’s control beyond Syria and Iraq.
Jordan would be an obvious target because it has shared borders with both Syria and Iraq, where ISIS terrorists are concentrated. Also, Jordan’s Hashemite regime is regarded by the Islamic reactionaries of ISIS as “infidels” and “apostates” who should be fought.
And if Jordan is affected, this might have ramifications for Israel as well.
One of the arguments made by those who support the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank was that with the US’s destruction of the Iraqi army, one of the biggest in the region, Israel faces fewer threats from its border with Jordan. But now, with the surprising success of ISIS, this might no longer be as correct.
True, we must not overstate the threat to Jordan.
Both the US and Israel have a cardinal interest in making sure the Hashemite regime remains in power. But the US is increasingly reluctant to assert itself, even in Iraq where it has invested so much.
Another worrying development is the prospect that Washington might cooperate with Iran to fight ISIS.
The Obama administration said this week it was considering talks with Iran about the Iraqi crisis. Iranian officials have voiced openness to working with the Americans in helping Baghdad repel ISIS.
Admittedly, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters the US and other major powers have pledged that any cooperation with Iran in Iraq would not set back the drive to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.
Nevertheless, the sudden dovetailing of US and Iranian interests in Iraq, which has a Shi’ite majority, is worrying.
ISIS has no direct connections with Hamas. Indeed, ISIS is a globalized movement that lacks deep roots in any particular society and has no nationalist project.
In contrast, Hamas, as well as Hezbollah, are nationalist movements. What they do have in common, however, is the use of violence and intimidation to implement a reactionary version of Islam that persecutes women and other religions.
Whether or not Hamas leaders are emboldened by ISIS’s victories in Iraq, the two terrorist organizations share many of the same objectives, such as the establishment of a Muslim caliphate that operates according to Shari’a (Islamic law).
In the wake of the kidnapping, Israel has launched a major crackdown on Hamas operatives and affiliates in the West Bank, because, according to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Hamas is responsible.
One former military official told The Jerusalem Post that security forces are “taking advantage” of the kidnapping to “clean up” Judea and Samaria.
One wonders why this “clean up” was not launched long ago, before Hamas succeeding, after several foiled attempts, to carry out a kidnapping. Perhaps it is the same sort of self-defeating “wait and see” strategy that has allowed ISIS to grow so dangerous.