by Prof. Eyal Zisser
A fight such as this can go on for years, as the reality prevalent in Europe is not about to change.
Europe is learning the hard way what Israel learned decades ago. The war on terror is an ongoing struggle with ups and downs, and always painful failures. This fight requires patience and determination. There is no magic knockout punch, not by a spectacular military operation in the Syrian hinterlands or the assassination of some terrorist cell or another in a Paris or London suburb. A fight such as this can go on for years, as the reality prevalent in Europe is not about to change.
An equally important lesson, which Europe is also about to learn, is that terror constantly changes shape. In the past, al-Qaida spearheaded the waves of terrorist attacks in Europe. Now Islamic State has taken the reigns, and we can assume that if it fades and disappears, another Islamist group will take its place. The name and the headlines will change, to be sure, but the ideology will remain the same; the targets will continue to be innocent civilians across Europe, and the attackers will continue to be the same Muslim youths so enraptured by religious madness. It will be no different than our experience in Israel.
The terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamic State in London came on the heels of stinging defeats in its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The organization's dream of establishing an Islamic caliphate is on the verge of falling apart with the approaching fall of its government centers in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria, which serves as its capital. The organization has already lost nearly half the territory it once held, and the signals being sent by the new administration in Washington point to U.S. President Donald Trump's willingness and even determination to send American troops into the fray to fight the organization in a decisive manner.
Islamic State's defeat will apparently induce a monumental battle between the winners -- Iran and its allies -- on one side, and Turkey and the moderate Arab states on the other. Iran, to be certain, will try filling the void left by Islamic State by establishing a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut. Its adversaries, meanwhile, will try preventing the Islamic republic from achieving its goals. All this, while Russia and the U.S. will watch from the sidelines and perhaps even fan the flames in order to advance their own interests in the region.
What is important to understand, however, is that the defeat of Islamic State and the fall of the country it created in the Middle East will not be the end of the story, not for the organization itself and certainly not for the ideology it espouses. We must keep in mind that Islamic State is first and foremost an extremist ideology, which enjoys support from local populations in the Middle East and from Muslim communities across the globe.
It is also an organization that rallies support from disenfranchised populations in the region -- which feel persecuted by their centralized governments -- whether these are Sunnis in Iraq or eastern Syria, or Bedouin tribes in the Sinai Peninsula. Thus, even if the state it created in eastern Syria and northern Iraq crumbles, we can assume Islamic State will withdraw deep into the desert from which it came and shift to operating as a ruthless underground organization that still enjoys support from local populations. Case in point, in Sinai the group continues to operate successfully despite being pummeled by Egypt.
Islamic State also has other areas within which it can operate, such as Libya or Yemen, where it has established footholds under the cover of the civil wars persisting there unabated. There has been a great deal of speculation recently over the possibility that the group could transfer its government centers to these places. Finally, sentiment for the organization and its ideas will continue to inspire and compel Muslim youths from across the globe to carry out terrorist attacks. Other radical Islamist organizations, which are more than willing to pick up where Islamic State ends, are also vying for the hearts and minds of these youths.
The waves of terror, therefore, will continue crashing into Europe, despite all the efforts to stop them and despite the military successes against Islamic State's leaders and commanders in Syria and Iraq. Yet the fight must remain unrelenting, as this is the nature of the war against terror. It is the only way to ensure normal life in Europe. As the Israeli experience teaches, this should be the goal, even with the knowledge that terror has not been completely defeated.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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