Jewish Light Editorial: Israeli Cr-ISIS

As Israel wrestles with the horrific abduction and death of three young hitchhikers, the broader Middle East threatens to become undone in more ways than one.

Not only will the Israeli government undoubtedly continue to retaliate against what it has contended was a Hamas kidnapping operation, but it will have its hands full monitoring and preparing responses to the sinister march across the Levant by the terrorist Sunni group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

With a stunning rapidity, the map not only of Iraq but the volatile region is threatening to be redrawn by ISIS’ early military successes. No one, from experienced analysts to intelligence officers to the media, seemed to anticipate how quickly its fighters would conquer and occupy almost a third of Iraq.

At this writing, ISIS has proclaimed its “independent state” in much of Iraq and Syria and has claimed the mantle of supremacy over all other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda, whose leaders have denounced ISIS as, if you can believe it, too violent.

No less a figure than Michael Hayden, former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, proclaimed on a Sunday talk show that “Iraq as a state no longer exists,” and he believes that Iraq’s “Humpty Dumpty” cannot be put back together again. Eight years ago Vice President Joe Biden predicted three separate Iraqi states with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish sovereigns, and that foresight might prove true unless ISIS domination can be headed off. Right now, that looks doubtful at best.

How the current ISIS campaign and military responses play out could have profound consequences for Israel. Here’s just a sampling of the countries and players involved and how outcomes related to them could alter the current balance of the region.

1)  Iraq, Part I: A unified Iraq that fends off ISIS and in which Shia, Sunnis and Kurds are accorded fair shares of the ruling coalition would be useful but seems highly unlikely. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shia who has systematically pushed out Sunnis and Kurds from his government and is allied with the fanatic Shia regime in Iran. The chances of status quo seem small.

2) Iraq, Part II: ISIS may attempt to capture Baghdad, setting off a bloody civil war between its terrorist Sunni fighters and those of Shia militant groups who have shown more ability and willingness to fight than the ineffectual and largely disloyal Iraqi army. This would essentially pit two sworn enemies of Israel against one another, which at least in the short term could ease some of the pressures on the Jewish State. Once there’s a winner, however, watch out.

3) Syria: ISIS could potentially march on Damascus, ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the process.  Currently, Israeli leaders prefer the “Devil They Know” Assad to a breaking of Syria into several statelets under the control of ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

4) Jordan: The humanitarian crisis that already exists among Syrian refugees and the strain the refugees put on countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey could further destabilize the region. Jordan, a moderate Arab state which still honors a peace treaty with Israel, is already bursting at the seams with more than 500,000 Syrian refugees. If a like number of Iraqi refugees stream into Jordan, it could bring about a collapse of the moderate Hashemite regime of King Abdullah II, which would result in Israel being surrounded on all sides by hostile forces.

5) Lebanon and Hezbollah: Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group based in Lebanon, which is fighting to keep Assad in power, and which has fought against the ISIS onslaught, could become bogged down in a protracted conflict with ISIS. The old expression “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” would be doubled in value if two sworn enemies of Israel are prevented from inflicting terror attacks on Israel. Hamas, the Sunni terrorist group which is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, would also be further isolated in such a scenario, which could conceivably take some of the pressure off of Israel.

6) Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin, always seeking to expand his and Russia’s power and influence, has sent jet fighter planes to the Maliki regime in Baghdad, helping to prop up the autocrat who is being described as a “Shia Saddam Hussein.” A Russian-backed victory by Maliki would change the power dynamics in the region against the interests of Israel and moderate Arab regimes.

If all of the above possible scenarios are causing your head to spin, it is an understandable reaction. The situation in Iraq is extremely fluid and each day brings more conflicting stories of this or that advance by one side or another. However the ISIS crisis plays out, it is clear that Israel must remain strong enough, and supported sufficiently by the United States, to defend itself against any possible outcome. Alas, as the aforementioned scenarios demonstrate, it is far too early to predict with any certainty what that outcome will be.