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Israel anticipates the expansion of ISIS

Israeli security and military circles are monitoring the expansion of ISIS closely, especially its control of Tadmor and Al-Ramadi. This is due to the fact that it opens the door to the possibility of ISIS expanding towards other areas of Iraq, Kurdistan and perhaps even Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The organisation has been successful recently in making numerous significant geographic achievements, which may lead, according to Israeli predictions, to ISIS taking control of a larger area by means of reinforcing its control of northern and eastern Syria.

Counterattacks

According to the statements made by Israel’s former National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror, it has become clear that ISIS control of Al-Ramadi and Tadmor would be the basis for more important future moves. We must not be surprised if the organisation needs, at some point, to prepare the new areas it occupied, reinforce its control on the remaining inhabitants of the area, and prepare for counterattacks against the Syrian and Iraqi armies, as well as the supporting popular forces.

In Iraq, Syria and, more importantly, the US, the decision-makers are aware that the counterattack phase could be decisive if ISIS is successful in blocking them. If they do, it will be difficult to predict what could stop the group, other than more involvement by the US army, including large ground units.

The Israelis are aware that if ISIS becomes confident enough with its new reality on the ground, then it will be difficult to know how fast it will go, since it will not slow down for any lengthy periods. It needs to move continuously and it is thirsty for more victories. ISIS fears calm because it is still in its dynamic phase during which it continues to have momentum. The group has many possibilities for action.

It is interesting that despite monitoring the progress being made ISIS in Syria and Iraq over the past few weeks the Israeli security forces have not changed any of their assessments and predictions, which suggest that ISIS is not a military threat to Israel, despite the fact that its expansion poses a long-term strategic challenge for the entire region. Israel is monitoring the developments on the other side of its borders closely, in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, especially with regards to the military situation.

This is perhaps what drove Israeli orientalist Kobi Michael to say that the entry of ISIS into large areas in Iraq is considered to be a strategic turning point. This is because the occupation of Al-Ramadi and the expansion of the areas controlled by ISIS are military and morale-boosting achievements and they may encourage the quasi-state authority to deal with the coalition air strikes led by the United States.

This control may also be considered a sign of weakness, making the organisation more prone to American attacks after it completes its control of the main cities in Syria and Iraq and lays its hands on their armies’ supplies; both national armies withdrew from confrontation with ISIS.

In addition to the realisation of this achievement, there also appears to be a possibility that ISIS may find itself in a situation where it has surpassed all expectations, pushing regional and international forces to work against the group in a more effective and stronger way. The first signs of this were witnessed by the Israel and US Special Forces operation during which, the chief finance officer of ISIS, Abu Sayyaf, was killed.

The Israelis believe that ISIS’s success in defeating the Iraqi army in particular will drive the US to train new military units and re-arm it, and that Washington will be forced to double its own war efforts either by means of ground operations or special ops. Or the US will urge its regional and international partners to carry out such actions.

Localised achievements

The issue monitored closely by Israel with much concern and caution, and which is linked to the expansion of ISIS, is the US army’s “forced” return to the Arab world. The Israeli embassy in Washington is submitting confidential and public reports of the dialogue and talks taking place in the US with regards to the weak American strategy in Iraq and Syria.

From a purely military perspective, Israeli military expert Amos Harel has said that the ISIS occupation of Al-Ramadi does not necessarily reflect anything more than a localised success, despite the fact that the city is just 110 km from Baghdad. However, it does give room for a number of worrying predictions regarding the organisation’s continued progress.

He attributed the success of ISIS to the same reasons for its series of important victories last summer: taking advantage of the element of surprise while facing the disorganised Iraqi army and Shia militias; using its ability to be mobile; and being willing to sacrifice its men in dangerous manoeuvres taken to accumulate ammunition.

Despite the support that the US gave the Baghdad government in its air strikes, it was still not able to achieve the counterattack it announced it would launch in Anbar, while its remaining units withdrew from the municipality’s capital.

As we have seen over the past year, ISIS faces difficulties in preserving its munitions after taking control of them. This means that there is a difference in the tactics it uses to occupy a target facility or area, and preserving its control over time.

Senior Israeli officers have relayed leaks to their American counterparts at the Pentagon asking about the success of the battle waged by Washington against ISIS with the help of Arab states. They have remained cautiously optimistic because the fighting against ISIS has been successful in containing its attacking capabilities, retaking land and targeting its senior officials. This drove Tsivi Barel, an expert analyst of Arab affairs, to stress that ISIS’s road to Baghdad is still long because it is a very different mission to the occupation of Al-Ramadi or Mosul.

These two battles suggest that the Iraqi army is not capable of managing the war against a mobile and quick foe like ISIS. The average126 km journey between Baghdad and Al-Ramadi takes less than an hour and a half, and an additional six hours west would take a traveller from Al-Ramadi to the border crossing between Iraq and Jordan.

Fear for Jordan

Israel’s growing fear is that ISIS will head for the Jordanian border. The Hashemite army has taken special measures along the kingdom’s eastern and northern border with Syria in order to monitor all ISIS movements. Jordan also recently asked the US to supply it with drones enabling the army to monitor ISIS from the air and block any attempts to approach its border from the east. Israel has officially offered Jordan help to face ISIS.

According to former Minister of Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz, if Jordan faces a real threat from ISIS expansion and asks for any help, Israel will jump at the opportunity and help the kingdom without any hesitation. ISIS poses a threat to the region as a whole, not just Israel.

This statement, and others like it, indicate Israel’s concern regarding the danger posed to Jordan by ISIS. With the formation of the international coalition for air strikes against ISIS led by the US, Israel’s fear rose as stability in its eastern neighbour may have suffered. This has the potential to create serious security problems for Israel.

The Israeli government is preparing for such a possibility but refuses to announce if it intends to work with Jordan to tackle it, should it arise. It is unknown whether Israel has real information regarding the possibility of ISIS threatening Jordan’s security, but it is clear that Israel has made a definitive decision not to allow Jordan to be attacked by ISIS.

Questions are being asked in Tel Aviv about whether or not Jordan is able to confront ISIS alone, despite the fact that Jordan is strong enough, as Israel knows. With some American support, though, it should be able to confront anyone who knocks at its doors.

It is important to point out that Israel has not yet engaged in any direct military action against ISIS; it remains content to provide the US with satellite images and announce that it will not participate in a real war with the group. This is because it is aware that its participation could hurt the international coalition and would portray the fight against ISIS to be serving Israeli interests.

An announcement by the former head of Israel’s military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, is interesting. He said that his country is not really concerned or worried about ISIS’s expansion in the region, as the group, unlike Hamas, which is on Israel’s border, does not have any tunnels or artillery, and therefore cannot harm Israel strategically. In addition to this, ISIS does not have allies supplying it with advanced weapons and its threat as a global jihadist organisation does not differ fundamentally from the threat of Al-Qaeda, which Israel lived with for over a decade.

Finally, the Israelis believe that in the event that ISIS turns its eyes and efforts from Iraq and Syria to Israel, then it will face the full weight of its intelligence, air force and precision weapons possessed by the IDF. For the time being, therefore, ISIS is preoccupied with its countless enemies, some of which are standing between the group and Israel, such as the Iraqi, Jordanian and Lebanese armies, as well as Israel’s arch-enemy, Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Translated from Al-Jazeera net, 29 June, 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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