“Lines in the Sand”
Why is ISIS different? Why is it different from all the other acronyms we have learnt to remember and fear over the last thirteen years? There is one reason in particular. Most of the last decade-and-a-half has been spent tackling terrorist groups. There have been many manifestations of them. But in Syria and Iraq, the civilised world now faces a different proposition: a terrorist army.
The current capabilities of ISIS are extraordinary. Not just the hundreds of millions of dollars to which they have access since they overran Mosul. Not just the fact that they now control some of the world’s most productive oil fields. It is not even that this is the first terrorist entity to have planes and helicopters at their disposal and more than 10,000 people to fight. This brutal army is now uniting very disparate enemies.
The cooperation of Iran and America is just one such symptom. But it must be approached unbelievably carefully, and in the knowledge that we wish Iran to lose. One of the most feared and capable Iranian terrorist leaders, Qassem Suleimani, has been on America’s radar for years. He is now in Iraq helping the attempts to push back ISIS. He was also the orchestrator of the recent plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. That the Americans would find themselves having to cooperate with an Iranian who recently attempted to carry out an act of terrorism on American soil is a demonstration of the fact that we are in unchartered waters indeed.
So what should we do now? If we are in the realm of such impossibilities where should we head next? At The Henry Jackson Society, we have spent years studying both foreign and home-grownforms of terrorism. Having taken a special interest in Iraq and Syria, we have also repeatedly stressed the way in which these types of terrorism are becoming effectively intermingled. There is no longer simply an ‘over here’ and an ‘over there.’ And we cannot choose not to fight them in one place because if we do we will have to fight them in another.
There are a number of things we must now consider. Firstly, we might have to accept that the borders of the Middle East are going to change significantly. Perhaps we will have to give up on those borders. Perhaps the only success story of Iraq – the Kurdish region in the North – should be allowed to embed itself as a viable, independent and sovereign state, accorded the rights to self-defence and independence that is the dream of most Iraqi Kurdish politicians.
Perhaps we will have to go further. Earlier this week at the HJS office, we heard from someone who relayed the possibility that if the Obama White House ever had any strategy regarding Syria it was to allow the country to become Iran’s Vietnam. But if that was the hope – and it is a stretch to see this administration seeing it through so far – then it is one that is not being actively enough pursued.
Syria has become the cauldron of the Middle East’s next major war. And while the Western media and public have endlessly replayed the rows of 2003, the Middle East has moved on and taken us by surprise. This week political leaders in the US and UK warned of terrorist attacks at home in the wake of these events. We, at HJS, agree that this is an immediate possibility. We have already warned what this terror could look like, as we saw at the Jewish museum in Brussels last month. Indeed it is what we have studied and warned about for years.
Our politicians have become good at suggesting what it is that makes our countries ‘inclusive’. This is a good moment for them to go further and suggest what we must exclude as well. As ISIS show what they are made of in Iraq, this is the moment to show that there is a brutality at home and abroad which must be fought with the utmost determination and fire wherever we find it.
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