The Arab Spring hopes are a distant dream but ISIS is real.
2014 was a year in which we witnessed the continued deterioration of the modern Arab state, while in contrast, two older poitical frameworks rose in popularity.
Syria is undergoing a long and bloody process of disintegration. Assad controls about a quarter of the country, including Damascus, part of Haleb in the north, the coastal strip and the Ansari mountains where the Allawites, his non-Muslim brothers, are to be found. Two new frameworks arose on the ruins of Syria: an independent Kurdish area in the northeast and Islamic State on about 30% of Syrian land. The Kurds feel a strong connection to their Iraqi brothers and have no intentions of being under Arab domination ever again.
Iraq’s future is unclear: on the one hand, a somewhat stabilized political system has succeeded in switching the prime minister without too much unrest, but on the other hand, the country has not been able to stop the Islamic State jihadists from conquering a third of its territory, including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the main center of its oil industry. Islamic State threatens Baghdad from the advanced positions it has overrun in the besieged city’s suburbs, in the town of Ramadi. Several of the regions in Iraq declared autonomy in September in response to the dysfunctional central government. If this trend continues, Iraq is liable to become a federation of autonomous units, and that may turn out to be a harbinger of what the future holds for other countries in the middle east.
Yemen is paralyzed by a regime infected with tribalism and by two armed and anti-establishment entities that are tearing the country apart: Sunni Al Qaeda and Shiite Houthis who conquered the capital in December and succeeded in dictating their conditions to the country. Iran is arming and financing them, getting closer to having dangerous influence on the Bab el Mandeb Straits, the southern passageway for international shipping on its way from eastern Asia through the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, Suez Canal, the Mediterranean and Europe.
Libya continues to sink into the mire of blood, fire and tears. In the last four years, years that began with high hopes for an “Arab Spring”, more than 100,000 people have been killed in the country, most of them in struggles, battles and disputes among tribal and familial militias, with oil acting as the fuel that lights the bonfire of violence. This past year there was evidence of a split on geographic lines, with two coalitions beginning to coalesce: one in Tripoli, in the west of the country, and the other in Benghazi, in the east. The lack of a functioning central government opens the door for violent Islamic organizations, some connected to Al Qaeda and some to Islamic State, to stake out their own enclaves.
Islamic state is the biggest and most significant new phenomenon that occurred in the Middle East in 2014. Although the organization was founded ten years ago as Al Qaeda in Iraq, today it is challenging not only Al Qaeda but also the Middle East and the entire world. Everyone can see that Islamic State presents a direct threat to national order by threatening to conquer other countries and create alternative governments, as well as by serving as the source for jihadist ideas that use media networks to spread the Jihad war throughout the world.
During the first half of 2014 Islamic State (ISIS) succeeded in conquering a third of both Iraq and Syria, sparsely populated but oil rich areas. Turkey helps Islamic State by exporting the oil it produces to Europe, also providing logistic aid. Qatar helped Islamic State until it was forced to stop doing so in December 2014. Islamic State’s achievements are attributable to its ability to spread fear all around itself using horrific videos of beheadings, merciless shootings and the starving to death of tens of thousands of “heretics” – such as the Yazidi.
Islamic State absorbs many of the Sunnis in conquered regions of Syria and Iraq into the ranks of its fighting forces, while thousands of volunteers from all over the world – Muslims and prospective converts – join as well. Jihadists even come from Western countries, planning to fight the west and force it to follow Islam. The Islamic State’s ruler has adopted the name Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and appointed himself “Caliph”, ninety years after the Caliphate was abolished by Attaturk. Islamic State sees itself as an alternative to all the political agreements forced on the Islamic world by colonialist, heretic nations. ISIS erases borders set up by Britain and France, it does not accept international law which it replaces with the most extreme form of Sharia law: beheading heretics, flogging sinners, selling slaves in the open market and chopping off the hands of thieves.
New volunteers join ISIS daily, and it intends to be here forever while directly threatening the countries around it – Jordan, Lebanon and Iran. This is why Iran is arming and supplying the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, in hopes the militia will succeed in dealing with the ISIS threat. Not a few nations, both Arab and European, have established an airborne force to deal with ISIS from the air, but it is a mistake to think that airstrikes can destroy a country that is three times the size of Israel. Only infantry, conquering an area and searching house to house, basement to basement and storeroom to storeroom, can put ISIS in its place.
Egypt succeeded in establishing al Sisi’s government despite the public disapproval of the US, which for a long time after Morsi was deposed in 2013 saw him as remaining the legitimate and lawful president. Egyptian steadfastness, supported economically and politically by the Saudis and United Emirates, succeeded in standing up to the Americans despite Qatar’s open endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and ISIS.
That same Egyptian single mindedness, joined by Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates, also succeeded in forcing Qatar to submit to their agenda and cease its support of terror, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS, and to stop using the Al Jazeera media network as a propaganda tool for the Muslim Brotherhood and the terror organizations they created. Will Qatar continue obeying Saudi dictates? Time will tell. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates will have to keep their eyes open, especially behind the scenes.
Saudi Arabia also succeeded in inflicting much damage on Iran by producing more oil than it normally would, thereby lowering the price on the world market. The Saudis went it alone once they saw the West bowing to Iranian intransigence and lightening the economic sanctions imposed on the nuclear-bomb-starved Ayatollah state. The coming months may prove once more that Saudi singlemindedness is more effective than America’s way of doing things.
Tunisia is the only spot in the Arab world where there is some hope. This is the country where the “Arab Spring” began four years ago and it went through a period of trial and error, checked out political Islam and returned to its liberal, modern and secularist way of life. This country has proved that a nation can deal with inner conflicts in legitimate ways, without violence (unlike Syria), without bloodshed (unlike Libya), without revolutions that spawn the rule of dictators (unlike Egypt). However, Tunisia must deal immediately and decisively with the jihadi groups that have settled in its southern region and receive fighters, arms and money from neighboring Libya and Algeria.
The Palestinians are turning to the international stage, trying with all their might to get a recognized state. The Arab world, distracted by problems such as ISIS, has neither the time or the patience to deal with the Palestinian issue, leading the PA to turn to the world for recognition. European politicians are falling over themselves to recognize a Palestinian state so as to please Muslim voters. Israel may find itself facing a Palestinian state – which will without doubt become a Hamas state – just because some unemployment-frightened European politicians vote for establishing that state on the hills of Judea and Samaria, the birthplace of the Jewish people.
The world is still impressed by the existence of a Palestinian nation, created just recently, partly as a result of the idea of some holier-than-thou Israelis. Jerusalem is considered part of the Palestinian state for one reason only – so as to uproot the holy city from the Jewish entity, knowing full well that without Jerusalem, the entire state will cease to exist. The world must awaken, understand the problem and realize that if Israel falls to Islam, Europe will be next – and not much later.
In summary: the year 2014 was a challenging one for Israel, Europe and the rest of the world. These challenges will only get bigger, crises deepen, disputes spread, Iran will obtain nuclear arms, ISIS will grow, America will not have the first place it held until four years ago and Europe will continue sinking under waves of Islamic immigration that are turning European culture into something that is a far cry from liberal values, openness, modernity and democracy.
The challenges facing the state of Israel are becoming more and more complex. Syria’s demise has lessened the threat on Israel, but other threats are on the horizon: Iran and ISIS gaining strength on the one side, Europe and America getting weaker and weaker on the other.
The soon to be elected Israeli leadership will have to give its attention to all of them.
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.