ISIS is no existential threat to Israel
By: Amos Yadlin
Analysis: Despite trail of horrors it is leaving behind, jihadist group is operating hundreds of kilometers away from our border, and even if it were closer, it would unlikely be able to strike at Israeli residents.
The additional brutal murder of an American journalist on Tuesday by ISIS is inflaming the general panic this terror organization has spread in Israel, among other places – but this panic must end. Despite the trail of horrors it is leaving behind, ISIS is operating hundreds of kilometers away from our border, and even if it were closer, it would unlikely be able to harm Israel and its residents.
At the end of the day, we are talking about several thousand unrestrained terrorists riding pickup trucks and firing with Kalashnikovs and machine guns. Together with several other militias that have joined it (and may desert it once the military momentum grinds to a halt), ISIS is now said to include about 10,000 fighters – half of the size of Hamas’ military force. And unlike Hamas, which is indeed on our fences, ISIS has no tunnels, no artillery abilities, no ability to strategically target the State of Israel, and no allies to supply it with advanced weapons.
The threat ISIS poses to Israel as a global jihad organization is not essentially different from the threat of al-Qaeda, with which Israel has been living for more than a decade now.
Had ISIS diverted its efforts from Iraq and turned to Israel, it would have become an easy prey for the Israeli intelligence, for the Air Force planes and for the precision weapons possessed by the IDF ground forces. The moment it encounters a modern army, ISIS will get off its pickup trucks, which will reduce its ability to move towards Israel even more.
In the meantime, ISIS is preoccupied with countless other enemies, some of which are separating between them and us: The armies of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, and even its sworn Shiite enemy, Hezbollah.
The success that bought ISIS global newspaper headlines has already been mostly curtailed. It was the fruit of long preparations, which took place within a governmental void in Iraq and relied on the support of a local Sunni population that had a vested interest in acting against the Shiite government in Baghdad.
The frightening possibility that ISIS ideology would take root among the Palestinian population, including its most radical factions, is highly unlikely. This terror organization’s jihadist ideology is so radical that it has even been rejected by al-Qaeda, and we should not expect it to be seen favorably in Gaza or the West Bank. In fact, ISIS has led to an almost unbelievable broad coalition against it, all of whom seek to destroy it. Here is a short, clockwise list: Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Kurdish militias (Pêşmerge), the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Syrian army, the Lebanese army, Hezbollah and Israel.
It can take credit for another almost unbelievable achievement: It managed to return the US Army to Iraq under the Obama administration. Apart from the aerial strikes that are already taking place, US Secretary of State John Kerry is also working on building a wide international coalition to eradicate the organization.
For all these reasons, we can take our hand off the siren button. ISIS is not a significant threat to Israel in the near future, and in an odd sense, it even provides some strategic opportunities for Israel to cooperate with other states: With the US – intelligence, logistic and diplomatic partnership that would help the American effort could restore the trust between the leaderships; with Europe, such assistance could remind the Europeans that, at the end of the day, we are fighting together against the Islamic extremism; and with the region’s countries, led by the moderate Sunni states, working and trust relations could be created between the respective security communities.
The immediate danger to Israel from ISIS is that the attention in Israel and in the world would be diverted from the Iranian nuclear program, which is the real strategic danger, both to the security of the world and to the security of Israel.
Despite the horrific images emerging from Iraq and Syria, we should maintain a realistic agenda and focus on the main issue.
The most important strategic target for Israel’s national security remains unchanged: Preventing a nuclear Iran and stopping an agreement between Iran and the world powers that would fail to supervise its nuclear activity sufficiently, leaving it the ability to make a breakthrough towards a nuclear weapon within a short period of time.
**Major-General (res.) Amos Yadlin is the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and served as head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate.