Islamic State Is Using a Protection Racket to Fund Its Resurgence in Syria

While it has been over two years since U.S. forces and their local allies drove Islamic State (IS) out of its territorial base in northeastern Syria, the organization has not disappeared. It is in fact trying to rebuild by extorting money from the civilian population. Haid Haid writes:

In June, IS sleeper cells were linked to eighteen attacks and sixteen deaths, on par with IS-linked violence in May, when fourteen died in 26 attacks. The group’s survival is due, in part, to its ability to extort business owners to finance their operations and regrow their networks.

For months, IS has been using the threat of violence to operate extensive protection rackets in the Raqqa and Deir Ezzor governorates. The inability of local authorities to provide sufficient protection from IS has left many people with no choice but to pay. . . . Unless the conditions that enable the group to finance itself are addressed, the group’s survival will almost certainly be guaranteed.

Estimating IS’s earnings from illicit shakedowns is difficult, but media reports suggest the group is generating several million dollars a year this way. While far less than the $80 million a month the group was generating in 2015, it is more than enough to make the group dangerous. IS’s territorial defeat in 2019 reduced its state-like financial responsibilities, and its current cash flow is more than sufficient to finance its hit-and-run operations and ensure its survival.

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Read more at Arab Weekly

More about: ISIS, Syria, War on Terror

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy