The Dangerous Myth of the Moderate Jihadists

Behind the agreement with the Taliban that enabled the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, writes Lorenzo Vidino, is a tacit understanding that has emerged in the past six or seven years between the U.S. and various jihadist groups:

The roots of the unspoken pact can be traced to the second half of 2014, when Washington assembled an international coalition to fight Islamic State. To jihadist strategists—and most people in the region—the rationale behind U.S. intervention was clear: Islamic State faced military attacks not when it conquered a territory the size of France between Syria and Iraq and ruled it with medieval barbarity, but only when it began beheading Westerners in Hollywood-style video productions and attracting thousands of Western foreign fighters who, from the safety of the caliphate, issued threats against their home countries.

The lesson was clear: lay low, don’t behead Westerners, don’t plan attacks in the West, and Washington lets you be. . . . Few in Washington would dare articulate it in these terms, but a deal that allows the United States to spare lives and money by entrusting “moderate jihadists” to govern spaces that seem to be ungovernable by any other force is a form of realpolitik that appeals to many. If it is accompanied by a narrative that paints “moderate jihadists” as an authentic expression of the local population and is sprinkled by occasional condemnation of human-rights abuses or even some toothless sanctions to clean one’s conscience, it all seems quite reasonable.

But there are solid reasons to temper enthusiasm for this deal with the devil. . . . [M]ost importantly, its fatal flaw is in the deal’s underlying assumption. Dividing the jihadist movement into “moderates” (the Taliban, and even al-Qaeda) Washington can do business with and extremists (Islamic State) that are the only real enemy is a misguided approach.

A more fitting categorization is between gradualist and impatient jihadism, the former pragmatically willing to bend its strategic posture temporarily to attain goals while the latter is more uncompromising. Gradualist jihadism is not more moderate but simply tactically smarter, adapting in the short term so as to be in a better position to do what is in the DNA of all jihadists: destabilize the larger region and attack the West. The difference between the two is not so much in the end goals but in the time frame.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Al Qaeda, ISIS, Jihadism, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela