Islamic State’s Master Plan Revolves around a Long War with the West

April 21 2017

In The Master Plan, Brian Fishman traces the history of Islamic State (IS) from its origins as al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch through to the present. In many ways, Fishman argues, IS has remained loyal to a seven-stage plan drawn up by one of Osama bin Laden’s deputies shortly after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Kyle Orton writes in his review:

Al-Qaeda held that while the “near enemy” (local Arab regimes) had the support of the “far enemy” (the West, led by the U.S.), it could not be toppled. The master plan identified two exceptions—Iraq and Syria—where the regimes could be brought down without a need to sever them from the West first. Indeed, at the time the plan was being written, Saddam Hussein was clearly on borrowed time, courtesy of the [imminent] U.S. invasion. . . .

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [the founder of IS] was in Baghdad by May 2002 and found throughout Iraq large, powerful Salafist networks that allowed the IS movement to find a foothold quickly. The regime had allowed [these] networks to grow, partly due to Hussein’s increasing Islamization of the country, but also because a mortally weakened regime was unable to restrain them. . . .

Fishman’s book punctures a number of myths about the history of IS. It is often said that IS turned to international attacks when its “caliphate” started to contract. [But] IS was always focused on the West; it just had the West on its doorstep between 2003 and 2011 [in the form of American and allied forces in Iraq]. . . .

While Gulf donors and the Saudi government are [frequently accused of] assisting IS, the reality is that, to the extent states have assisted the rise of IS, the real villains are Iran, [which sheltered important figures during the movement’s formative years], and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Assad provided IS a hinterland that helped it ride out defeat in Iraq and facilitated its recruitment of foreign fighters during the entire period of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Once this terrorist network turned on his regime, the support did not end.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Al Qaeda, Iraq, ISIS, Osama bin Laden, Politics & Current Affairs, Saddam Hussein

Lessons for the U.S. from Israel’s 2007 Bombing of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor

March 23 2018

In 2007, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan came to Washington with overwhelming evidence that Syria, with North Korean help, had built a nuclear reactor for military use. After a debate among his advisers, President Bush told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had chosen to pressure Bashar al-Assad diplomatically to give up his nuclear program. Israel itself then bombed the reactor, which was located in an area that in a few years would become the heartland of Islamic State. Earlier this week, for the first time, Jerusalem publicly took responsibility for the attack. (Amnon Lord explores possible reasons for that decision here.) Elliott Abrams—then the deputy national security adviser for the Middle East—related the discussion within the White House over what to do about the reactor, and also explained what could be learned from the affair, in a 2013 article for Commentary:

The Israelis believed that if they [or American officials] spoke about the strike [after it happened], Assad might be forced to react to this humiliation by trying to attack Israel. If, however, we all shut up, he might do nothing—nothing at all. He might try to hide the fact that anything had happened. And with every day that passed, the possibility that he would acknowledge the event and fight back diminished. That had been the Israeli theory, and the Israelis knew their man. We maintained silence and so did Israel—no leaks. As the weeks went by, the chances of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation grew slim and then disappeared. Syria has never admitted that there was a reactor at the site. . . .

Two final points are worth noting. First, in May 2008, Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria were publicly announced in Istanbul. The discussions had begun secretly in February 2007, and obviously had continued after the Israeli strike on [the reactor]. It would appear that the strike . . . made the Syrians more, not less, desirous of talking to the Israelis because it made them afraid of Israeli power. It also made them more afraid of American power until we undermined our own position, which is the second point.

A very well-placed Arab diplomat later told us that the strike had left Assad deeply worried as to what was coming next. He had turned Syria into the main transit route for jihadists going to Iraq to kill American soldiers. From Libya or Indonesia, Pakistan or Egypt, they would fly to Damascus International Airport and be shepherded into Iraq. Assad was afraid that on the heels of the Israeli strike would come American action to punish him for all this involvement. But just weeks later, Assad received his invitation to send a Syrian delegation to [a] big international confab [organized by] then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Annapolis Conference, and according to the Arab envoy, Assad relaxed immediately; he knew he would be OK. . . .

Finally, this incident is a reminder that there is no substitute for military strength and the will to use it. Think of how much more dangerous to the entire region the Syrian civil war would be today if Assad had a nuclear reactor, and even perhaps nuclear weapons, in hand. Israel was right to bomb that reactor before construction was completed, and President Bush was right to support its decision to do so. Israel was also right in rejecting fears that the incident would lead to a larger war and in believing that it, and the United States, would be better off after this assertion of leadership and determination.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Bashar al-Assad, George W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Nuclear proliferation, Syria, US-Israel relations