By Chris Deliso, Ioannis Michaletos and Matteo Albertini
ISIS-affiliated militants’ recent attacks on oil fields in Libya, coupled with the gruesome murders of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by terrorists there earlier, confirms that the terror group is expanding operations in a new theater, far from its home turf of Iraq and Syria; there it is under more concentrated attack from the Iraqi army, backed by Iran’s military and Shiite militias.
After its rapid gains last summer, ISIS has been on the defensive following months of allied bombardment, and needs to expand to new theaters to sustain its momentum and perpetuate the apocalyptic theology that, as a recent study by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic revealed, comprises the ideological core of the whole ‘Islamic State’ project.
ISIS in Libya has also been depicted in some media as posing a new trans-Mediterranean terrorist threat to the West, particularly via Italy and Greece. This threat has fueled calls for a military intervention or at least a coastal blockade, the latter being more likely than the former. Yet it is not even necessary for ISIS to reach European shores to still pose a major new threat to Western interests, economy and regional stability.
Much still remains unknown about ISIS’ strategic intentions in Libya, and what kind of impact it will have on an already fluid situation marked by infighting between two rival governments. The group’s intentions and relative strength will be tested over the next 3-6 months; broadly speaking, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, especially if the recent comments attributed to Boko Haram leaders pledging allegiance to ISIS prove to be true.
So far, international diplomacy and efforts to train and supervise Libyan national authorities have proved ineffective and limited due to security realities. Very few foreigners remain in Libya, which is negatively impacting the reliability of information coming from the country. The internationally-recognized Libyan government’s desperate pleas for arms have been stymied by mandated policy prerequisites from the West. UN-sponsored negotiations between rival Libyan administrations began in 5 March in Morocco and are set to continue with the goal of forming a national unity government.
Further, the issues of a possible liquidity crisis leading to loss of services and imports, or of elimination of the remaining gas and oil supply needed to generate electricity, are being highlighted by experts- both would lead to a situation of total chaos that groups like ISIS could exploit.
In the cumulative analysis, it is most likely that ISIS’ strategic goal is not to take over Libya as a functional state, but rather to destabilize it so much that neighboring states have to intervene more heavily than they have already. The terror group will thus use increased fighting with the neighboring Arab states as a means for attracting recruits to its cause, while trying to destabilize those countries (especially Egypt). This will be done partly to sustain jihad momentum, since ISIS faces eventual losses in Tikrit and Mosul as Iran becomes more seriously involved in taking care of business.
The ultimate goal of ISIS may be to provoke destabilization in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, and eventually hook up via the Sahel with Boko Haram and other jihadist groups, creating a wide arc of instability spanning the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Red Seas. Even if this eventuality is highly unlikely to be realized, one thing is for sure: ISIS does not lack for ambition.
The following analysis, based on numerous interviews with security experts, institutional leaders and business figures, assesses the likely upcoming tactical decisions of Islamic State activity in Libya, its potential for further destabilization and acts of violence, and the effect that this presence can have on regional security and economy. This estimate also examines some potential scenarios related to possible terrorist events affecting international commerce and European security in general.
A Predictable Eventuality: Background on Libya, Syria and the Establishment of a ‘Two-Way Channel’
First, it must be noted that no one should be surprised by what is happening now. From the beginning of the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ it was obvious that the overthrow of secular Arab dictators like Moammar Gadaffi would create a huge security vacuum, one that would eventually be filled the strongest and most violent actors.
While certain Western countries believed that their policy of ‘spreading democracy’ would work out, those security services in those countries closest to the action were more cautious.
In March 2011, when the NATO bombing of the Gaddafi government was gearing up, Balkanalysis.com reported that “Greek security planners are preparing for other risks that could accompany a protracted conflict, including refugee crises, arms smuggling and other forms of organized crime.”
READ MORE: http://www.balkanalysis.com/blog/2015/03/09/balkanalysis-com-special-report-the-isis-expansion-in-libya-and-threats-to-the-mediterranean-and-north-africa/