Nothing positive can be said about the newly formed state run by the most extreme Jihadists in parts of Iraq and Syria. We have witnessed videos and accounts of incredible brutality that seems rather banal to the group. And as of the execution of Scotloff, an Israeli citizen was murdered by what I would like to call the “Green Menace” (not to downplay or disregard the executions of British and other American journalists prior to Scotloff).
Although it is positive to see Obama and other world leaders rally to form a coalition to deal with this new menace, its seems any future reaction will be far too muted compared to what needs to be done to deal with ISIS. Further, it is unfortunate that it took the execution of a few Western journalists to bring this to the front of the agenda; apparently the murder of thousands in Iraq and Syria was not enough of a moral case to act. One must also not forget that the thousands of minorities in Iraq and Syria that have suffered under ISIS have had no place to go and hide, whereas the journalists and aid workers from the West, noble as their cause may be, traveled their knowing of the danger and at their own volition.
And so the moral sensibilities of the West have at last been stirred and we seem ready to act on this threat. Yet I would like to pose the question of whether the Middle East and the World at large will be safer with ISIS gone (assuming we get the job done). With the information available to the lay man, it seems to me the answer is both yes and no.
ISIS does not exist in a vacuum. This is certainly obvious given the complexities of the Middle East ethnic, religious, and inter-religious rivalries that are rampant. The Sunni/Shiite rivalry alone has led to alliances that to the untrained eye appear bizarre. Other alliances are not even clear when these divisions are examined. Take for example Qatar. Qatar was one of the first Gulf States to open economic ties to the Jewish State. These days however they are a major source of funding for terror organizations; notably Hamas.
Given the complexities of the Middle East, it is not surprising that Israel has found multiple enemies in the region. ISIS is arguably one of the main foes, but I would argue that the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis is the clear winner regarding who is the greatest threat to Israel and eventually the United States. Although ISIS may one day in the future achieve their aspiration of Al-Qaida like abilities to commit act of terror, such acts are not an existential threat to any Western party. Although their holy grail would be a biological weapon, the chance of them obtaining such a weapon is small as of now, whereas the no less extreme Iran is merely months away from an even greater threat: nuclear weapons. Many would argue that Iran would never use its nuclear arsenal outright. Wells here’s the thing: it would never even have to. Becoming nuclear allows Iran’s shadow agencies and its allies in Hezbollah, Syria, and Gaza to commit acts of terror with complete impunity. Impunity is something ISIS will never have and yet is still what they attempt to achieve with each new execution of a Westerner.
It should further be noted that Iran is no less threatened by ISIS than the US and Israel will ever be. Given this reality, I believe we must approach this situation through the paradigm of the Second World War. In that war, the United States had two great enemies. The threat was primarily the Nazis, and after them the Russians; both enemies of each other as well. Thus if we allow ourselves to be singularly distracted by ISIS now, and forget even if briefly about Iran, it would be the equivalent the United States focusing on the Soviet Union while allowing the Nazi war machine to grow. Such an approach would have been a possibly fatal disaster. Similarly, we cannot allow our current enemies in the Middle East to grow stronger by taking care of regional rivals that otherwise help keep each other in check. The more time they spend preoccupied with each other, the less time they have to focus on us.
Lastly, other commentators have noted that the threat of ISIS has opened diplomatic opportunities for Israel in the region that are yet unheard of. Does it then really make sense to right away eliminate one of the few things that can help bring Israel closer to regional normalcy?