Al Qaeda and its affiliates are swiftly rubbing out the Middle East’s national borders as relics of the past and radically remaking the military-strategic landscape enclosing Israel. While no nation-state currently poses a direct threat to the Jewish state and its military might, DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources say it is imperiled by at least six military entities loosely defined as “terror states.”
These borderless states have no formal government, although some have fashioned the rudiments of a governing infrastructure and run aggressive military forces. But they all share five common objectives: territorial expansion; the foundation of Islamic caliphates and the institution of Sharia law; the overthrow of the “old guard” regimes in the Middle East and Persian Gulf; new military and economic systems; and Israel’s destruction.
A prime example of this phenomenon is Libya, whose central government is in meltdown, supplanted by a hodge-podge of armed militias, including radical Islamists linked to Al Qaeda.
To maintain any hold on the country, the Libyan central government is obliged to negotiate and reach terms with these militias.
Acting Prime Minister Abdula al-Thinni admitted as much, when he announced July 2 that his government had made a deal with the rebel leader in control of oil ports, for him to relinquish control over two oil terminals and so end a blockade that had crippled the OPEC member’s petroleum industry.
According to sources familiar with the deal, the militias were promised in return a share in oil exporting revenues.
Oil grab for powering jihad – outside international law
For the leaders of “terror states,” oil is a glittering draw as a source of regular income and energy for powering their jihad. In Libya, Sinai, Syria and Iraq, militia chiefs and warlords hold out for a slice of the oil profits deriving from territory which they control or threaten. Petroleum is their favorite currency, given the ease with which it is traded on the black market. Thanks to Iran, which has created new black market pathways for eluding international sanctions, peddling illegal oil is a cinch.
Some “terror states” are turning themselves into oil states. Libya is one and in Syria, the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) controls most of the national oil resources. Iraq is well on its way to this achievement since the same Sunni Islamist organization has also seized control of the country’s oil refineries and large sections of its pipelines.
Operating outside international law, these new states do not defer to its institutions, bow to the political leverage of the six major world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany – or fear their military might.
Those powers are pretty helpless against terrorist aggression, which can be managed without resorting to heavy arms or advanced military technology. A bunch of suicide-bound terrorists can easily exploit the cracks – and there are plenty – in the West’s counterterrorism systems.
Israel alone directly threatened by at least five terror entities
Within the Middle East, Israel is the only state that faces a direct threat from as many as five of the six emerging terror states:
Egypt – Sinai Peninsula: The Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis terror syndicate lords it over the central Sinai Peninsula, defying all Egyptian efforts to uproot it. This week, several Sinai-based armed militias swore allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They were rewarded with the arrival of several dozen of his fighters to set up shop in this rugged wasteland.
Gaza: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and 10 other terrorist organizations, some of which also operate in Sinai, control the Gaza government. The last two weeks have proved disastrous for US, European and Palestinian Authority attempts to lend Hamas legitimacy by means of a reconciliation pact between the rival Fatah and Hamas. This plan never took off. The extremist Islamist groups now see the Gaza Strip as highly fertile soil for planting their own full-scale terror state.
Lebanon: It is the heavily armed Shiite Hizballah terror state that rules this country, overarching the weak government in Beirut.
Syria: Large swatches of eastern, northern and western Syria are dominated by two terror states, the indigenous Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Iraqi IS, which has declared its pretensions to ruling an Islamic caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq.
ISIS has the cash for mercenaries to fire its advanced missiles
Iraq: Despite Western attempts to present the IS as feebler than it looks, this jihadist organization continues to stride unstoppably through Syria and Iraq, pulling numbers of adherents as it advances. This dynamic Sunni Islamist organization is on its way to posing an eventual military threat to Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Western efforts to offset the IS steamroller, such as they were, have been tossed aside. On July 1, IS staged a military parade in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa, displaying brand new American-made tanks and artillery and Russian-made Scud D surface-to-surface missiles captured in Iraq.
American military analysts hastened to point out that the missiles were not operational, arguing that IS lacks the infrastructure and trained manpower to use them.
But with petrodollars and other cash flowing in to its war chest, ISIS shouldn’t have much trouble hiring mercenaries to use or instruct them in the use of these missiles. Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who are all within range, are wholly unprepared for this eventuality.
Yemen: Much of Yemen has fallen into the hands of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which this week allied itself with al-Baghdadi and his Iraqi organization.
In the new Middle East, nothing is certain. The “Arab Spring” may have washed away some of the region’s old regimes, but the onslaught of the terror states has proved more successful in altering the face of the region and taking it into dangerous uncharted waters.