In fifty days of Gaza conflict, Israel launched 5500 precision air strikes against terror targets. In 70+ days the US launched less than 400 strikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Why?
It’s not lack of planes and fire power. It’s a lack of political will, despite all the rhetoric of having to degrade and defeat the Islamic State rampage and mayhem.
Despite Obama’s late decision to launch air strikes he has only tickled the enemy. He could do more. He won’t. He doesn’t want to. What is the reason for this procrastination?
Part of the reason for Obama’s reticence in attacking ISIS with more force seems to be contained in a think tank policy document he commissioned entitled “The Iran Project. Iran and its Neighbors. Regional Implications for US Policy of a Nuclear Agreement.”
Experts who signed off on this document include Thomas Pickering, Brent Scowcroft, Daniel Kurtzer, Nicholas Platt, and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The document mistakenly sees the possibility of using ISIS to drive Iran and Israel closer together in a common cause. This misguided strategic fantasy is described thus, “If ISIS were to continue to progress, Israel and Iran might find themselves with a common enemy.”
The dream of bringing Iran and Israel together seems so devoutly to be wished by the Obama Administration that it surmounts any political reality to facts on the ground.
Could this be the reason that America has not applied the full measure of air power at its disposal in killing and driving back ISIS?
If it is, it’s dangerous and false thinking. It appears as if the US president is cynically allowing thousands to be slaughtered in front of our eyes for a strategy that will never happen.
Does he, or his experts, really think that Iran and Israel will join his feckless coalition out of joint fear of ISIS? If so, he is dead wrong.
In contrast to President Obama’s recent statements, the document does call ISIS a state of sorts. “ISIS is no longer just a terrorist group but represents a hybrid state/non-state threat.”
The top strategic experts explain themselves thus, “In parts of the territory it now controls, ISIS exercises a kind of governance: it collects revenue, executes brutal Islamist law, has a police force, and controls a jihadist conventional army.”
The only force that is bravely standing and confronting ISIS on the ground are the Kurds, and yet Obama is still not arming them directly. He should. Instead, the documents points to the US Administration playing a double game by recruiting not only Iran but also Tehran’s ally Assad to fight against ISIS;
“Syrian forces should be urged by Tehran to attack ISIS directly in Syria. Syrian military commanders, security personnel, and top government oﬃcials should be motivated to avoid an ISIS victory.”
However you read this, the Administration think tank policy document is calling on the White House to back an Iranian, Assad, even Hezbollah coalition to fight ISIS in Syria.
A nuclear agreement with Iran runs through the document. It is the center piece of a US Middle East policy. At parts it reads like an illusion world of smoke and mirrors. “A nuclear agreement could help the United States and its allies ﬁnd common ground with Iran for a creative response to ISIS, although the United States must avoid seeming to ally itself with the Shi’a and thereby enhance the appeal of radicals to Sunnis.”
It is hard to comprehend a policy in which the ISIS threat is seemingly put off until after the signing of a nuclear agreement with Iran on the supposition that it will make for closer buddies between the rival states in the region. As if Saudi Arabia and Erdogan would link arms with Ayatollahs and Assad to defeat ISIS. If only! Putting off a strong direct attack on ISIS until after a nuclear deal with Iran is dangerous wishful thinking, not foreign policy.
The mixing of two unrelated issues, a nuclear deal with Iran and the threat of ISIS, leads to a muddling Middle East strategy. The dangers implied here is that it is impossible to defeat ISIS without a nuclear deal, and from that stems the desire to rush through a nuclear deal in order to solve the ISIS issue.
“The degradation and defeat of ISIS presents an opportunity for America to work even-handedly with the nations of the region to achieve a common goal. Cooperation with Iran would thus take place within a larger regional grouping that should include the Gulf States and Turkey in addition to the Government of Iraq.”
The reason this is doomed to failure is in the description of the nuclear deal that the Administration is trying to reach. It talks of “limiting” the Iranian program, “lengthening” the time for Iran to reach nuclear breakout, and “reducing” the risk that Iran “might” acquire nuclear weapons. It does not talk of stopping Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon.
Israel sees ISIS creeping closer to its border. It can visibly see the Al-Nusra terror group on the Golan Heights. ISIS is not far away, and the document states the threat for Israel;
“The ‘Islamic State’ declared an end to the 1916 British and French-imposed Sykes–Picot borders, and announced that its next goal would be to free Palestine.”
This threat would give Israel a justification to get into the fight. If it did, it is more likely to assist the Kurds than get into bed with Iran, as the document wrongly suggests. Albeit indirectly arming and trained the brave Kurds, before the ISIS threat becomes a face-to-face confrontation for Israel, could become a necessity for Israel.
There is a case to be made for Israel to arm the Kurds, particularly in Iraq. The Kurds are as close to America and sympathetic to Israel’s plight in a radical region. They are more democratically minded than other players in the region. They have proven themselves to be the only courageous fighters on the ground in Iraq.
Israel sees convergence of interests with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt over the growing threat of the ISIS brand of Islamic terror. As happened with its conflict against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, it is reasonable to assume that these countries will turn a blind eye to Israel arming the Kurds.
Israel looks on the Kurds with great sympathy, but it could do more. Helping them overcome their confrontation with ISIS would be one way for Israel to demonstrate to the world what a small, but courageous and just, coalition can achieve in a regional war against radical Islamic terror.
As the document states, “if allowed to consolidate its control over large parts of Syria and Iraq, ISIS would also represent a terrorist threat to the American homeland.”
Barry Shaw is the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’ He is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to The Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College in Israel.