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.

Read more at Foreign Policy

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

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security