Friday, February 20, 2015

Stopping the Islamic State, by Ioannis Michaletos

The formidable expansion and mutation of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) deriving from the "ISIS" group, also known simply as "Daesh", is heading into a point where important and decisive measures by the international community must be taken.

The costs of a non-combat of the IS, greatly exceeds its tolerance. It has already established a firm root in both Syria and Iraq, and it has expanded its presence in Lebanon and Libya, whilst it aligned itself and collaborates with Jihadist groups in Yemen, Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan. 

Furthermore it retains cells of supporters in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and in many EU countries. The phenomena which has been numerously analyzed, of the "Jihadi volunteers" coming from dozens of countries across the world, ensures that IS has now a virtual global networking, making it far more dangerous than any other previous Jihadi structure, most notably Al Qaeda. 

Already IS has either by itself or through willing co-opts staged attacks in France, Australia, Canada, Belgium and Denmark, while numerous attempts have been canceled or been presently monitored by authorities. The costs of alerting the EU countries in particular has been already enormous and it will get worse if we take into account that IS prepares to stage spectacular destabilization campaigns against European countries by using Libya as a springboard.

Up to date the policies of all countries involved in the MENA regions conflict have been a spectacular failure. The aftermath of the "Arab Spring" has resulted - to paraphrase- in an "Afghan winter". Libya is officially classified as a failed state, Syria is already the largest training ground for terrorism in the world, and Iraq has been severely traumatized. Concurrently Egypt is still experiencing aftershocks of the 2011 "revolution", while Yemen is on the brink of collapse. Eventually the overall instability in a region from Nigeria (Boko Haram) to Pakistan will result in massive refugee waves, great upward in the global energy index and a series of peripheral wars.

Despite all the above, the international community fails until the present day to take bold steps to put an end, or at least minimize the consequences. Iraq's parliamentary commission in a recent research assess that arms shipments regularly are being sent to the IS fighters, presumably from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States supporters. In the meantime IS continues to receive "donations “made by various supporters across the Islamic communities in MENA, mostly via Hawala networks. That explains the vitality of the IS despite the significant drop in oil crude prices over the past few months and how the organization kept a tight grip and was able to further finance recruitment of new fighters, to train them and also to wage even more sophisticated attacks both physical and propaganda ones. 

Moreover Iran, Iraq but also Lebanon and Syria are still left outside a thorough security planning concerning the combat of IS, despite being the prime targets of its aggression. Thus instead of these countries to be used as a bulwark, so as to, stop the Islamic State from expansion, they are left with their own devices to deal with the situation. In sort, IS plays with little restrictions and it is a matter of time before it unleashes further destructive attacks in the region and beyond.

The Assad's regime in Damascus, has proved capable beyond any doubt to withstand pressure from all sides, thus even the most cynical adversary of the Syrian government would have realized and estimated by now, that Islamic State is no longer a threat of overtaking the main urban centers in this country and toppling the government. Therefore any support either direct or indirect of IS, cannot be correlated with any geopolitical advantages by groups aiming to achieve an administration change in Syria. 

Even the so-called "Moderate Islamic opposition" is an essentially non-existent force in the Syrian battlefield, since most of them have been absorbed either willingly or enforced into the ranks of IS. In the meantime a steady flow of volunteers from across the planet, ensures that IS has an increased fighting force which vastly exceeds the small numbers of infantry that are supposed to oppose them, via mostly US aid. In reality the ration is more than 50/1, thus there is no comparison between the fighting strength of IS against Western lead rebels. 

Air bombing campaigns; have also limited effect to IS, since it operates in a decentralized mode and in multiple state jurisdictions, being able to shift in a fast mode its mobile logistical bases and various "min-headquarters". More than 10 million USD are being spent daily for dozens of weeks by the American air force, with no practical effect so far. On the other hand, a land campaign involving "boots on the ground" would prove to be even costlier both in terms of lives lost-injured and capital expenditures. More importantly it will re-ignite "Jihadism" in the MENA region and result in multiple and unpredictable geopolitical complications.

A basic road map for the combat of IS, should first of all include the UN's general assembly, so as for the world community to show a unified diplomatic face against the threat and isolate in an immediate and absolute fashion, those supporting the Islamic State. 

Secondly intermediates, donors and all kinds of supporters should be tracked and penalized, so as to cause a major setback in IS's logistic and operational capabilities. Hostage ransoms should be universally banned from being paid-as brutal as this may seem at first glance- whilst all necessary measures should be taken to exclude IS from selling oil in the international contraband market. 

International authorities should also set up a process by which Syrian government and its secular opposition would be able to sit down and negotiate a peaceful resolution and thereafter join forces against IS. In parallel cells in Europe and in Turkey should be mapped and arrested under special judicial provisions and as a top priority.

Regarding Libya in particular, an international diplomatic process, by which leading tribe figures and the current government would be cajoled into agreeing for a unified stance and combat of IS offshoots is greatly needed. 

Turkey in particular should also be made to realize that Islamic State is a factor of instability that would make its move against Ankara sooner or later, since that is the nature of this Jihadi movement and it cannot be controlled, contained, or made into following a specific agenda, in this case that of "Neo-Ottomanism". 

Should all the above conditions are set, the decline of IS would be inevitable and will not be able to last more than a few months ahead. Otherwise the stakes are high and destabilization may hit particularly hard, even seemingly solid in political terms countries, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. 

Recent history has proved that the Middle East regimes are extremely susceptible in grass roots movements and those of trans-border nature, especially when filled and boosted with religious fanaticism.