Even after numerous attacks on Western targets by individuals inspired or directed by the army of murderers known as Islamic State, the West, with its enormous potential for war, has yet to launch a campaign to defeat ISIS.
Instead, a US-led coalition has launched a half-hearted bombing operation which seems to be aimed at “degrading” ISIS, but not necessarily destroying it, despite the operation’s mission statement.
In a recent Jerusalem Post
article, Prof. Ephraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies argued that, in essence, this approach is correct. ISIS should be weakened, Inbar wrote, but destroying it would be a “strategic mistake.”
The true strategic mistake, however, would be to accept Inbar’s cold logic and allow the phenomenon of ISIS to continue any longer.
Inbar argued, quite insensitively, that ISIS poses no real threat outside of Syria and Iraq.
“What can [ISIS] do, particularly in its current situation?” he asked. The terrorist attacks committed in Europe, Inbar explained, “were perpetrated mostly by lone wolves” and “[o]n its own [ISIS] is capable of only limited damage.”
Tell that to the victims of those attacks and their families.
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Before ISIS began its mass beheadings and propaganda campaigns, terrorist attacks in the West were far less frequent. But every day ISIS’s black flag has flown has been a call to radical Muslims to commit acts of violence and an argument that the vision of Islamic fundamentalism is not some fantasy, but can be realized in the near future, and therefore, for the true believer, is a vision that must be realized.
Following the success of this appeal, terrorism has become the new normal for Western countries.
ISIS’s capabilities should also not be ignored. There are numerous reports of ISIS’s network of volunteers in Europe, who, at ISIS’s direction, will commit more attacks.
So even “in its current situation,” ISIS still poses a significant threat.
Inbar correctly pointed out how volunteers drawn to Syria by the magnet of ISIS “are easier targets to identify, saving intelligence work” and argued it was preferable that they “acquire Shaheed [martyr] status while away.”
Indeed it is estimated that tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are foreign volunteers. Perhaps this does present an opportunity to kill all those volunteers openly concentrated in Syria and Iraq instead of having to deal with them in their home countries.
Inbar, however, fears that if ISIS is “fully defeated, more of these people are likely to come home and cause trouble.” In such a case, he worries that ISIS’s “energies...will be directed toward organizing more terrorist attacks beyond its borders” and that its “collapse... will produce a terrorist diaspora.”
Reports indicate, however, that this ship has already sailed: many of ISIS’s foreign volunteers have returned home, and ISIS is already sending members to Europe and turning new foreign volunteers back because they are more useful abroad.
Inbar’s strategy also means allowing the existence of a de-facto terrorist state in Syria, where terrorists can train and plan attacks freely as well as indoctrinate and brutalize the populace – as Hamas does in Gaza and as the Taliban and al-Qaida did in Afghanistan before 9/11 – and continue to inspire and direct mass murder around the world.
It means treating ISIS like a bank that it is too big to fail and just another fact of life that we and future generations must acclimate ourselves to, as French President Francoise Hollande suggested to his citizens following the Bastille Day attack.
This would be a grave strategic mistake, one that perhaps reflects the preference of many Israeli military leaders and strategists to “cut the grass,” “mow the lawn,” “restore deterrence,” etc., rather than defeating terrorist organizations. It is a recipe for endless violence and fear for citizens who should be enabled to live normal, terror-free lives.
Instead of simply mowing the lawn, however, an anti-ISIS coalition should set ISIS’s destruction as its goal, kill as many ISIS members as possible and keep those who escape on the run, demoralized and disorganized – as the US did to al-Qaida after 9/11 but Israel has never done to Hamas.
Admittedly, as Inbar also argues, achieving this would be handing a victory to the Assad regime, an ally of Iran and Hezbollah. But it would also mean greater security to citizens around the world. Furthermore, Assad has already been given a lifeline by Russia, which has demonstrated that it will not abandon its Middle East outpost.
From Israel’s perspective, even if Assad reasserts his rule over all of Syria, Israel should go on preventing weapons transfers to Hezbollah and the establishment of a Hezbollah or Iranian presence in the Golan.
In addition, there is a multitude of rebel groups operating in Syria, many of them clashing with ISIS. Even with ISIS gone, it seems likely that the Syrian civil war will rage on for years, only without ISIS’s siren song to murderers around the world.The writer is an attorney and a Likud Central Committee member.
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