Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are names that the civilized world has grown accustomed to hear about on the eight-o’clock News. Just when we thought that we had seen the worst of it all, we are now being faced with another group that makes Al-Qaeda look like moderates. How dangerous do they have to be for Al-Qaeda to decide to disassociate themselves from this new splinter group in February 2014? Very dangerous!
In the last couple of weeks, most of us have been introduced to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). They used to be part of Al-Qaeda but are now detached from them and are running on their own. They are on a mission with a very clear goal that is to take over Iraq and the immediate vicinity (Part of Syria) and establish a new state as well as re-establishing the caliphate and sharia law in the region. It goes beyond the scope of this article to discuss the geopolitical aspects of such a move or to point the finger in search of the guilty country or government to blame for the ISIS invasion. What I am more interested in looking at though, is the danger of such a change in the region.
ISIS, in its unrecognized and self-proclaimed status as an independent state would claim that they comprise Iraq and parts of Syria with potential future claims further into the Levant such as Lebanon. The state was (un)officially formed in 2013 by their current leader, somewhat of an enigmatic figure known as Abu Bakr al-Baghadi who also claims to be the state’s emir (prince). In 2011, he was put on the US State Department list of most wanted terrorists with a reward of $10 million. He adheres to the sunni sect of Islam.
While it is not my intention to diminish the danger posed by organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and many others, I think that ISIS needs to be placed in a different category all by themselves. Like all islamists and jihadists, they are extremists and very violent. Their religious affiliation might differ from other islamist groups, as Christian denominations would differ theologically or doctrinally from one another, but at the end of the day, they remain loyal to Allah and the Qur’an. In my opinion, there are three main reasons why ISIS is different from all the other terrorist groups AND a very serious threat that CANNOT be ignored.
ISIS is very organized: While they are still described as a terrorist organization, they are also known as a militia that is well trained in guerrilla warfare. In the last couple of weeks, their methodical advance into Iraq with the invasion and take-over of many key cities has shown great organizational skills from a military standpoint. This is unusual for a group of that sort where corruption, chaos and military inadequacy is usually the norm. The Washington post reported that: what stands out is the level of cohesion and in some cases professionalism inherent to a well-trained and organized force. ISIS fighters can be seen wearing American-style body armor vests, or “plate-carriers,” with magazine pouches well organized and the gear tight to their chest, the way U.S. troops would wear it. Pistol holsters are in well-placed positions on the body, and heavy weapons look well-maintained. In some scenes, ISIS fighters are wearing helmets with night-vision goggle mounts.
ISIS is highly weaponized: You can be as organized as you want to be, if you do not have the weapons to back it up, you will do very little damage. ISIS seems to have the weapons it needs to continue to advance in the region. Some of these weapons were acquired from countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These countries–at least on the surface–are diplomatic “friends” of the United States. Of course what goes on behind closed doors is a different story. Additionally, as ISIS continues too push their way into Iraq, massive amounts of people (military AND civilians) flee ahead of the invasion, leaving much property behind, including a large amount of weapons both mobile and of the heavy kind. ISIS appears well trained to use a variety of these weapons, especially the more portable kind. They have also been seen destroying the bigger weapons such as tanks.
ISIS has cash flow: ISIS is a relatively new organization, yet it is already worth $2 billion, making it the wealthiest terrorist organization on the planet and even wealthier that a few small countries. It recently stole over $420 million when it took over the Iraqi town of Mosul. Another source of revenue is the money drawn from the oil rigs they own in Syria (which by the way is sold all over the world regardless of the fact that we are funding terrorism, but don’t get me started!). In other words, ISIS doesn’t rely so much on the financial aid of other countries that might share their ideology. This make them much less dependent on other people and increases their autonomy on every level. If, or frankly, more like when they take over more critical cities or tactical areas, we can expect another increase in cash flow. Not to mention the tension created by the possible confiscation of several oil fields in Iraq affecting up to 25% of Iraqi production.
The curse of ISIS will not remain a Middle East crisis. It will spread to the rest of the globe unless those able to nip it in the bud act very soon. Other terrorist groups and sleeper cells in the West will get emboldened by this surge of arrogant takeover in the Middle East. Iran might have to get involved to help their archenemy, Iraq. The US could get involved as well, but that is if we had a leadership capable of making the right decisions, something I no longer believe is possible with the current administration. But, if the US ever gets involved, there is also the risk of joining forces with groups and countries with which we share very little ideologically. Befriending our enemies with the short-term goal of stopping a greater enemy might end-up leaving the United States more vulnerable.
Of course, ISIS might not be militating for the destruction of Israel as their primary goal but you can rest assured that after seeing what they are doing to other sects within Islam, they will have no mercy for the Jewish people. They are jihadists after all, so we must understand that part of their jihad or “struggle” is to rid the planet of the “little satan” being Israel and the “great satan” being the United States. As a matter of fact, Israel and Jordan are included in the territory of their utopian caliphate.
ISIS is moving fast, making great progress and is intimidating the boldest regimes in the region. Israel could come and give Iraq and Syria a hand in that matter and even be quite good at it, but why should they? No matter what they do and how they do it, they will probably be blamed at the end. I suspect that they will seriously consider involvement the minute ISIS controls some of Lebanon and/or Syria. This might not be in a so distant future.
Unfortunately. it looks like a lot more lives will be lost in Iraq and Syria in the near future. But to most Americans, it is far enough not to be a concern until of course gas prices rise to $5 or $6 per gallon right before our summer vacation……then it’s personal!
In the meantime, the whole region is in serious need of prayer. I am reminded of the prayer of Asaph to God regarding the enemies of Israel in Psalm 83:13-18: