Winning the war against Islamic State would only be the beginning.
In recent weeks, the media are filled with reports on the international preparations for a war against the “Islamic State” and an International Conference was even convened in Paris in an attempt to enlist the cooperation of as many nations as possible in waging it.
At the same time, US air force planes have intensified their attacks against “Islamic State” forces, especially in the vicinity of the dams in northern Iraq, this to prevent their being blown up and causing the deaths of many thousands of Iraqis.
This week we heard a short and decisive speech by US President Barack Obama, into which he inserted rhetoric elements that he has hardly used before, certainly in comparison to the speeches of his predecessor George W. Bush.
I have not heard all of Obama’s speeches, but those I did rarely included the expression “our friends and allies”. Bush used those words day and night when talking about the war against terror. Does this change in rhetoric express a change in Obama’s approach? I am not sure if it does.
In his speech, Obama repeated several times that Iraq is an ally of the United States. And right at the start of his words, he said that the USA cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves. That sentence is a perfect example of Obama’s erroneous strategic thinking – he continues to see the Iraqis as a single group. He has still not internalized the fact that the Iraqis have never succeeded in developing the sense of unity and solidarity that defines a nation. In Iraq the tribal divisions are alive and kicking and there are over 70 of them, as well as four ethnic groups and about ten religions, all divided among a not inconsiderable number of communal sectors. The possibility that the Iraqi government can function any better than those that preceded it is not great, and therefore the assumption that the Iraqi army can be more stalwart in its battle against the knife-wielding Islamic State fighters is yet to be proven correct.
It’s tough trying to build an international coalition, because there are factors unconnected to the Islamic State that come into play. There is a war in eastern Ukraine playing out in the background and Russia is the main actor in that war. Russia does not support a war against the Islamic State, so not many European countries are lining up to join Obama’s coalition against Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and his jihadists.
Regional questions also play a part, including the role that will be allotted to countries in the area such as Iran and the Assad regime, both of whom have a clear interest in joining the coalition. Iran will expect to be rewarded with an easing of demands for nuclear controls and Assad will expect an insurance policy to prevent his being deposed, even though he has been defined as a “war criminal”. The West is not interested in giving Assad this insurance policy, since he has already announced that any military activity by another country on Syrian soil or over Syrian airspace will be considered an act of hostility against Syria to which that country will respond. The bigger problem is not Syria, but Russia, as any incursion on Syrian soil would be interpreted as a green light for Russia in Ukraine.
Another country in the area that poses a problem is Turkey, which has been aiding the Syrian rebel forces from the very first anti- Assad demonstrations in 2011, those very forces that spawned the “Islamic State” over a three year period. Thousands of jihadists from many different countries arrived at the bloody battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria by way of Turkey. Turkey purchases oil from the “Islamic State” at a remarkably reduced rate, and resells it in the international market, so that Turkey is basically funding the “Islamic State” while raking in huge sums for its own treasury. It has recently been claimed that Turkey gives weaponry to the “Islamic State”.
Qatar is not enthusiastic about a war against the “Islamic State” either, having given it generous amounts of financial aid over a long period, knowing that its jihadists were anti-Assad. The Emir of Qatar is not eager to eliminate the “Islamic State” because he is afraid that his own state will then become the next goal of the Islamic State jihadists. In fact, he pays them off so that they expend their aggressive energies on other countries. Saudi Arabia is also not happy about destroying the Sunni Islamic State as it might further empower the Shiite axis headed by Iran. Those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood certainly feel comfortable with the “Islamic State”, even if they do not support all the brutal methods it employs.
Another point to be taken into consideration is the possible extreme reactions of Muslims around the world against the war and those taking part in it. The black flag of ISIS has been waved in country after country and the jihadist successes against the heretics of Iraq and Syria have made many Muslims around the world ecstatic, also causing many of them to identify with the “Islamic State”, its goals, and first and foremost, the idea of imposing the rule of Islam on the entire world. Radical Muslims who identify with jihad, and who can be found just about everywhere, may carry out attacks, kidnappings, murder and even behead infidels in order to take revenge on the coalition which acts against the “Islamic State”.
The war against the Islamic State looks like a rerun of the war fought against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan starting in 2001. Many of the elements that characterized that war are still around today, leading to the general feeling that the war against “Islamic State” will fail just as the war against al Qaeda did. The reasons are obvious: this is not a war against a state or an organization that will be defeated once its military might is destroyed. Here, we are first and foremost battling an ideology, fighting a faith vested in the hearts of millions of people who live all over the world.
The belief that Islam is the true religion and that Judaism and Christianity are false religions is a basic tenet of Islamic faith worldwide. The belief that Islam can and must rule the world is shared by many millions of Muslims. The belief that militant jihad is a legitimate tool for achieving Islamic supremacy over the world is anchored in Islamic history and the biography of Mohammed. The belief that a Muslim must mete out the revenge of Allah against every infidel that dares to lift his hand against a Muslim is a natural part of Islam. The belief that “Islamic State”, the goal of the entire mission, reflects the real, pure and original Islam is shared by millions of Muslim worldwide.
It is clear that once al Qaeda was destroyed, the “Islamic State” came to be – so that if the Islamic state is destroyed, another Islamic entity will take its place.and attract thousands of Muslims from just as many countries. Add to that those converting to Islam from Europe, America, and the four corners of the globe, those blond and blue-eyed men and women who will rush to join the group in order to observe all the beliefs associated with Islam.
This can also happen in Africa, under the Boko Haram, in the Saharan plains under the Libyan Jihadists, sponsored by the butchers of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis.
The battle against the problematic tenets of the Islamic faith is not bound in place or time and like the genie that comes out of a bottle, cannot be put back in it. Muslim emigration to Western countries unsettles those governments internally due to the Islamic takeover of public space, politics, economics and its image in the politically correct media. In many parts of the world one can say that “Islamic State is here”, in neighborhoods that the local police do not enter, in the cities where a Muslim majority forces Sharia on supermarkets, pharmacies, bars and churches – and in the parliaments where the presence of the Islamic State is becoming more and more influential and solidly based.
The really significant battle is not in Iraq or Syria, where what is happening is just the introduction that follows the preface acted out in Afghanistan 13 years ago. The real war, far-ranging and dangerous, will develop once “Islamic State” is eliminated and the vengeance resulting from that success begins to be exacted in America, Europe, Australia and every place where man-made laws are in force. Its goal will be to impose the law of Allah as it is spelled out in Islamic sources.
Anyone who thinks that destroying “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria will solve the problem had better think again, because the problem is not this or that organization or country. The problem is the ideology that today motivates one and half billion people who believe that the “religion of Allah is Islam” (Qu’ran chap.53, v.19). This ideology will not be eliminated even if we get rid of the jihadists in Iraq and Syria down to the last man. Their followers are to be found in most parts of the world and that world must be prepared to change the rules of the game, otherwise it will find itself putting out fires instead of apprehending the pyromaniacs.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.