Thursday, July 21, 2016

How Much Should Israel Fear ISIS? - Daniel Pipes

by Daniel Pipes

I was interviewed by the English-language service of the Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA). Click here to watch the video.

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IBA: Dr. Daniel Pipes is the founder and president of the Middle East Forum and a prolific commentator on the Middle East. He joins me now to discuss the threats on Israel's borders. Dr. Pipes, welcome.

Pipes: Thank you.

IBA: What should Israel be more concerned by: ISIS in the north or ISIS in the south?

Pipes: The northern situation is certainly more dangerous to Israel than the southern, in that Egypt is a stable government at this point, and it's just a matter of some hundreds of marauding ISIS affiliates. Whereas in the north, there is of course no stability whatsoever, and the dangers are much greater.

IBA: Yes, but in the immediate term, we have ISIS pressed up against the Egyptian border, and in the north they're kept away by slightly less unsavory territory.

Pipes: Well, actually, an ISIS-affiliated group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, is right at the border with Israel, and it's quite striking that neither has this ISIS affiliate attacked Israel nor have Israeli forces attacked it. Which I think points to the fact that the Israelis perceive ISIS as less of a threat than the Iranian-backed Syrian regime and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization—which is an assessment I would agree with.

IBA: That might explain why we haven't hit back at ISIS, but it doesn't explain why ISIS hasn't hit Israel, and that's a flourishing conspiracy theory in the street to explain why we haven't experienced a Brussels or a Paris. Why is that?

"Israelis perceive ISIS as less of a threat than the Iranian-backed Syrian regime and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization."
Pipes: Well, there have been efforts, I think, by ISIS, to penetrate Israel and to have explosions and attacks within Israel. But for this ISIS affiliate on the border of Israel to attack Israel would be suicidal. Its firepower is far less than that of the IDF. And while ISIS overall has shown very little strategic vision and is willing to attack everyone and anyone, I think even ISIS understands that this would not be a wise undertaking.

IBA: In terms of the suicide explosion, God forbid, in one of Israel's cities, along the lines of Paris or Brussels—

Pipes: That would certainly be advantageous to ISIS, but for this ISIS affiliate on the border to attack Israel directly in a military operation would be suicidal and would not attain its goal.
IBA: They're afraid of an Israeli response.

Pipes: Right. But I think they do want to attack within Israel, as they want to attack almost everywhere.

IBA: So is the reason they haven't succeeded the strong efforts of the Israeli security forces, or is this for want of trying?

The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade (Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk) 
operates close to Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

Pipes: It's both. I mean, the Israeli security has been effective and they have not been focused on Israel. Israel is an ultimate goal of a group like ISIS, but far more immediate are the Muslim countries. In particular, Saudi Arabia, but also Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan—

IBA: Right, on the question of Saudi Arabia—what was ISIS thinking, attacking a major Muslim shrine?

Pipes: As I said, ISIS is not very strategic. ISIS does not think how to gain friends and influence people. ISIS just goes and attacks. It's doing the same in Turkey. It had a pretty good working relationship with the Turkish government and now it's killed hundreds of people in multiple violent attacks. In Jordan, it had pretty good standing in Jordan, and then it burned alive a Jordanian pilot.

IBA: But there was definitely a strategic switch, where it went from focusing on building a caliphate to attacking the far enemy, which had always been al Qaeda's strategy. Why was that? What's it hoping to gain from attacking European cities?

Pipes: It's hoping to win the support of Muslims, and indeed that does happen. At the same time, I would argue that while there are some Muslims, who you can number in the thousands, who say ISIS represents the caliphate, the vision of Islam that they endorse—I would say far greater numbers of Muslims are repulsed by it, are scared of it. So, again and again, ISIS is not strategic, ISIS is just going directly at the goal and ignoring the many enemies—look at the enemies it has throughout the region, with the slight exception of the Turkish government, the Qatari government, the Saudi government, but even there, they've turned against it.

IBA: Looking at other regional actors then, today marking ten years since the onset of the Second Lebanon War, and we've seen an unprecedented period of calm on the northern front. Under what circumstances might Hezbollah decide that it's time for another round?

Pipes: I think Hezbollah will likely decide that when its duties in Syria are over and it can retreat to Lebanon and can then focus on Jerusalem as its goal as opposed to Damascus, but at this point that's not an imminent prospect.

IBA: Okay. Dr. Pipes, thank you very much.

Pipes: Thank you.

Daniel Pipes


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