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So-called Islamic State "a useful tool" says Israeli think tank

This is not the first time that influential and powerful Israeli figures have argued in favour of using Islamic State as a way to indirectly attack Iran

The director of a right-wing think tank at an Israeli university has spoken out against declared US intentions to destroy the so-called "Islamic State" group.

Professor Efraim Inbar argued in an article that Islamic State "can be a useful tool in undermining" Iran.

Inbar is director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and a professor at Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. He is a academic of some repute in western elite circles.

The Begin-Sadat centre has some form. Another one of its luminaries is Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli academic who once advocated rape as a weapon of war to be used against the families of alleged Palestinian attackers. Speaking to an Israeli radio show in 2014 he said, "the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that's the culture in which we live."

In a mind-bending series of utterly cynical and blood-thirsty leaps of logic, Inbar argues that Islamic State is the least-bad of a series of enemies in the region for Israel. Considering the fact that Islamic State has rarely (if ever) engaged in combat with Israel, there is a certain horrible logic to his claims.

"A weak IS is, counter-intuitively, preferable to a destroyed IS," Inbar wrote. "The continuing existence of IS serves a strategic purpose. Why help the brutal Assad regime win the Syrian civil war?"

Inbar sees Iran, Syria and the Lebanese resistance group Hizballah as far greater enemies to Israel. Although Hizballah is now engaged in the brutal civil war in Syria on the side of the regime, it defeated Israeli occupations forces in two wars. First of all, in a long guerilla war to liberate the south of Lebanon. The result of that was Israel and its proxy forces being driven out under fire in 2000. Secondly, Hizballah fought Israel to a standstill during its brutal 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

Hizballah is a serious military force which (before its divisive intervention in the Syrian civil war) once commanded massive and cross-sectarian popular support all across the Arab world. It's no wonder then that Israel would prefer to see its guns turned against targets other than Israel. "Hizballah … is being seriously taxed by the fight against" Islamic State, gloats Inbar.

And what of Islamic State crimes, which will no doubt continue and intensify if it is not militarily defeated? No matter, says Inbar: "the Western distaste for IS brutality and immorality should not obfuscate strategic clarity … stability is not a value in and of itself. It is desirable only if it serves our interests."

These statements may be utterly morally reprehensible, but at least they have a certain frankness to them.

Iran of course, is deemed a threat to Israel. Its nuclear energy programme is at the heart of these claims, and hence Inbar agitates against the deal made with Iran in regard to this. Israel once collaborated with the US on cyberwarfare projects such as Stuxnet, which attacked and sabotaged Iran's nuclear energy plants. But the real threat is Iran's independence as a sovereign state – something neither the US global hegemon nor the Israeli regional hegemon wish to tolerate.

"The Obama administration has inflated the threat from IS in order to legitimize Iran as a 'responsible' actor that will, supposedly, fight IS in the Middle East," claims Inbar. A rather odd and conspiratorial formulation considering that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces have been at war against Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.

This is not the first time that influential and powerful Israeli figures have argued in favour of using Islamic State as a way to indirectly attack Iran. In January, the then defence minister Moshe Yaalon said at a conference that if he had to pick a side out of Iran and Islamic State in Syria: "I choose the Islamic State". He argued that "our greatest enemy is the Iranian regime".

At the same conference, former Israeli army commander Yoav Galant argued that "developing ties between Israel's allies and enemies as they join forces to fight Islamic State pose a threat to Israel," and that the de facto alliance between Iran and several Western countries fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq "creates new challenges for Israel."

Their logic then, was very similar to Inbar's. Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US, said in 2014 that Israel wants to "let the Sunni evil prevail" over the greater "evil" of Iran. Speaking in the context of a massacre of Iraqi soldiers, he seemed to argue that Israel should allow the "Islamic State" to win.

All in all, it is quite a similar strategy to Israel's tacit alliance with the extremist group formally known as the Nusra Front – which was al-Qaeda's formal Syrian affiliate until it spit in a recent re-branding exercise.

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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