IS Setting a Dangerous Trend, Expert Warns

IS is a relatively weak organization, says Israeli defense expert - but the precedent it sets for global jihad and brutality is lethal.

Shimon Cohen, Tova Dvorin,

Member of Islamic state
Member of Islamic state

Israeli security assessments of the threat posed by Islamic State (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS) to the region indicate that its lawlessness, not the group itself, threaten the Middle East, according to a recent article.

Dr. Yoram Schweitzer, of the Institute for National Security Studies, served as a strategic consultant Counterterrorism Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defense, and was formerly head of the Department Against International Terrorism.

According to Schweitzer, the IDF believes that the chances that IS constitutes a real threat to countries such as Jordan and Iran are slim to none. The real danger, he claims, is that IS's territory is serving as a breeding ground and refuge for terrorists in general, and that they are being trained to bring terrorism to Europe and North America. 

"The brutal actions of ISIS are not a novelty to those who follow its exploits since its establishment was announced six months ago," Schweitzer said.

However, says the new focus on the group in the media is a result of its takeovers of large swaths of land in Iraq.

"These moves were accompanied by killing campaigns unusual in their scope and cruelty, which reached new proportions in recent weeks with the massacre perpetrated against the defenseless Yazid," he added.

According to Schweitzer, the organization's secret strength is first and foremost in crushing weak opponents. He noted that IS has only taken limited areas in Iraq and Syria; elsewhere, they have been met with resistance.

"This is due to the fact that there are now two failed states, in which the central government suffers from a lack of legitimacy among citizens and the lack of effective control over parts of the territory," he said.

The instability allows IS to move in, he noted - with little to no resistance. "The army in Iraq failed and lacks fighting spirit, while the Syrian army is engaged primarily in maintaining the survival of the regime in the major cities of the country. With an empty government this leaves IS relative freedom of action in schools and in the cities of these countries."

Is IS limited to Iraq and Syria? Probably not, he said. According to Schweitzer, IS is likely to deepen its territorial grip in the heart of Jordan or Turkey - but only in rural areas. Close to major cities, they will encounter significant military opposition that will see their movement limited, he postulated.

Power is money, money is power

The main danger of IS, according to Schweitzer, is that the organization has the ability to channel money and advanced weaponry to other terrorist organizations in the Middle East - especially those close to the territory it controls.

In June, the group became the 'world's richest' terrorist group, having seized lands, weaponry, and assets worth roughly two billion dollars. 

"This can be used basis for promoting and distributing subversive activities of terrorism, that could deepen instability in the region," he says. 

"Such an area controlled by a radical element like IS gives the terrorists a messianic bent, which encourages jihadists and Salafists around the world to find shelter [there], use it as an exit point for terrorist activity and as a refuge afterward," he added." It will serve as the basis for training, mobility of people and weapons to and from it and fulfill the dreams Al Qaeda left two decades ago." 

This training, he said, makes Al Qaeda's training camps seem harmless by comparison. These young people, he said, who have gathered from around the world to train at the ground zero of IS terror will return to their home countries with terrorist cells that will be active within a relatively short time.

"IS has crossed red lines and raised the bar for brutality - which was already very high, as set by Al Qaeda and its affiliates - to new heights," Schweitzer said. "These may become the norm in future confrontations - not only from IS, but also on the part of other terror organizations, which are absorbing inspiration and ideas from it."

"The presence of thousand of young Muslims from around the world, including Western civilians being recruited in the war zones in Syria, who are participating in atrocities in Iraq and Syria, are being indoctrinated and gaining combat experience and skills in terrorist and guerrilla warfare - this is the true, serious threat," he added. "The accumulated experience is expected to be translated into terror attacks in their home countries."

As such, according to Schweitzer, "the concerns of recent leaders of the United Kingdom, United States and France from the export of terrorism from the Middle East to their home countries have a solid basis in fact."

"Presumably, even if the momentum of IS was curbed, as expected, by powerful forces, the phenomenon of global jihad by IS and its affiliates is expected to win the support of a new generation of jihadists," he added. "These seek to try and renew the system of international terrorism which was largely halted over the past decade and a quarter due to the 9/11 attacks."

"It is time for the international community to wake up and get back to work to curb the IS phenomenon, before it is required to do so in the heart of their own cities," he warned. 

Schweitzer's call to action surfaces hours after the US authorized airstrikes on IS in Syria, and weeks after airstrikes were carried out on the organization in Iraq. IS in response threatened to attack Americans "in any place" if U.S. airstrikes in Iraq hit its people.