The Islamic State group has become a phenomenon with ripple effects that are felt in three circles: local, regional and international. On the local level, Islamic State is an existential threat to the residents of northern Syria, specifically the Kurdish minority, as well as regions in north-eastern Iraq. On the regional level, we have witnessed the enlistment of various jihadist groups joining Islamic State. And on the international level there is the ongoing phenomenon of foreigners volunteering to join Islamic State, including Western nationals.
The international coalition formed to fight Islamic State has increased the awareness of the group and cannot truly eliminate the threat. Islamic State does not have territorial continuity nor borders, it exists on “islands” throughout a large swath of land. Its fighters move from place to place, showcasing their brutality at every stop, an efficient tool in suppressing the local populace, getting new volunteers and “convincing” local groups to join it. Islamic State is also a savvy user of social media networks when it comes to spreading its message.
The fact that groups throughout the Middle East have joined arms with Islamic State, including groups in Sinai and an extremely short-lived representation in the Gaza Strip, is upsetting and could turn into a threat to Israel, especially in the case of an incident in southern Syria.
What, if anything, can diminish this threat? It is important to note that the numerous jihadist groups are not homogenous, and there are differences, in some cases significant, in their outlook. These differences will hamper the coherence of Islamic State in the future; whenever a group joins Islamic State, it splits in two, with one portion of it turning into a different faction that opposes merging with Islamic State. Also, Islamic State’s ability to capture and hold territory is very limited. It is faced with a series of obstacles: Turkey in the north, the Assad regime in Syria in the west, Shiite Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the south, and Jordan.
In this complex situation, there is a gleaming opportunity to curb Islamic State’s spread and weaken the group. Creating a Kurdish state in northern Iraq and Syria, connecting the two autonomous regions, could pose a significant threat to Islamic State. The formation of a Kurdish country could be seen as historic justice for the large oppressed ethnic minority, one that is a natural ally to the West and Israel.
Maybe the Kurds’ dire situation in northern Syria could create new hope. The creation of a Kurdish state could prompt the restructuring of the region’s architecture, as the old one falls apart. It is quite possible that the establishment of a Kurdish state could lead to a federation-style political body, which could be an alternative method of government, based on ethnic nations as opposed to artificial ones, which demand unity and compliance between rival ethnic groups.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly supported the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Perhaps now is the time for other world leaders to join that call. Maybe a change to the regional makeup will yield new opportunities for cooperation, regional security and perhaps some peace for an area plagued by crises.
Original Israel Hayom article here