Islamic State and al-Qaeda Are Still Formidable Enemies

Feb. 23 2018

According to the National Defense Strategy released by the Pentagon in January, “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” Thomas Joscelyn does not disagree. He cautions, however, that Islamic State (IS)—despite suffering major territorial losses in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan over the past two years—is far from vanquished. Neither is al-Qaeda, which in many places waits in the wings to recruit IS fighters who have survived the organization’s defeats. Joscelyn writes:

Consider the situation in Egypt. In November 2014, an al-Qaeda-linked group known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis swore its fealty to the IS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The group was then rebranded Wilayat Sinai, or the Sinai Province (of the caliphate), and pledged to fight for the caliphate’s cause. Wilayat Sinai remains a security threat to the Egyptian state. Its members blew up a Russian airliner in October 2015, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.

The bombing was the jihadists’ first successful attack on commercial aviation since the 9/11 hijackings. Wilayat Sinai has assassinated Egyptian officials, harassed locals, and conducted a series of bombings against mosques, tribesmen, and Christians. At times, the IS branch has been strong enough to capture Egyptian checkpoints and overrun security facilities. IS also spawned a terror network in mainland Egypt that has dispatched suicide bombers to strike Coptic churches, including on Palm Sunday last year.

The Sinai jihadists are so fierce that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s men haven’t been able to contain them on their own. Earlier this month, the New York Times confirmed a thinly veiled secret—Israel has been helping the Egyptians hunt down IS leaders and commanders in the northern part of the Sinai since 2015. Despite this assistance from Israel’s expert terror-hunters, Wilayat Sinai hasn’t been eradicated. . . .

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, IS loyalists fight their foes nearly every day. . . . Some claim that outfits such as Wilayat Khorasan [as its major Afghan branch is called] have merely adopted the caliphate brand and lack meaningful connections to Baghdadi’s enterprise. This is not so. The U.S. military has discovered connective tissue. General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has explained that . . . the first head of Wilayat Khorasan “went through the application process” and the group has received “advice,” “publicity,” and “some financial support” from IS [in Syria]. . . . [Meanwhile], the Taliban, [which remains closely linked to al-Qaeda], contest or control more than 40 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.

Joscelyn also mentions the two groups’ presence throughout Africa, as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

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More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Egypt, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Sinai Peninsula, U.S. Foreign policy


Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war