The burning alive of Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh in an iron cage was not just the crossing of a new, horrifying threshold of violence; it also signified a dangerous escalation in the spreading war of terror waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
ISIS murdered the young Jordanian pilot with unimaginable brutality as early as Jan. 1 after cold calculation: They could save their prisoner’s life and use him as a crude bargaining chip for spurring back-channel dialogue with the conservative Arab regimes – or they could put him to death in a way that would amount to a declaration of war against them.
The Islamic State settled on the latter option.
Their tacticians figured that whether or not they ended the Jordanian lieutenant’s life, his fate would confront those regimes with a heated popular outcry calling for an end to their involvement in the US-led war on the jihadis: “The war on ISIS is not our war” was becoming the prevalent slogan, especially after it was publicly articulated by the Kasaesbeh Bedouin clan leaders, as the tragedy overtaking their kinsman unfolded.
The king and his security services were helpless to force the bereaved clan’s silence.
Exacerbating anti-American sentiment
ISIS timed the release of its ghastly video to coincide with Jordanian King Abdullah’s meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House and the delivery of a $1 bn check in US assistance.
The video distracted world attention and forced the pace of events.
The king had to cut short his visit to Washington and hurry home to face a dual crisis: The people were clamoring for extreme vengeance – an eye for an eye – for the Jordanian pilot’s murder and, at the same time, challenging Arab participation in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
Irrespective of the influx of US dollars, anti-American sentiment in the Arab world was climbing to a dangerous pitch.
But worst of all, the Hashemite King was jolted into discovering that the deadly Islamic State’s jihad had spilled over from Iraq and Syria into his kingdom.
Abdullah was hard put to address these predicaments.
Executing the two convicted Al Qaeda terrorists did not count as fitting revenge for the atrocity committed against the pilot. The female bomber Sajida al-Rishawi was under sentence of death anyway since 2005, when her bomb vest failed to detonate in an Amman hotel attack. Ziad al-Karbouli had also spent years in jail for setting up large-scale terrorist attacks. Both Iraqi terrorists belonged to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s violent Islamist network, which had long been relegated to jihadist history.
The viciousness and breadth of reach displayed by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State had meanwhile put even the outrageous Zarqawi’s atrocities in the shade.
ISIS poised in Sinai to target Suez and Israel
Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, laid the picture out fair and square in his annual review of national security threats to the US House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 3.
Islamic State has steadily extended its reach despite near-daily bombing of its forces, he reported. “More than two dozen extremist groups around the world have merged with or pledged allegiance to Islamic State, and its ranks continue to swell with new recruits,” the top intelligence official disclosed.
“Islamic State is expanding into unstable parts of North Africa… With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under-governed areas.”
Gen. Stewart’s assessments were strongly substantiated by the events rocking the Middle East in recent weeks.
The day after he delivered this review, ISIS fighters captured one of Libya’s largest oil fields, the al-Mabrook oil field south of Sirte.
Earlier, on Thursday, Jan. 29, the Egyptian army was the victim of the most ambitious and implacable assault ever committed by Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, the Islamic State’s operational arm in Sinai. Although Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi tried to keep this deadly assault quiet, it was impossible to conceal, when between 30 and 50 Egyptian soldiers and security officers were killed in half a dozen towns in the desert peninsula and two Suez Canal cities.
ISIS units gather on North African coast to jump on El-Sisi regime
In northern Sinai, the terrorists hit Egyptian army and police posts and bases in Rafah on the Gaza border, El Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, putting some to the torch. The battles there spilled over into the next day while, at the same time, fellow jihadi gangs sowed terror in the Canal cities of Suez and Port Said.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources disclose that the ISIS fighters who attacked the Canal cities came from Libya – not Sinai. They were detached from the hundreds of fighting men ISIS has concentrated in Benghazi and Darnah.
According to an intelligence reconstruction of the event, two ISIS gangs set out from Darnah last week, one stealing into Egypt to strike Suez and Port Said; the other making tracks for Tripoli, where they attacked the Corinthia Hotel and murdered a large group of foreigners and hotel guards.
Islamic State units are assembling in the towns and ports of the North African Mediterranean coast ready to jump into an assault on the El-Sisi regime in Cairo.
Additional jihadist groups are poised in Sinai to strike in two opposite directions – east against Israel and west against the Suez Canal, a key waterway which carries one-third of the world’s oil exports.
Jordan is the latest addition to the ISIS death list.
If President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry believe that with a sprinkling of air strikes – roughly 15-30 a day, which is barely enough to determine the course of a single hilltop battle – they can beat the surging Islamist menace, they are clearly oblivious to the writing on the wall.
It is no wonder that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to step into the void created by US policy. He has scheduled a visit to Cairo on Feb. 9 for two days of intensive talks with the Egyptian president on “bilateral and regional” affairs that range widely over Libya, Syria and Iraq – namely the war on the Islamic State – as well as taking in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.