US strategy on ISIS suffers series of weaknesses, study finds

Obama’s pledge to destroy Islamic State unrealistic; American-Iranian cooperation may be at Jerusalem’s expense.

ISIS militant (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISIS militant
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US strategy against Islamic State “suffers from a series of weaknesses,” a study by the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center found recently.
The center is a part of the Israeli Intelligence and Heritage Commemoration Center, which was founded in the 1980s by leading members of the Israeli intelligence community.
The report described goals in the American strategy as unrealistic.
“It is extremely difficult to destroy an organization with a Salafist-jihadi ideology such as ISIS [Islamic State].
There are limits to what military force can achieve against jihadi organizations in general and ISIS in particular. The local forces in Syria and Iraq that America is counting on are weak, and the coalition is heterogeneous, composed of countries with different interests and internal constraints that are liable to make it difficult for them to provide the United States with effective support,” the document said.
The situation is made more complex by the fluctuating societal and political situations in Syria and Iraq, the authors added.
“They [such organizations] cannot be fundamentally changed through military action, limited or even extensive.
That is because ISIS and other Salafist-jihadi terrorist organizations arose from the chaos in security and the societal and political disintegration of Syria and Iraq, and because of the drastic changes caused by the regional upheaval.
“Iraq and Syria are a swamp in which ISIS and other jihadi organizations thrive. Rooting out ISIS will be impossible until the swamp has been drained, and that is currently not on the horizon,” the study stated.
Dr. Reuven Erlich, head of the Meir Amit Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that US President Barack Obama’s objective of destroying Islamic State has raised expectations to a point that is “very high. ISIS is a terrorist organization with an ideology and capabilities that exists in an area where political systems have crashed. It can’t be destroyed through air power.”
Similarly, he added, Israel, too, cannot destroy Hezbollah or Hamas through air power alone.
“It’s not enough to bomb. In order to destroy Hamas, which exists in a narrow strip, Israel would have to go in and rule for years, carrying out a fundamental thwarting of the organization. That would produce results, but only until the day forces leave.”
The center’s study also highlighted several weaknesses that afflict Islamic State, which, if exploited by the US, could yield positive results, “although perhaps less far-reaching than expected by President Obama.”
Washington’s military, economic and political campaign could eventually weaken – but not destroy – Islamic State and halt its rapid spread through Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi Army and local militias within Syria and Iraq that are hostile to Islamic State can be strengthened.
The report stressed several threats and dangers posed to Israel by the establishment and growth of Islamic State and other jihadi organizations.
Foremost among these is their likely targeting of the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.
“As of today, the [Syrian] Golan Heights are controlled by rebel organizations, the most prominent of which is the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria. While ISIS does not currently have a significant presence there, the dynamics can easily change the Golan Heights from a relatively quiet area into an active terrorist front where the al-Nusra Front may be dominant.
“In the Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State-affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (which has become the Sinai province of the Islamic State) is expected to launch terrorist attacks against Israel, although its strategic priority is its campaign against the Egypt regime,” said the authors.
Additionally, Islamic State supports jihadi organizations and networks in countries bordering on Israel.
“ISIS is a terrorist organization with semi-state capabilities: it has advanced weapons and technology captured from the Iraqi and Syrian armies; it earns enormous amounts of money from oil fields and other resources; it has supporters in the Middle East and worldwide who help it enlist foreign fighters; it has an advanced media network which brands ISIS and the global jihad.
“To date those capabilities are mainly exploited for internal purposes (fighting enemies in Iraq and Syria). However, they may filter into jihadi organizations and networks in the Middle East, including countries and entities bordering on Israel, and strengthen the operational capabilities of local jihadi organizations,” the report warned.
Commenting on this section of the findings, Erlich said Israel is facing a “new reality in which new jihadi organizations are present to the north and south. It’s very hard to deter them. The only thing that works to our benefit is that they have not begun dealing with us yet. But problems are expected for Israel. Also, we should not believe that Jordan and Lebanon are immune.”
According to the study’s authors, “In the foreseeable future, ISIS strategy will continue focusing on gaining a firmer foothold in Syria and Iraq. However, in view of the American aerial attacks and the competition between the jihadi organizations, ISIS may encourage or initiate attacks within Israel from inside the country or from its borders, or against Israeli and/or Jewish targets abroad. They may receive help and support from the veterans of the fighting in Syria and Iraq who returned to their countries of origin and/ or from local operatives and networks that support ISIS.”
The report also cautioned about cooperation between the US-led coalition and Iran against Islamic State.
“Such collaboration might occur at Israel’s expense and harm its vital interests; for example, Iran’s concessions on the nuclear issue. In addition, collaborating against ISIS might increase Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, and might also strengthen Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon, possibly strengthening the Iranian- led radical camp in the Middle East,” it said.
Erlich added, “Seemingly, Iran is a partner for the US against ISIS, which threatens Tehran’s interests in Iraq and Syria. We don’t think a deep strategic relationship will develop between them. Iran is seeking regional hegemony in place of the US. But local cooperation and a dialogue are possible.”
Envisaging how Washington and Tehran could work together, Erlich said, “One could support the Iraqi Army and the second could aid Shi’ite militias. That would result in cooperation.”