Tag Archives: Islamic State

Commentary: Coming To Your Neighborhood — ISIS

Today it is hard to keep up with the headlines and to form rational responses. Though neither you nor I are making decisions that will affect our government; we are seeking information to regulate our emotions and intellectual responses to events as they unfold. Do we moan, do we cheer; do we reach out to text? Do we rant on Facebook? And in the midst of the United States’ political-constitutional-tornado there is international violence. ISIS is high on that list.

As you turn to any map of the turmoil created by ISIS, the very first thing you will notice is that on the ground their control has diminished and continues to do so drastically. Yet their attacks and battles rage on—on two fronts, as I will later discuss. A year ago it was reported that ISIS had lost at least three Syrian cities and towns within a short six weeks. That trend has escalated. On the ground, nearly three years after the resurrection of its caliphate, the Islamic state is on the cusp of complete dislodgment from Iraq, and in Syria its remaining centers are faced with imminent destruction. But, please, do not stand and cheer. The dangers they pose are not over, not by “a long shot”.

It is important to remember how ISIS morphed into the power it exerts. It did not merely create itself one day when a couple of jihadists decided they needed a vehicle to attack all non-believers. History teaches us (if we listen) that with the demise of one terrorist group, there is so often a small number within the embattled group that decides it must fight on. Or within a movement there is a divergence of views, and one segment decides it must go “its own way”. Their “cause is too important”, the dying group was “mismanaged”, or their focus was “misdirected”. Find a reason and you will find the creation of a terrorist group in a different form and, in many instances, more deadly.

For ISIS it began in late 1999, and became more deadly than al-Qaeda. In an excellent 2014 article written by Aaron Y. Zelin for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “The war between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement”, we are introduced in great detail to the social, economic and educational backgrounds of both groups. Although they ultimately become fierce competitors in their war of terrorism, my conclusion is that they are really two ends of the same stick: Destroy those who do not “believe”. Who is ISIS– initially they were called the J Amaat al-Tawhid WA-i-Jihad (JTWT) who in late 1999 were the forerunners who command today’s headlines.

We have all seen the words: Caliphate and Caliph. In Arabic Caliphate means “succession” and, as an institution, it came into being upon the death of the prophet Muhammad. The “succession”, or who was to succeed the prophet Muhammad was the issue that split the Arab world between the Sunni and Shias. The nasty politics of control. One writer has said that ISIS is a “charter member of al Qaeda in Iraq”. Another writer has called ISIS a franchise of al-Qaeda. Not quite true. Two very different men, with very different social and educational backgrounds, were pressed to create groups propelled by violence and vision with the same goal: destruction of the non-believers. The caliph embodies both a political and religious leader and, it is he who becomes the successor (caliph) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Once appointed, his power and authority is absolute.

Although I am sure that President Trump in the months ahead will claim credit for the demise of ISIS, it was military operations planned and placed into execution during the Obama era that started its destruction. And while ISIS may be described as terminally ill in Iraq and Syria, please let us not celebrate too soon.

Visualize this: the antlers of deer have the amazing ability to grow back, and this is one of the most extreme examples of regeneration. With ISIS, although they may be in the process of defeat on the ground, they will and have already regrown their “antlers” (far beyond Iraq and Syria), and evidence of that has been its attacks in Europe. Think of an octopus whose bulbous body has been killed but whose severed tentacles live on as separate deadly arms. Think last night in Manchester, England

John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs, correctly noted that the caliph, as the successor to the prophet, is the head of the early transnational Islamic empire. The word “transnational” has important significance– it reflects that the Caliphate and Caliph transcend national boundaries and are supreme throughout the world—they govern by erasing national boundaries. Do not doubt for a moment that ISIS does not have exit plans in either Iraq or Syria and will carry their movement through its franchises and believers in Europe and, at some moment in the not distant future, here in the United States. They have already demonstrated that ability and their terror. Manchester, England. To conclude otherwise is sheer folly.

As I was about to review my initial draft of this Commentary, two things occurred. First, I came across a must read article  posted on- line in Politico magazine written by Bayan Bender ( Letter from Israel –5.22.17) and, second, as I finished rereading Mr. Bender’s conclusions, my screen flashed the initial reports of the Manchester bombing . I felt as if I was reliving the horrors of the Paris attacks in 2015.  I became more convinced of my initial thoughts and expanded my conclusions.

The “transnational” component of ISIS and the Caliphate in particular is not understood by most: the extent of its mission. Its mission reaches far beyond the Mideast. Each attack outside the Mid East is not a mere thrust to test either its own capabilities far from home or our resolve or our ability to resist its movement. Second, understanding the transnational aspect of ISIS and its caliphate is fundamental to our combating its force and presence. ISIS, notwithstanding its loss on the battlefield, is in the process of weaving is presence into the very frabric of our daily life and is doing so with the force of each explosion. Do you go or allow your child to go to that concert? Do you spend an afternoon in Trafalgar Square? Do you walk the Boulevard St. Germaine in Paris? And at the very same moment how do we plan our next moves? Fear, it is claimed, allows ISIS to win. But bombings and death are real.

Upon rereading Mr. Bender’s article in Politico, my focus has shifted a bit. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have been myopic and appear to be able to focus on one threat-object at a time and fail to understand the entire peril we, as individuals and nation, face. Iran is a formidable enemy—nothing less. Its capabilities and influence overshadow that of North Korea. Iran should be more than in our vocal condemnation of its action but also in our gun sights. Iran’s present and future plans clearly evidence their ever present involvement in the violence in the Mid East. They are a major player in the chaos in that part of the world. At the very same moment, we should be planning our engagement in Syria and Iraq with a greater understating of the combination of fighting forces in those war-torn countries. Mr. Bender writes: “the United States has failed to understand the competing interests and constantly shifting alliances among what the IDF estimates are between 400 and 500 different groups fighting in the Syrian civil war—including underestimating the level of local support ISIS actually has. Take Mosul, for example. Mosul is a million-citizen city and the largest estimate said [there were] 8,000 militants. You can’t control a million-people city with 8,000 people if you don’t have some support within the population.”

This is a powerful indictment of what we do not understand in the terrorist we face today. Which threat is the more potentially deadly for us as a nation and individuals? Mr. Bender writes that the Israelis believe it to be Iran. We should allow, they claim, ISIS and al-Qaeda to destroy each other in their fierce competition for domination. But then we must recognize that Israel has more to fear from Iran than ISIS or al-Qaida. We, though, live thousands of miles away from Iran’s weapons, and we do not have the internal security systems in place as does Jerusalem. We need to stop both the bombastic, uncontrollable language pouring out of the White House and the escalation of forces and, stop for a moment and to reassess what is actually happening and the interplay of the various tribes on the ground in Syria and Iraq. Could we be competing with ourselves?

There are some 12,000 ISIS foot soldiers that remain in the Mid-East. How many of them have made their way to the European continent? How many of them have crossed the boarders from rural areas in Canada and live quietly in the United States? How many of them are men and women who were born and raised in the United States but who have an affinity to their cause? How many have become motivated to carry that belief, to wear vests of bombs or fill their pickup truck with bombs and drive through Times Square, or deliver saran gas to the subway lines of New York or attend a concert at Madison Square Garden or any other city with a congested area of “just people” ? And the answer is not how many of these persons do in fact exist, because it does not take too many to create deadly havoc. One man, some help and with one vest, Manchester, England. Where Tomorrow?

So by the end of this year, when it is announced, by whoever is president of the United Sates, that ISIS has been defeated, keep two things in mind: However defeated they may be on the battle field now raging in the Mid-East, they are far from defeated in the death and destruction they are capable of inflicting here at home. And, second, please let us not ever forget in the 21st Century: terrorism is and will be a fact of life for us and generations to come.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

 

 

Commentary: A Look Back With a Bleak Future

Although we are in a New Year, I would like to look back. The reason seems so clear to me. The facts we face today are so stark that they portends what the future holds. Life will undoubtedly be more difficult on all fronts in the many months to come.

Trumping up a nuclear rivalry with Russia’s Putin, our new president is being goaded by a dictator who is cash poor but more than anxious to anti-up the stakes in a nuclear armament race. This bravado will create greater chances for a deadly error, and clearly the cost of this fatal game is better spent on other issues. This is especially true with a president-elect who evidences more respects WikiLeaks then our own national intelligence capability.

With a trade war on the horizon, not with Putin who does not have the stakes to come to the financial table, but with a much more powerful financial giant who has enormous assets and investment in our country — China. In the past I have written of China’s control of a segment of the U.S. economy. It would be best to partner with this foe than the one that controls Siberia. Turkey deploys more weaponry to its border with Syria to face the innocent young, old and injured that flee from its dictator. Turkey a lynch-pin in that region of a hostile world is not our friend and certainly an enemy of democracy. Today it partners more with Russia then the U.S. The mid-East and North Africa is home to 22 countries all but one is a democracy. We have just finished a year with horrific attacks on humanity in Syria and beyond. The world merely looked on. “Looking on” in unacceptable silence or, worse still, with empty words is deplorable. No animal in the wild kills with the same velocity and scope as the human. It has been said a million times fold, an animal kills to feed itself and its family. Humans kill, at times, for reasons anchored in ancient history and not present reality. How much more barbaric can we become.

I have been reading about the Reformation period in England and I am horrified not by the poverty, inequity and base cruelty that existed and was then reinforced, but that we have not come very far in man’s-inhumanity-to-man in over five hundred years. Cruelty committed beyond any definition — thru nonfeasance and malfeasance, by inaction and by action.   All committed by the hand of man.

We draw lines in the sand and then ignore our own threats. We permit others to act barbaric, as we respond with bravado rhetoric, sit on our own hands, and then shake our heads in disbelief. Tantrums (both Democratic and Republican) with no long-range thinking prevail at the highest levels of our government. And I predict, because of what I will describe below, the situation will only be worse in 2017.

The threat of violence today has escalated by waves of mass migration—uncontrolled mass migration that cumulated in 2015 and is an intensifying brewing-pot of viciousness. The number of illegal migrants reaching Europe’s border jumped sharply in the first four months of 2014, suggesting then that year’s total could be on track to overtake the 140,000 refugees who arrived during the 2011 Arab Spring. The story became far worse and more critical with time. A quick look at the past 20 years of illegal immigration have confirmed to many that unknown numbers will and are attempting to reach Britain by crossing the continent and using Calais as a staging post. This, as French authorities continue to demolish squatter camps near the Channel, as immigrants attempt to cross to the UK.

Since the American intervention in Somalia in 1992, the more developed nations have had the ability to quickly organize and put into place sufficient ground forces to overrun territory in chaos. As reported widely, the problem more than often was there was no credible group to replace the faulting government, and what ensued were frustration and anger that led to the rise of splinter groups of the defeated terrorist forces.

Europe today is experiencing its worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. In 2016, hundreds of the continent’s overtaxed, overextended border guards (of whose work we read very little) travelled to Warsaw for their yearly review. The issues—today– how do EU border guards and they management forces face its biggest challenge in two decades– with hundreds of thousands of refugees that pour over weak boarders into France, Greece, Germany, Italy and Hungary. All at the same moment, these countries are more than inept in their negligent attempts to deal with those with violence and terrorism agendas. Those who have already arrived are integrating deeper into the population and executing their deadly plan: Bastille Day in Nice and Christmas in Berlin. In December, the Islamic State claimed that it had carried out 1,034 suicide attacks in 2016. That number, as reviewed by experts, is impossible to verify, but they did agree that the total has been climbing for several years now. The number of people willing — even eager — to sacrifice for the “cause” is staggering. Mass integrated planning by the EU is now beyond merely necessary but vital across Europe.

ISIS has learned to accomplish what al Qaeda could never develop—a simple terrorism act to capture a bold print international headline: a truck, a willing driver, a mass of un-expecting citizens brought together violently can produce a killing of countless persons within seconds and without a single explosive or shot fired. To digress for a moment, as noted by Kakov Lapin in a special report to IPT News: “Hamas launched a public relations campaign in recent days, aimed at capitalizing on a deadly truck attack in Jerusalem. The campaign sheds a light on Hamas’s plans to encourage and launch jihadist atrocities, but also on its vulnerability to the arrival of ISIS as an ideology and movement.” A “movement” that is engulfing all of Western Europe, as I write this sentence.

In December, the WSJ published a magnificent in-depth analysis written by Matthew Dalton, describing the critical situation across Europe. He writes, and supports with hard facts, that the latest attacks “has laid bare multiple failings in Europe’s security apparatus, including poor cooperation between national governments, porous borders and lack of biometric data to identify people who use false identities.” This monumental indictment cannot be misconstrued to fit any positive conclusion. In early January, the WSJ again published a devastating article detailing “Belgium’s Botched Hunt for ISSI”. It can read almost as a parody of the famous film “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”. The authors of this article describe the botching, by the Belgium police, when they had multiple chances to catch the ISIS terror cell that carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks –“and muffed every one”. Their source: a confidential report prepared for the Belgium Parliament.

Compounding these problems is the rise of Islamic State ability to strike almost at will in Europe although being beaten on the traditional battle field. At year’s end, we find security services, across Europe, overwhelmed in their ability to follow and track not merely the jihadist presence but the potential threats among the newly arrivals. Islamist groups employed, as was the general published belief, the surge of refugees to smuggle their operatives into Europe. It has been described in countless articles that most of the terrorists traveled from Syria through the Balkans and then Central Europe, moving with the hordes of refugees in the summer and fall of 2015.

To understand a crucial part of the migration and terrorism issues in Europe, one must understand the border controls in Europe and in turn to be aware of the Schengen Zone. This part of Europe is composed of 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders. This large geographic zone functions as a single country for international travel purposes and is named after the Schengen Agreement, which for a time eliminated border controls with the other Schengen members and strengthened border controls with non-Schengen countries. With the terrorist attacks and migration crisis in late 2016, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Poland and Sweden temporarily imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. Previously, in 2015, after the Paris attack, France declared a state of emergency which stepped up its boarder control measure with other Schengen states.

A quick review of the history of the Berlin attack suspect Anis Amri, who arrived in Europe in 2011, will underline the depth of the failure of European intelligence at this moment. The authorities in Italy and Germany have tried multiple times to send Amri back to Tunisia. They failed. Around the same time, he was released after four years in an Italian prison for starting a fire at a refugee shelter; he was allowed to leave Italy (with a criminal record). Nonetheless, he applied for asylum again in Germany. This “underscores the disorder of Europe’s refugee system.” Although the authorities ordered him to return to Tunisia, he headed to Germany, where he roamed freely, using a series of false identities, and sought asylum. Since the authorities don’t routinely fingerprint migrants or check their fingerprints against national criminal databases (freely discussed in the press and with what little facilities there are) he was able to travel as he desired. Evidence, however sketchy, has established that the Islamic State has sent dozens of operatives to Europe, over the past two years, and to Germany in particular. And, is simple to deduce, is that with the unraveling of ISIS strangleholds of Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, the obvious will occur–that many potential terrorists will disappear from the scene and attempt, one way or another, to enter Europe.

Aside from the security issues the humanitarian questions such as in Greece, wintry conditions have imperiled thousands of refugees in overcrowded camps, as described in the New York Times, prompting the E.U. to declare the situation “untenable.” While thousands displaced person from Mosul are in desperate need of life-saving aid, the security concerns and gloom are layer upon the humanitarian apprehensions and present a desperate picture ahead.

European security services race against time to detect the terrorist threats among the millions of refugees who arrived in recent years. But that is like closing the barn doors after the cows have fled. What is clear is that the Schengen border restraints remain sparse; the creation of “hot spots,” where officials conduct security checks of migrants, using high-speed internet connections to security databases, do not cover the porous country-side where both the migrant and terrorist can move freely and without detection. How many have arrived in the United States?

We live in a time with Western Europe in disarray both politically and socially. Their population is living in the shadows of constant and increasing terrorism. We live in a world struggling with the rise of an increasingly dark populist cloud, both at home and abroad, as we witness the plummeting of civility, diversity acceptance and truth.

For me, a defining moment was the day after the United States presidential election and one month before the first WSJ laid bare the state of the European deplorable security apparatus— helplessness to cope with its crisis of terrorism and immigration, we cancelled our trip to London and Paris.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

 

 

 

Connected Unsystematic Thoughts

The U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State began more than a year ago, and then chaos set in. The confusion on the ground and in the air over Syria is only becoming more of a night- mare, caused in part by too many fingers in one pot with no recognition of each other. Two months after Putin’s physical entry to shore up Assad’s regime, there have been too many close calls in the same air space between the fighters and bombers from Russia and the United States. To add to the confusion and disarray is Turkey’s shooting down a Russian bomber that strayed into Turkish air space. The crises continue with questions concerning the Turkish control of its boarders and ISIS. And now the present outcry: which country bombed a friendly Syrian army base? The first accused was the United States, but forced to reveal its evidence, the American intelligence confirms it was Moscow’s “Blackfire” bombers that killed three soldiers, wounding at least 13 and destroying vehicles and equipment. And yesterday, a Turkish fishing vessel came within 1600 feet of a Russian destroyer playing a dangerous game of “two close to call navigation” with Russian firepower used to make a military point and Turkey said its losing patience with the Russia.

As we flip to the other side of the world, China continues to pile sand and rocks on reefs to build islands to extend its territorial claims further into the South China Sea and to add its military strength to be piled higher on newly created islands. This is not only an attempt to control so much more of free sea lanes of navigation but to cut heavily into the control and power of China’s many neighbors, especially Japan and the United States’ long reach of its naval might. All this adds up to a new strategic imagery: Japan is moving rapidity away from its post WII pacifism, communist Vietnam is purchasing arms from the United States, and the Philippines is inviting the U.S. Navy back to its ports, some twenty-five years after asking them unceremoniously to leave. And even if you have never visited the tiny island nation Singapore, it is not hard to understand why the United States and Singapore have signed an agreement to provide a launching pad for the United States to monitor the South China Sea. Also, as reported, not only has Malaysia called for the United States to work out of its bases, but I am informed that the United States has added to its aircraft force in the area the P-8 Poseidon thereby putting greater spying know-how ability into play to monitor the Chinese adventures and capabilities in that part of the world.

Two items have become clear since my last comments concerning the Iranian Nuclear deal (JCOP). First, Iran is moving internally further in the direction against the “American Enemy” with greater political movement toward the ideological base of its Supreme Leader and non-adherence to the JCPOA , and, second, my mistrust of Iran’s intentions have become more evident. We have just learned that notwithstanding UN Resolution 2231, which was passed just one day after the nuclear accord was signed and which compels Iran to restrain from any work on ballistic missiles for 8 years, on November 21, in breach of that resolution, a missile known as the Ghadr-110, having a range a little over 1200 miles with the capacity of carrying a nuclear warhead, was tested by the Iranians. So much for international agreements, international resolutions, and international oversight and enforcement.

About three months ago I asked one of my grandsons: What’s the Dark Web? Without hesitation he shot back: “Why? Why do you want to know? You shouldn’t go there!” Since the shooting in San Bernadino with the death of 14 and the injury of scores of others, there is talk of encryption (normal text into code) and the Dark Web. It is on the Dark Web that terrorists communicate, utilizing encrypted messages. The Dark Web is a semi-technical term that refers to a collection of websites that, although they are publicly visible/available, the IP address of the servers that run them is hidden. You and I can utilize the Dark Web with any web browser, but it is more than problematical and ultra-challenging to determine who is behind the sites.

On December 8th the French newspaper, Le Monde, reported that France, not nearly recovered from the ISIS attack last month in Paris, may seek to ban the infamous Tor browser, used to namelessly surf the Dark Web. The French Parliament may also ban use of public Wi-Fi during periods of emergency. But, at this writing, Paris seems to be turning away from those options. The UK has launched a dedicated cybercrime unit to tackle the Dark Web, with a particular focus on cracking down on serious criminal rings and child pornography. This very week the FBI has admitted that they can determine who is “speaking” to whom, but cannot crack the encrypted messages, so what it hears is “noise”, without understanding. Of course, only one country has been able to successfully block Tor: China, with its great “other” wall, the firewall.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, a spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on December 6th that she supports labeling of Israeli settlement products from the disputed territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel had sought Germany’s help in convincing EU member states to reject the implementation of this type of labeling as it has done for many other countries. It refused. So much for a balance, even-handed international policy, and from a person just named TIME’s—Person of the Year in a country synonymous with holocaust.

Each of these random thoughts carries a connecting tissue. The obvious fact being that the United States sits geographically between the conflicts in the east and the west. These conflicts share potentially devastating consequences to its national security not merely abroad but at home, on our own shores. We are also in the midst of a race to the White House in a manner and style never before witnessed, filled with extreme rhetoric and personal vindictive hate. We have seen pictures of foreign parliaments whose member have been moved beyond words to extreme physical conformation. We are not like that; but what have we become?

To live in fear is not acceptable. But to live without care is imprudent and unrealistic. Today, as I write this blog, Americans’ fear of terrorism is as high as immediately after 9/11. Do we cry “ouch “only when we are personally affected? There have so many lessons available to us over the last 75 years, why are we ignoring them and to our peril? What do we teach our children, and why does a grandchild have to become fearful because his grandfather queries about the Dark Web?
Richard Allan
The Editor