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Israel’s Middle East formula of two X's and Daesh

Why doesn’t Daesh (acronym of “Islamic State” terrorist group’s full name in Arabic) attack Israel? During the last two years, this question has become headline for many times. Since the beginning of 2014, the self-proclaimed “caliphate” has been ruling on immense territories of Iraq and Syria, and some regions in Libya. It would seem that Israel should have been the first target of the “caliphate,” but besides episodic threats and warnings against the “Zionist regime” bordering with Syria, the Daesh leaders have undertook no direct hostile acts against the Jewish State.

Why? This question has become relevant during the recent days again. Specifically, Daesh’s al-Naba weekly newspaper has published a major article explaining the restraint of Jihadists towards Israel.

The article said nothing new, just highlighted the key points of Daesh’s stand. Many extremist forces in the Middle East blame Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for targeting brothers–in–faith instead of Israel that oppresses Palestinians. The Daesh strategists regularly have to respond to this “intellectual challenge.” Sometimes, they do it through making new threats against the “Jews that have occupied Jerusalem” or publishing such kind of explanatory articles.

It appears that the “Islamic State” considers Israel as an enemy, but not the enemy number one so far. The major targets for “The Sacred War” now are the Shia forces in the Middle East. Then go the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, firstly, Saudi Arabia that “has occupied” two Muslim relics in Mecca and Medina. Actually, Daesh seeks to tackle the Shia Hezbollah, other pro-Iranian satellites (including Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the Iraqi government in Baghdad), then focus on overthrowing the Saudi government and “de-occupying” the holy places – primary sources of Islam. Only afterwards, the “caliphate” promises to unleash its fury on Israel. Last December, al-Baghdadi, the leader of the “caliphate,” promised to turn Palestine into a “Jewish cemetery”…

Israel conceives that Daesh is not a classical army with a single military-political strategy that comes under command of one central and several subordinate centers, has an exact structure and strictly obeys superiors. Daesh is a network-centric corporation of various armed gangs that is very efficient in the battlefield, despite the ideological disarray in the ranks of field commanders. Therefore, underestimating Daesh may have very tragic consequences.

It appears that the attack on Israel has been postponed for an unknown period, considering that Daesh has passed over to the defensive in Iraq and Syria for several months already. It launches offensive operations very rarely now, just when it needs to make a counterblow on the adversary. Meantime, in Israel they are extremely concerned over possible Daesh challenge. They say the terrorists may escalate the situation from inside the country, instead of undertaking frontline attacks. Europe where Islamic militants have managed to create terrorist cells and activate them regularly is not a good example for Israel. The security service level in Israel exceeds the average European one manifold, let alone the Belgian and French security services, the professional skills of which is openly questioned by Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of the intelligence and security service of Israel, there is still threat of penetration of Jihadists into the territory of the country. Analyzing the article published in al-Naba, Times of Israel reminds its readers about the terror attack in Tel Aviv on January 1 2016. Nashat Milhem, the Arab Israeli man who killed three people, was later identified as a Daesh militant.

This January, DEBKAfile related to the Israeli security services reported that Gadi Eizenkot, the Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, expressed dissatisfaction at the intelligence data on the Daesh dossier. General Eizenkot said that insufficient data supplied by the intelligence concerning the plans of Jihadists might trigger a “strategic problem.” Covert intelligence work is the specialization of foreign intelligence (Mossad) and internal security service (The Shin Bet, known in Hebrew by its acronym Shabak). How to understand whether it is Mossad or Shin Bet that is mainly responsible for collecting intelligence on the terror activity of Daesh in Syria, Egypt and other countries bordering with Israel as well as finding common points for rapprochement with possible partners?

The Benjamin Netanyahu government is concerned over the factor of Arab population of Israel where Daesh may “take root” despite the colossal preventive measures of the Israeli security service. Besides, Israel’s forces and means are hardly self-sufficient, in case it faces the need to war on several fronts at once. To prevent such situation, not only Mossad but also the entire diplomatic capacities of the country are used. A hypothetical three-front war – against Palestinian Hamas in the west, Lebanese Hezbollah in the north, and Daesh in the east – is the worst scenario for the Jewish State. Tel-Aviv is not going to entertain the thought that the Sunnites of Hamas will never manage to undertake a planned action together with the Shiites of Hezbollah, and that the Daesh will make a breakthrough from the Syrian territory. Israel needs to hold a careful course in several directions in the Middle East and to try to synchronize it with the interests of other key powers in the region. Actually, this is what Tel Aviv is doing now.

Israel’s cooperation with the Arab monarchies of the Gulf may seem impossible at first sight, as they still have no official relations. Nevertheless, there are favorable preconditions for such cooperation now. Under pressure of Saudi Arabia, the League of Arab States has outlawed the Lebanese Hezbollah declaring it as a “terrorist organization.” This will have several consequences, with almost all being in favor of Israel. From now on, any contact, let alone joint actions, of the Palestinian Hamas that remains under patronage of Saudis and Qatari with the Lebanese Hezbollah is strongly prohibited. This anti-Israeli union of two “H” (Hamas and Hezbollah) has not become reality despite Iran’s efforts at previous stages. After the latest decision of the League of Arab States on Hezbollah, the union of the Lebanese Shiites and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for coordinated attacks on Israel has become impossible. Besides, in a wider region, Iran has to reduce its plans concerning the “Zionist regime” (this is how Iranian officials traditionally call Israel). Tehran avoids tensions with Israel now when the nuclear deal has resulted in the lifting of sanctions and they need to make genuine efforts in Syria and Iraq. Iran will not sacrifice Hezbollah to Israel and the Arabs of the Gulf, indeed, but it will be trying to persuade its ally in Lebanon reduce the hostility against the enemy.

However, no one in Tehran and Beirut seeks to refuse from inflammatory statements. This is an established practice of Hezbollah’s responding to Israel. Quite lately, the leader of Lebanese Shiites, Hassan Nasrallah talked tough on the “Zionist regime” on Al-Mayadeen TV. He said that in case of a direct military conflict against Israel, Hezbollah would have no “red lines,” forbidden targets. Actually, Nasrallah openly hinted that they might target Israel’s security infrastructure.

Meantime, after the League of Arab States outlawed Hezbollah, the latter tries to keep Israel on the brink of a new war in the South Lebanon rather than threaten it with a crashing blow. Hezbollah is well aware that a war against Israel may be disastrous for it now, when several thousands of its fighters have been mobilized in the Syrian battlefield. As for launching military strikes against Israel “over the heads” of the UNIFIL peacekeepers in South Lebanon, it would mean opposing the entire world community.

Hezbollah suffered tangible human losses during the years of its active involvement in the operations on the Syrian front. By different data, about 1,000-1,500 fighters of the Movement were killed in Syria. Nevertheless, the Hezbollah leadership does not want to abandon its tactics of keeping permanent tension on the border with Israel. There are data that Lebanese Shiites are training several “extra-mobile” sabotage and assault groups comprising up to 15 fighters to throw them into the territory of Israel. Coupled with permanent missile threat from Lebanon, this is increasing the nervousness of the Israeli security forces.

Striving to settle the “Hezbollah problem” once and forever, the interests of Israel and Arab monarchies have coincided. Daesh’s joining this “alliance on default” is impossible. Nevertheless, for both Israel and Saudi Arabia with its allies in the Gulf, the major target is Hezbollah, not Daesh.

Developments is the south of Syria give a reason for thoughts over the common interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the region. ISIS has occupied a number of populated areas in Daraa governorate, in Syria. Shihad Yarmouk that earlier swore allegiance to Daesh took control over Tehsil. Afterwards, on March 22, they seized a nearby settlement Adwan and moved to the southeast. On March 24, Yarmouk militants ousted their rivals from the terrorist groups Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Free Syrian Army from the town of Sahem al-Golan. Eventually, on March 25, Daesh controlled a wider area in the Daraa governorate than a few days ago gaining foothold on Syria’s border with Israel and Jordan.

Now, let us imagine that instead of the Yarmouk jihadists it were Hezbollah fighters who launched offensive in the southern provinces of Syria. Israel would not stay aside as it is doing now. It would respond immediately and even launch air strikes on the targets of the probable adversary in Syria.

Daesh’s threats against Israel is a peculiar tribute to the Arab tradition of perceiving what the Arab world calls the “Zionist regime,” “occupant” of the Islamic relics in Jerusalem. However, a non-aggression pact and combined actions between Israel and Daesh are impossible even on default, though there are certain signs of joint actions of Tel-Aviv and the Arab countries of the Gulf. Anyway, Israel admits that Jihadists may launch terror attacks against Israelis outside the country. Such warnings have already emerged in the Middle East media.

Israel is gradually being involved into the “war of nerves” against Daesh and is preparing for any scenario of confrontation with Hezbollah. We would like to recall that Israel and the “Islamic State” are not prior targets for each other. By the article published in al-Naba Jihadists once again tried to get that idea over to the Israeli politicians and military, relying on the reciprocity of the one of the world’s strongest armies. The capacities of Israel’s Air Force, Navy and ground force trouble not only Hezbollah in Syria. Netanyahu’s Cabinet will face no obstacle to target Daesh, if it gets a single reason to do it. Russia and U.S. will just support such decision of Israel, of course, if it does not go beyond the anti-terrorist operation.

As the 10th anniversary of Israel’s war against Hezbollah (the Second Lebanon War in July-August 2006) approaches, the Jewish State pays more attention to the topic of a new “hot phase” of the conflict against the Shiite military organization. Israel’s external intelligence, counter-intelligence and military forces have to operate in a robust security regime. The commentaries of well-informed Israeli experts suggest that Israel constantly weighs a possible preventive blow upon Hezbollah. Simultaneously, they are preparing the public for a switch to the martial law to meet the challenges coming from the north and possible penetration into the territory of Israel from Syria. Israel plunging into a pre-war state clearly understanding the need for more decisive military steps, including preventive ones.

EADaily’s Middle East Bureau

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