ISRAEL. THE NEW TARGET OF THE ISIS?
Amid the tumult of the Mid-East we can find civil wars, the restoration of military regimes, religious contests between Shiites and Sunnis, hegemonic problems between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a rebirth of Russian influence and the dissociation between US politics and that country’s military strategy. These circumstances have upset the balance of powers in the region; they have caused friendships and accords to end, made alliances unstable and, all in all, have produced politically unnatural harmony between some states that were previously enemies.
In the end, the interests of each single nation have emerged as being paramount. Politics and diplomacy have made way for pragmatism. Barriers and alliances are finished and each nation has tried to make a profit from the rising social chaos.
In the fight against the ISIS, Israel has so far kept a very low profile because they thought that the Islamic movement did not constitute a clear and present threat for Israel. The ISIS was, after all, useful, because it weakened the various hostile Arab nations and organizations that represent a threat for Israel, such as the Hezbollah.
According to the Israeli army, the Hezbollah have suffered roughly 1500 casualties and three times as many wounded in their fight against the ISIS; a circumstance that leaves Jerusalem smiling. Yet there are always two sides to the medal, because, if Assad manages to hold on to power, the merits acquired by the Hezbollah during the war against the ISIS will allow the Party of God to thrive from Syrian support and to keep a direct line with Iran, which is the main military sponsor of the Lebanese Shiite movement. Also, the fighting experience gained by the Shiite militias could render them more dangerous in a future confrontation with Israel.
A distant observer
So far Israel has not mixed itself much with
the war in Syria; they monitor the events and occasionally
land air strikes against the Hezbollah or provide medical
assistance (and military assistance, as demonstrated by
the seizure by Assad’s army of a load of Israeli weapons)
to some of the rebel factions. At any rate, any future
Syrian layout without Assad may represents a bigger threat
yet for Israel.
Israel’s primary objectives are to solve the problem of the intifada in the occupied territories and to strike against Hamas in Gaza. Once these primary issues are solved, then Israel may work to find a political positioning in the regional events. After all, the brutality displayed daily by the ISIS distracts the attention of the international community from the repressive measures enacted by Israel against the Palestinians and on the growth of the Israeli colonies within the occupied territories. The world-famous ‘Palestinian’ issue, which was once a central element in the region, has now been cast aside to make room for bigger problems. There are no ongoing negotiations – Israel doesn’t want any – no concessions or grants; there isn’t even the international pressure to force such concessions on Israel’s part. And it is now clear that, by refraining from supporting the Palestinian struggle, the ISIS has suffered from very few frictions with Israel. Israel is convinced, after all, that the ISIS will sooner or later be destroyed, while the Palestinian issue will remain.
Truth be told, it’s not just Israel that has ducked out on the issue of the Islamic militias. The ISIS itself has kept a distance – for the time being – from the Palestinian issue because, in the Caliph’s mind, the Palestinian claims are of a territorial nature, while al Baghdadi pursues a goal of global expansion, where nations and borders have no real reason for existing. The Palestinians fight in the name of a peoples, while the ISIS fights in the name of all Muslims. Hamas is closely linked to the Hezbollah and the Hezbollah are one of the main military adversaries of the ISIS. In addition to this, the Palestinian National Authority and the OLP are non-religious organizations.
So why should one rally in support of the Palestinian cause when its’ population doesn’t fit the religious guidelines of the ISIS? In a July 2015 video the ISIS even threatened to eradicate Hamas from Gaza. Last year, in Gaza, there were dozens of attacks and clashes between Hamas militants and ISIS sympathizers. These clashes occurred despite statements by the Israeli Intelligence Minister Katz about an ongoing collaboration between Hamas and the ISIS against Israel. Rhetoric left aside, it is more likely that Israel and the ISIS be united in the name of their hatred for Hamas.
But in the Middle Eastern chaos there are even more remote and unlikely possibilities, such as that of Israel making “secret” pseudo-alliances with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries (secret contacts between the two sides have already taken place) in order to contrast the Iranian threat.
The interests of Sunni nations and those of
Israel converge in the name of the nuclear program. And it
is this precise circumstance – after the signing of the
international accord – that has soured the relationship
between Natanyahu and the US President Obama. In this
respect, and with the nearing of a change at the helm of
the White House, it is better for Israel to keep a low
profile in the region and wait for a better time to act.
Police examining the aftermath to the March 19 bomb in Istanbul
Yet it will be hard for Israel to stick to this policy. On March 19, in Istanbul, an ISIS sympathizer blew himself up amid a group of tourists, killing 3 Israelis and wounding 11 more. And there were news of a possible ISIS attack against Jewish schools in turkey, forcing the Israeli government to raise their level of alert and invite its citizens to leave the country. During the previous months there had already been signs of danger: in October 2015, during the Palestinian revolts, the ISIS had aired a video in Hebrew in which they announced their intent to eliminate every last Jew in Jerusalem. In December, Al Baghdadi released a recorded message, threatening to attack Israel in the near future. Then, a few weeks ago, a new video was published in which Ayman al Zawahiri invites the Salafite militiamen to unite in their fight against Israel. A similar statement by Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, followed shortly thereafter.
What is most worrisome for Israel is that, on the 7th and 8th of May, they received about ten messages simultaneously from various ISIS-controlled territories (Syria, Iraq, Sinai, Libya). Each of the messages threatened Israel in what appeared to be a planned and motivated strategy. It is not yet clear whether this is a strategy aimed at motivating the Salafite combatants, who are facing a difficult situation, or if it is a sudden change in policy.
Either way, Israel has never underestimated
the threat posed by the ISIS which, apart from being
present on the Syrian front, is also stationed in the
Sinai (the “Beit al Maqdess” militias, officially
affiliated with the ISIS). On July 3, 2015, three Grad
missiles were fired from the Sinai into Israeli territory,
forcing the government to close the border with Egypt.
There are therefore two potential threats for Israel, one
in the north, along the border with Syria, and one in the
south, near the border with the Sinai peninsula. In August
2012, a group of Beit al Maqdess combatants crossed into
Israel from Egypt on board a military vehicle. The vehicle
was immediately destroyed by an Israeli fighter jet.
A new brigade
To face these growing threats, Israel has put
together a new commando Brigade dedicated to
non-conventional warfare. The Brigade is made up of
various units of the Israeli army’s special forces. These
include the unit specialized in covert operations in enemy
territory (the “Duvdevan”), the one specialized in
interfering with enemy systems and in data gathering and
transmission (the “Maglan” or “Unit 212”), the special
counter-guerrilla unit (the “Egoz”) and the special
reconnaissance unit (the “Rimon”). This new Brigade is an
elite corp that is ready to face the enemy outside
Israel’s national territory with non-conventional
engagement methods. Furthermore, Israel has set up a new
secret central command from which they can monitor the
borders and the nearby nations; the command has the
capacity to monitor multiple missions at once.
Israel’s danger list
Iran (which has recently tested a ballistic
missile with a range of 2000 kilometers) tops the Israeli
danger list, the Palestinian conflict comes in second and
the ISIS threat is only third. Even when examined
militarily, the ISIS is no match for the Israeli army –
both numerically and qualitatively. It doesn’t possess
adequate weapons, has no aviation and is now facing
growing difficulties both in Syria and in Iraq.
The two potentially dangerous fronts for Israel – Sinai and Syria – are already covered by other national armies (the Egyptian army in the Sinai, the Russian, Syrian army and their allies in Syria). In both theaters of war a direct confrontation between the ISIS and the Israeli army appears to be an unlikely possibility for the time being (despite the video and voice recordings). On the third front – the Jordanian one – the ruling Hashemite monarchy is one of the Caliph’s most formidable foes.
Of course, just like Europe and Turkey, Israel is also exposed to terrorist attacks against its citizens and institutions, both at home and abroad – like the recent attack in Istanbul. This kind of threat is difficult to foresee and oppose, not to mention the fact that it should be opposed by the country that suffered the attack. Israel is very active in the international collaboration against terrorism but its knowledge of the ISIS is limited compared to other kinds of terror.
Inside Israeli borders, the Shin Bet monitors the Arab and Muslim community to discover any potential infiltration by the ISIS and to spot sympathizers and emulators of the Caliphate. Two recent incidents have caused Israeli authorities some worries. On February 7, in Ashkelon, a Sudanese national stabbed a soldier in a bus station before being gunned down. The man had previously been jailed in Israel for violent crimes. Then, towards the end of March, two Palestinians were arrested in east Jerusalem as they prepared to carry out an attack with a car-bomb. Authorities have found that the two were affiliated with the ISIS and that they had attempted to travel to Syria. Alas, there is still no equation that can explain the correlation between the growing terrorist attacks in Israel and the decisions or intentions of the ISIS.
The two attacks are currently considered to
be isolated incidents but they nonetheless rang a bell.
There is currently no overlapping of the Palestinian
claims with the claims of the ISIS, but the Caliph’s
organization is still appealing, especially to young
Muslims. It is a threat that Israel must not
underestimated, seen as there are roughly 1,7 million
Arabs in Israel, making up about 20,7% of the country’s