Displaying exceptional operational mobility and speed, Sunni Islamist militias were unstoppably on the march this week, trampling many of the obstacles in their path. Al Qaeda’s Islamic State, the Syrian Nusra Front, the Palestinian Hamas, the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad and others of their ilk, went from strength to strength.
The belligerent forces of fundamentalist Islam fighting this week in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel are bound by the single common thread of fundamentalist Islam. But their adversaries have not yet drawn this connection, each fighting a lone battle against a separate local foe, instead of pooling their resources and tackling them all at once. Their failure to do so grants the Islamist aggressors a major advantage.
Al Qaeda’s invasion of Lebanon this week (see a separate item for details on this issue), ramped up to five the number of Mid East armies currently doing battle with Islamist militias, counting also Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
The Israeli and Iraqi armies are equipped with sophisticated US weaponry, Bashar Assad’s troops bear Russian arms and the Lebanese army is supplied with European-made hardware. Yet the relatively small and poorly armed Islamist forces keep on making major territorial and military gains and driving their adversaries into retreat.
Islamist fight to win with no bars held. Armies fight to contain
DEBKA Weekly’s counter-terror and military experts offer a simple answer to this conundrum: The devil is in the motive. The two sides are fighting on two disconnected levels: The Islamists are in it to win, with no bars held or qualms, so that every advance becomes a strategic victory opening out to the next one, whereas the five regular armies are not fighting to vanquish the aggressor – only to contain him.
Their holds-barred strategy allows the Islamist militias to live to fight another day.
This is what happened in the Gaza conflict when Israel, after much arm-twisting by Washington, sat down in Cairo for indirect negotiations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad on a durable ceasefire, before its army was allowed to complete its mission.
Indeed, Israel withdrew its ground forces from the enclave after 28 days of hard fighting, without a clear victory over the Palestinian terrorists, in compliance with the wishes of the administration of US President Barack Obama.
By denying Israel’s armed forces a hard-won victory, Washington also dropped a spanner in the emerging pact between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel to combat the Muslim Brotherhood and its offspring, Hamas.
US urges Israel to talk peace, although Palestinian terrorists unbowed
US Secretary of State John Kerry jumped straight onto the Egyptian ceasefire bandwagon by calling on Israel and Palestinian leaders to use the 72-hour truce that began Tuesday morning as a stepping-stone to restarting far-reaching peace negotiations.
Kerry said both sides needed to take a “bigger, broader approach to the underlying solution of two states," adding, “I believe that the situation that has now evolved will concentrate people's minds on the need to get back to the negotiations and try to resolve the issues."
This pie-in-the-sky rhetoric vividly illustrated the starkly unrealistic grasp of the Islamists’ capabilities and aspirations which dominates political thinking in the West and some Mid East countries.
The war in Gaza is far from over, and no one know what is still to come, yet Kerry is already leaping ahead to mission impossible – peace in the Middle East.
As the US secretary waxed eloquent on his pet theme, the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and its Syrian ally, the Nusra Front, marched into northeastern Lebanon, seizing on fresh prey, the Lebanese Army.
Yet another IS force drove east into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG), where they quickly got the better of the US- and Israeli-trained and equipped Kurdish Peshmerga army.
Another Western-Israeli debacle in Kurdistan
Although a large US military delegation in the KRG capital of Irbil is reporting home urgently on disastrous major Al Qaeda successes, Obama has yet to make the call to strike at the aggressors (see a separate item in this issue for more on Iraq).
The Peshmerga’s initial defeat is the second major blow Israel and the IDF have suffered this week. While there is no obvious link between Gaza and Irbil, the two are one of a kind for the Mid East’s radical Islamist predators.
They connect the IDF’s premature withdrawal from Gaza and the IS win over the Kurdish army and come up with a double whammy against the Zionists inflicted by Islamist forces. After the Netanyahu government was made to toe the Obama administration line in the Gaza crisis, Al Qaeda sees no force in the neighborhood capable of stopping its regional juggernaut.
This issue of DEBKA Weekly looks at the four active Islamist war arenas in the Middle East: Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon and the next frontier – Saudi Arabia.