It's no big secret – all those concerned, the US, EU, Arab nations, Russia and even China, know what has to be done to defeat Islamic State (ISIS).
World leaders know very well how to eliminate, or at least substantially weaken, the most barbaric and dangerous movement modern civilization has witnessed since Nazi Germany was defeated. They are fully aware of, but refuse to employ, what is needed because they lack the political will and statesmanship that are essential for the task. They refuse to do so because they are convinced that the public in the West is not ready to make the sacrifices – namely to see its sons and daughters sent to the battlefields ‒ and killed for this cause.
The amazing rise of ISIS within four years from a marginal group that was basically ignored by all intelligence agencies is primarily a by-product of developments for which two consecutive US administrations under George W. Bush and Barack H.Obama are responsible.
Both believed in the noble cause of democracy. They thought that bringing the message of democracy would be the panacea for all Middle Eastern diseases and would bring down brutal dictators. With his vision of democratic values, Bush forced Israel to hold elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, thus helping the radical Islamic movement of Hamas to come to power.
He also ordered the US army to invade Iraq, toppling Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.
But instead of the emergence of a true democratic government, the US troops brought into power in Baghdad a corrupt, pro-Iranian Shi’ite government and eventually ignited the disintegration of the country.
Obama took two contradictory directions.
He walked in the footsteps of his predecessors by preaching the notion of democracy, but also deviated from Bush’s policies by ordering the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
Thus, he further undermined Iraq and pushed it into chaos.
While Bush’s ideology of dividing the world into “good guys and bad guys” created the Iraqi chaos, Obama’s beliefs surely helped enhance the disintegration of three more countries – Syria, Libya and Yemen.
In his inaugural address, Obama tried to reach out to the hearts and minds of the Muslim world by praising its history, culture, heritage and religion. Later, in June 2009, he delivered his “New beginning” address at Cairo University in Egypt. The Islamic al-Azhar University cohosted the event. But the Arab world didn’t reciprocate in the manner Obama had hoped.
The “Arab Spring” of 2011 led to great expectations but resulted in calamity. In the name of democracy, Obama was sympathetic to Arab masses who struggled to bring down the regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a staunch and longtime ally of the US. But instead of a stable democratic government in Cairo, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was elected to power. After two years, the Egyptian public realized its mistake. With strong backing from the military, a semi coup d’état voted out the Muslim Brotherhood preferring to see a secular, military regime.
But elsewhere in the Middle East, the results were far more dramatic and catastrophic.
Central governments in Libya, Syria and Yemen evaporated; bloody civil wars erupted, and fiefdoms ruled by religious zealots, terrorists and criminal gangs took their place.
Hidden or subdued in Western public discourse is the Saudi Arabia factor. In an important opinion piece, recently published in The New York Times, Algerian writer Kamel Daoud highlighted the Saudis’ major contribution to radical-militant expansionist Islam.
Daoud wrote about “black Daesh and white Daesh” (Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS).
Black Daesh “slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims,” he wrote, while White Daesh, Saudi Arabia, “is better dressed and neater but does the same things.”
According to Daoud, “Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it” and is at the root of today’s worldwide troubles brought about by radical Islam. “The kingdom relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on. Wahhabism is a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina.
“Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws.”
Daoud highlights the hypocrisy of the West: “In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other.”
Also, paradoxically, another factor that has helped ISIS to emerge as a strong force that cannot be ignored was the US determination to fight al-Qaida. The global war on terrorism declared by Bush, and its more aggressive implementation by Obama, heavily damaged al-Qaida as a force though not as an idea. The assassination of its founder and leader, Osama bin Laden, who spent his last years before hisath watching pornographic videos in his safe house in Pakistan, sidelined the group.
Essentially, al-Qaida dropped out of the terror business.
The strong US anti-terror policy proved to be too effective and boomeranged. Just as nature doesn’t tolerate a vacuum, neither does the terror landscape of fundamental, militant jihadi Islam. The vacuum was soon filled, with much more cruelty, by ISIS with its wanton disregard for human life.
Its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‒ until a few years ago a low-key al-Qaida lieutenant ‒ sensed the opportunities opened up by the flawed Bush and Obama policies. These included the disintegration of Iraq, the civil war in Syria, the growing sectarian and religious rift between Shi’ites and Sunnis, and the animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
This complex and troubling reality is not going to go away. It will stay with us for years to come. It’s a reality that will be very difficult to change either by military force or civilian measures.
Yet, it is possible, if not to defeat ISIS, at least to curtail its power, influence and appeal by a comprehensive approach of the entire international community.
But what is needed is not more of the same – empty promises of politicians to “fight terrorism” or ineffective air strikes – but a real conceptual U-turn backed by strong military measures. The world needs a revolution in the readiness to really fight the devilish forces of ISIS and its malignant metastases, which have spread to Africa, Sinai and Western Europe.
Just as 75 years ago the world understood the Nazi threat so the world today must wake up and mobilize all its forces.
First, there is an urgent need that the major players, namely the big powers plus China and India, will overcome their differences and unite around one central goal – that ISIS is evil and has to be dealt with accordingly. It also requires agreeing on priorities and putting aside other disagreements and rivalries, such as national interests or less urgent disputes between Russia and the US regarding other parts of the world.
This will mean, for example, resolving the contradictory goals of those who are involved in the Syria civil war. Iran and Russia actively support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey and Saudi Arabia demand his removal. The US and EU, which once wanted to see him replaced, are now less determined for this to happen. Another incomprehensible stance that helps ISIS is the attitude toward the Kurds. The Kurdish forces are the only credible ground force which is fully committed, without a hidden agenda, to thwarting ISIS. Unfortunately, Turkey and Iran, which have Kurdish minorities, play a double game. They claim they are genuinely fighting ISIS, but in the same breath refuse to arm the Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s attitude is especially reprehensible. Under the banner of the war against ISIS, their airplanes bomb more Kurdish targets in Syria than enemy positions.
Because of Turkey, the US approach to the Kurds is ambiguous. The administration acknowledges their contribution to the war effort and supplies them with light weapons.
But fearing the wrath of Turkey, it refuses to provide them with the heavy weapons they desperately need.
Once there is an agreed agenda it will be easier, though not guaranteed, to send international ground forces ‒ “boots on the ground” ‒ to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Military experts believe a few divisions with tanks and artillery backed by heavy air strikes can regain most of the Islamic State territory.
The battle in the air and on land has designated highest priority to bombing ISIS’s oil fields, production installations and tankers that transport the oil to neighboring states. Oil revenues – $1.5 million a day ‒ are the movement’s main source of revenue, together with ransoming hostages and female slave trading.
However, to achieve the goal of draining their financial sources, it is important that buyers of ISIS’s oil – Turkey, the Assad regime and unscrupulous middlemen ‒ be blocked from further purchases, or else be severely punished.
Simultaneously, it is imperative to improve intelligence capabilities against ISIS. What is needed is better coverage by planting or recruiting agents inside the group and its worldwide cells, and boosting the interception and deciphering of ISIS communications.
It is most probable that ISIS has sleeper and active cells around the globe, as was evident from the recent Paris attack. To crack them, there is a need for much better intelligence about these cells and their supporters among Muslim communities in the West.
The French online newsletter Intelligence has reported that a handful of Islamic State members have been placed in charge of supervising operations in each of the target areas.
Each has a large degree of autonomy, reporting only to Abu Ali al-Anbari, the head of the Security and Intelligence Council, Islamic State’s intelligence service. Anbari, whose real name is Kazem Rachid al-Jbouri, was an Iraqi security service officer during the Hussein era.
According to information from several intelligence sources in Sunni countries in the Middle East whose agents have managed to infiltrate some parts of Islamic State, the strategy was agreed upon at a meeting of Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi’s principal lieutenants in Mosul at the end of June. During the meeting, it was decided that terror operations in the West would be carried out using battle-hardened members of the organization reporting directly to area leaders, rather than “amateur” groups working in isolation.
One way of dealing with the terror is to target ISIS leaders. A retired CIA operative recently told CBS News reporter Dan Raviv that if he were US president, he would authorize black ops by special forces inside Syria and Iraq against Islamic State leaders. Citing how al-Qaida was taken apart after 9/11, he said the leaders should be captured and interrogated to find out about Islamic State networks Since the Paris attack and the bombing of the Russian airliner in Sinai, France and Russia have increased their air bombing of ISIS positions particularly targeting Raqqa, the self-declared Islamic State capital. Unlike the Obama directive to the US Air Force to avoid “collateral” damage – hitting innocent bystanders ‒ France and especially Russia are much less selective.
France intends to raise the idea that Russia, the US and other nations send ground forces to fight ISIS. A coordinated international ground offensive could smash the 30,000 or so Islamic State gunmen in a matter of a few weeks but it may well be costly and therefore unlikely to happen. Yossi Melman is an Israeli security commentator and co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon.’ He blogs at www.israelspy.com and tweets at yossi_melman.