ISIS attacks show the world what Israel has always been dealing with

ISIS proved this week that not only is the organization alive, it is also kicking, fiercely.

By ALON BEN-DAVID/MAARIV
April 28, 2019 16:03
AN ISIS fighter uses his phone to  lm a military parade in Syria’s northern Raqqa province in 2014

AN ISIS fighter uses his phone to lm a military parade in Syria’s northern Raqqa province in 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)

ISIS proved this week that not only is the organization alive, it is also kicking, fiercely. At the same time as the devastating terror attacks in Sri Lanka, reports appeared indicating that ISIS returned to life in Syria and Iraq. It looks as though the American proclamations of victory and the subsequent eulogies for the group came too soon.

For Israel, this may not be bad news.

ISIS is not just an organization; it is also an idea and ideology that is attractive to many, and at a certain point it became a state. When the nations  of the world set off to fight the Islamic state it established in Syria and Iraq, in a coalition bigger than that which fought Hitler, it was clear that the coalition would succeed in obliterating the state's infrastructure. It was also clear that the idea behind ISIS could not be destroyed by bombs, and that it would continue to give inspiration to terror attacks the world over. However, this week's terror attacks in Sri Lanka proved that not only does the idea still survive, but the group as well.

The attacks were not simply carried out by a local organization; obviously, an international organization much larger than that of the local jihadists stands behind the attacks. The planning (which began before the attack on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and thus cannot be a response to it), the intelligence gathering and choice of targets, preparation of weapons and simultaneous execution- all this is beyond the capacity of the local National Thowheed Jamath to carry out. If indeed ISIS commandeered the attacks, it would be the group's largest operation ever outside of its territory, larger and more vicious than the string of attacks in Paris in 2015.

Al Qaeda also has the ability to execute large-scale terror attacks. There are more than a few similarities between the attacks in Sri Lanka and the Al Qaeda attacks on Mumbai in 2008, in the scale of the targets, modus operandi, and attention to detail, as in the insistence that the terrorists remove their beards before setting out for the attacks. It was operatives from the Pakistani branch of Al Qaeda who orchestrated the attacks in Mumbai. I would not be surprised if a connection to the Pakistani branch would be found in the case of Sri Lanka as well.

Al Qaeda is another organization that was eulogized but refuses to die. A few weeks ago the US offered a million dollar prize for whoever comes forward with with information on the whereabouts of Hamza Bin Laden, the son of Osama, and who probably took leadership of the organization upon himself. On the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan there are still expansive areas controlled by the Taliban, with Al Qaeda operatives acting under their protection. Hamza Bin Laden himself continues to put out recordings every few months in which he calls for terror attacks, signalling that the organization still hasn't spoken its last word.

I wouldn't be so fast to take Al Qaeda off the list of suspects in the Sri Lanka attacks.

IN SYRIA and Iraq, a month after the US proclaimed final defeat of ISIS, the group is apparently succeeding in rearing its head: it has executed a number of attacks against Kurdish forces in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. Reports coming out of Syria indicate that the army of Bashar Assad is once again fighting ISIS north of Palmyra, and an American think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, asserts that ISIS is reestablishing itself in areas of support for the group in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, thousands of ISIS brides who reside in refugee camps are initiating attacks against other refugees.

There is only a small chance that ISIS could establish a new political entity in these regions. Its leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, hasn't been seen in years, and many believe he was killed in an American missile strike. However, ISIS surrendered and plans to continue harassing Assad and his partners in the Shi'ite axis.

Israel was a bit hasty when it encouraged the Americans to act against ISIS. Clearly, we have no interest in ISIS neighboring on our borders. According to foreign reports, Israel is sharing in the fight against ISIS's Sinai branch with the Egyptians, and often hit ISIS at its holdings on the southern Golan Heights. However, the presence of the Islamic State between Syria and Iraq was more of a nuisance to the Shi'ite axis, at whose head is Iran. While the Islamic State existed, it prevented Iran from realizing a "Shi'ite crescent," an overland route to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Now, that crescent is complete. 

The madness of ISIS also caused many in the world to see the Shi'ite crescent as the saner and more responsible force in the region. The ISIS phenomenon and the unwillingness of the world to deal with it were two of the factors that pushed Obama to compromise with Iran. Trump wasn't enthusiastic about leaving troops in Syria either. He and Israel would be happy to see the Iranians once again drawing blood against ISIS, and in the case of Trump, there is no worry that he will be tempted to see in Iran a responsible partner.

Israel's natural reluctance to see the barbaric violence of ISIS is understandable and common to every civilized person, but if we disregard the fact that ISIS knew how to film their brutality in a stylish way, they were not really a new phenomenon for us. Fatah members who massacred babies in Misgav Am, or Hamas members who blew up families in restaurants and buses, were no less barbaric; they were less successful in documenting and marketing than members of the Islamic state.

Beyond their contribution to blocking the Shiite axis, they did another important service for Israel - they put a bad name on terrorism. Organizations such as Hezbollah, which until a decade ago were not afraid to initiate terrorist attacks in Bulgaria, India or Thailand, are now refraining from such actions for fear of being labeled as ISIS.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda will continue places to hit in the world. In Europe, which arose after a decade of terror attacks and is now closely monitoring Syrian Mujahideen graduates, it has become more difficult, but still possible, where there will be mostly isolated attacks. In countries that lack central control and intelligence as effective as Sri Lanka - ISIS can continue to commit acts of terrorism. For us, ISIS unites the Western and Arab world against terrorism and makes it easier for us to explain what we have been dealing with for decades.


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