In the last couple of weeks, most of us have been introduced to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). They used to be part of al-Qaida but are now running on their own. How dangerous do they have to be for al-Qaida to decide to disassociate themselves from this new splinter group in February 2014? Very dangerous!
ISIS, in its unrecognized and self-proclaimed status as an independent state, would claim that they comprise Iraq and parts of Syria with potential future claims further into the Levant such as Lebanon and even Jordan and Israel. The state was (un)officially formed in 2013 by its current leader, somewhat of an enigmatic figure known as Abu Bakr al-Baghadi who also claims to be the state's emir (prince). He wants to re-establish a caliphate and Shariah law in the region. In 2011, he was put on the U.S. State Department list of most wanted terrorists with a capture reward of $10 million. He adheres to the Sunni sect of Islam. While it is not my intention to diminish the danger posed by organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood and many others, I think ISIS needs to be placed in a different category for three main reasons.
ISIS is very organized: While it is still described as a terrorist organization, it's also known as a militia that is well-trained in guerrilla warfare. In the last couple of weeks, ISIS' methodical advance into Iraq with the invasion and takeover of many key cities has shown great organizational skills from a military standpoint. This is unusual for a group of that sort where corruption, chaos and military inadequacy are usually the norm. The Washington Post reported that "what stands out is the level of cohesion and in some cases professionalism inherent to a well-trained and organized force. ISIS fighters can be seen wearing American-style body armor vests, or 'plate-carriers,' with magazine pouches well organized and the gear tight to their chest, the way U.S. troops would wear it."
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ISIS is highly weaponized: As a matter of fact, ISIS seems to have the weapons it needs to continue to advance in the region. Some of these weapons were acquired from countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These countries – at least on the surface – are diplomatic "friends" of the United States. Of course, what goes on behind closed doors is a different story. Additionally, as ISIS continues to push their way into Iraq, massive amounts of people (military and civilians) are fleeing ahead of the invasion, leaving much property behind, including a large amount of weapons both mobile and of the heavy kind. ISIS appears well-trained to use a variety of these weapons, especially the more portable kind.
ISIS has cash flow: ISIS is a relatively new organization, yet it is already worth $2 billion, making it the wealthiest terrorist organization on the planet and even wealthier that a few small countries. It recently stole over $420 million when it took over the Iraqi town of Mosul. Another source of revenue is the money drawn from the oil rigs they control in Syria. In other words, ISIS doesn't rely so much on the financial aid of other countries that might share its ideology. This increases its autonomy on every level. If, or frankly, more like when, they take over more critical cities or tactical areas, we can expect another increase in cash flow.
But the curse of ISIS might not remain a Middle East crisis. It will spread to the rest of the globe unless those able to nip it in the bud act very soon. Other terrorist groups and sleeper cells in the West will get emboldened by this surge of arrogant takeover in the Middle East and might join ISIS. Iran might have to get involved to help their archenemy, Iraq. The U.S. could get involved as well, but with the current administration, we don't have the leadership capable of making the right decisions. If the U.S. ever gets involved, there is also the risk of joining forces with groups and countries with which we share very little ideologically. Befriending our enemies with the short-term goal of stopping a greater enemy might end up leaving the United States more vulnerable.
Of course, ISIS might not be militating for the destruction of Israel as its primary goal, but rest assured that after seeing what they are doing to other sects within Islam, I am convinced they will have no mercy on the Jewish people. They are jihadists after all, so we must understand that part of their jihad, or "struggle," is to rid the planet of the "little satan," Israel, and the "great satan," the United States. As a matter of fact, Israel and Jordan are included in the territory of their utopian caliphate.
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ISIS is moving fast, making great progress and is intimidating the boldest regimes in the region. Israel could come and give Iraq and Syria a hand in that matter and even be quite good at it – but why should they? No matter what they do and how they do it, they will probably be blamed at the end. I suspect that they will seriously consider involvement the minute ISIS controls some of Lebanon and/or Syria. This might not be in a so distant future.
Unfortunately, it looks like a lot more lives will be lost in Iraq and Syria in the near future. But to most Americans, it is far enough away not to be a concern, until of course gas prices rise to $5 or $6 per gallon right before our summer vacation … then it's personal!