Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Editorial: Defend our Western flank

Al-Ahram Weekly

When it comes to ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), many questions remain unanswered. One that is rarely addressed is that why the group has refrained, despite its extended tentacles, from attacking Israel, a country that would have seemed a primary target for the kind of radical militancy ISIS espouses.

Aside from a perfunctory, almost vague, threat ISIS made a month ago, Israel doesn’t seem to be in the crosshairs of the world’s leading terrorist outfit.

In the aftermath of the recent Paris attacks, a wealth of reporting on ISIS gave rise to other intriguing questions.

We now know, for example, that anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 Western nationals serve in ISIS ranks in Iraq and Syria.

Some of those have come back to their countries and told detailed stories about their experience. From their testimonies, readily available on YouTube, it is clear that almost all of them found their way into ISIS-held territories through Turkey. It is also evident that much of the recruiting took place via social media.

Turkey, as everyone knows, is part of the international coalition against ISIS. But it is not clear what measures, if any, it is taking to limit the influx of fighters to the radical group.

ISIS, we’re also told, is selling anywhere between $2 million and $4 million worth of oil a day. Who’s buying that oil?

The answer to that question must have been known for a while. But it wasn’t until Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that Moscow finally made the point in public, accusing Ankara of buying oil from ISIS-held territories.

How can one explain that such a simple fact escaped the attention of a mighty international coalition, with the most sophisticated weaponry and espionage capabilities on earth?

How come none of the members of the said coalition took Turkey to task over buying oil from the radical group?

Following the Paris attacks, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that ISIS is running nearly 46,000 Twitter accounts and has nearly 1,000 video clips circulating on the Internet.

How is it that no international action was taken to ban ISIS from cyberspace? On 19 November, the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously to ban all ISIS websites.

Telegram, an online messaging service supported by a Russian entrepreneur, also banned all accounts by ISIS sympathisers.

Such action is yet to be repeated by other nations and web services. And one only wonders why it took so long in the first place to act on this front. Furthermore, numerous reports mentioned how ISIS was receiving funds and hardware from regional countries. But so far, one cannot see a meticulous and wide-reaching campaign conducted to identify the routes and sources of such funds and materiel. Why?

One can only surmise that the world merely wants to contain ISIS, rather than destroy it. At least, this is the impression one gets from listening to Obama’s recent speech about ISIS. This is the impression also that one gets from contemplating the international coalition’s plan on confronting ISIS.

Despite the moral outrage and emotional pledges made by world leaders, no concrete action was taken that suggests a serious shift in strategy against ISIS.

Meanwhile, the group’s infiltration into Libya is deepening. Not only is ISIS tightening its grip on Sirte, its allies are consolidating their power in Benghazi.

On 1 December, the London-based newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that ISIS members have obtained a flight simulator and are using it for training. ISIS seems to be investing heavily into its branch in Libya, a development that poses immediate threat to Egypt’s national security.

On more than one occasion, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi warned against ISIS taking root in Libya, and demanded an end to the ban on weapons supply to the Libyan army that is battling ISIS and like-minded groups. This demand was mostly unheeded, and the situation in Libya is growing more perilous by the day. Egyptian officials believe that Libya-based terrorists are trying to infiltrate to Egypt through the Western Desert.

To stem this threat, Egypt had for months given support to Operation Dignity, the campaign General Khalifa Haftar is leading against a coalition of Islamist militant groups.

Unfortunately, the Haftar-led campaign doesn’t seem to have made much progress so far. On 2 December, the field commander of Operation Dignity, Colonel Ali Al-Thomn, was killed in a landmine explosion during operations in Benghazi.

When ISIS murdered 21 Egyptian Copts in February 2015, Egypt bombed the group’s positions. And there have been more raids on ISIS positions in Libya’s eastern parts recently, but it is not yet clear who waged those raids. Egypt cannot allow ISIS to become entrenched on its western borders, and may have to take action against it before things get worse. When Russia recently intervened in Syria in October 2015, Moscow took this step independently of the international coalition operating in that country. Its intervention was for reasons of its own national security. On the same grounds, Egypt may have to do the same in Libya. The threat of ISIS is all too real and immediate. It calls for a timely and effective response.

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