The recent Paris attacks have opened a series of questions on security and the real strength of IS. However, one clear fact is in front of our eyes: IS strength is proportional to our weakness.
World powers division over Syria has just highlighted how easy is for groups like IS to increase their force and exploit the void created by our indecisions. IS strength has been unequivocally supported by the fragility of political institutions in Middle East, and especially after the raging war in Syria. It cannot be denied that the so-called Islamic State is a collateral effect of the western disastrous policy of “change of regime” and at the same time a sub-product of the illusory Arab spring. The weakening of secular states, pursued by the US during the Al-Qaida years, although has led to the fall of repressive regimes, created a void thus replaced by the only real organised and opposition force: Islamists groups.
While the Arab spring worked in a way in Tunisia, Egypt is the best example of how the dangerous shift to Islamism was blocked in time by the only possible resource available: a military coup. When Mubarak was ousted, and the Muslim Brotherhood won, everyone just simply knew that it would be matter of time before Egypt would be engulfed in serious troubles. The army, conscious of the danger, used its force to avoid a Libyan scenario thus blocking the contagion from the IS fever. It is true nonetheless, that Egypt is still a terrain fertile for IS infiltration and the recent attack on a Russian airliner simply shows that.
Nevertheless, it is the total failure of western policies in Syria and Iraq, that ultimately led to the growth of IS and its apparently unstoppable force. Following the steps of Libya, Western powers have made a huge miscalculation in thinking to replace easily the Assad regime with a pro-western government. Arms sent to strengthen the illusory rebel army, instead favoured the growth of all Islamist groups and ultimately of IS. In Iraq, the total disregard and animosity towards the Shia government in power, united with their own mistakes in seeking revenge against the Sunnis, soon created the fertile terrain for Sunni resistance and ultimately IS growth.
However, how really strong is the Islamic State? Is terrorism a sign of power or weakness? IS in itself is full of contradictions: fights the West but many fighters are mercenaries from Europe where most of them enjoyed life of freedom; is against idolatry and western consumerism but uses all social media platforms; destroys cultural history, belonging even to their own past, but put forward slogans of brotherhood; it fights against other Muslims, mainly Shia, and does not concern itself with the Palestine problem.
It is quite remarkable for a group claiming to be ready to install a Caliphate to notice that in all their claims Israel and the Palestinian problem has been left out. Even when they slightly consider the issue, their targets are Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, for who they fight for then?
Terrorism is never a viable political solution, inevitably leads only to two solutions: total annihilation of the group or negotiation. By the choices of targets and its political agenda, it is unlikely that IS can pursue or even is willing to negotiate. Exactly because has been born from western hypocrisy is in itself a hypocritical and cowardly group: attacks minority groups, enslave women, fight a terror war against civilians, is armed and financed by foreign donors (powers). Therefore, the question is, can be destroyed? Yes and easily.
Taking into account that its main base is in Syria and part of Iraq, and it is surrounded by major regional power, we have: Turkey in the North, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq in the North, Lebanon backed by pro-Syrian groups and Hezbollah to the West, the sea to the West can be blocked (if wanted by any major power like the US), Israel and Egypt in South-West, Jordan in the South, Iraq Shia backed government to the East and obviously Iran that support Assad, Hezbollah and the Iraqi government.
At first looks like an impressive display of power but we need to consider the following issues affecting the real fight against IS:
- Turkey could block the borders better and support the Kurds, instead of fighting them for internal reasons;
- The western powers keep living the dream of the Free Syrian Army that in reality is just non existent as long as all weapons are used against the only other legitimate ground force to counter IS, which is the regular Syrian Army. Any future agreement on Syria should be postponed after the war. They face a common enemy.
- Western powers, namely US, against Russia: the Russian campaign in Syria was denigrated and attacked before the Paris attacks, while now Putin is seen as a messiah in the fight against terror;
- Russia is also not always clear on the real targets of its campaign in Syria: internal security, defence of strategic interests or to pin point US forces?
- Western powers refusal to acknowledge the importance of other actors in the scene: Iran and its allies.
- The hypocrisy and double play of some of the so-called “allies of the West”: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE. Financing for IS comes mainly from “donors” in these countries.
- The refugee problem: open door policy or closed borders? EU has not a clear strategy and swing from an excess to the other in the assessment.
- Media propaganda and misinformation: once again serious anti-Islam slogans and total disregard for an unbiased assessment of the reality. The theory of the double standards still applies and only has as a result an increase in racism and xenophobic attacks in the western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Paris attacks and the Russian plane bombing are changing everything, as France is now ready to cooperate (at least in words) with Russia; Egypt will have to answer about its security standards as surely cannot allow tourism to disappear following the recent incidents. Calls are growing on US and the UK (the most recalcitrant in changing their views and policies towards Syria) for a coalition to destroy IS, but the risk of leaving main actors such the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and Iran out of the decisions can also expose further the West and Russia in a direct intervention that will play IS propaganda. On the other side, all powers must reconsider their circle of friends in Middle East and realise that a shift of policy towards Iran could benefit these powers in the long term better than the current dependence from questionable partners, Pakistan-US relations are a lesson.