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Get ready for ISIS to make a comeback

Reports of the Islamic State’s death have been greatly exaggerated. ISIS is an idea, not an organization, and ideas are hard to kill.

The Islamic State flag. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Islamic State flag. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

When the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin boasted that the desire of his people for death in the service of Hamas was greater than the Israelis’ desire to live. Yassin, of course, was not referring to himself; happy to send his people off to die, he himself clung to life and even believed that his advanced age and status would protect him. But nothing lasts forever, and in March 2004, he was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Were Yassin alive today, however, he would likely be dismayed to discover that there are now other organizations in the Gaza Strip that rival Hamas in their search for death. Last week, three Hamas members were killed and more wounded in suicide bombings reportedly carried out by members of jihadist Salafi movements that take inspiration from Islamic State (ISIS).

These movements are believed to include more than 10,000 members or supporters throughout Gaza, and Hamas is waging a bitter battle against them. Hamas has banned and even killed many of their members and destroyed the mosques where they prayed, but still hasn’t managed to root them out.

Incidentally, none of this is keeping Hamas from cooperating with the branch of ISIS operating in the Sinai Peninsula and helping it in its war against the Egyptian authorities in exchange for help smuggling weapons into Gaza.

But ISIS isn’t only active in Gaza and Sinai. It turns out that Africa hasn’t heard the news that ISIS has been defeated. In the past few months alone, Islamist terrorist movements in Mali and Burkina Faso have declared their loyalty to ISIS, and there are also the groups that have long been active in Nigeria (such as the murderous Boko Haram), Tunisia, Libya and Somalia. ISIS has also expanded its activities in Pakistan, India and even Afghanistan, where one of its people recently carried out a terrorist bombing that targeted a wedding, killing 63 and wounding hundreds.

All of this pales in comparison to the vitality ISIS is exhibiting in the deserts of Syria and Iraq, where it came into being and founded and ran its own nation for several years. This past March, American sources boasted about capturing the organization’s last outpost on Syrian soil. A year earlier, other reports said that ISIS had lost all of its territory in Iraq. For the most part, ISIS has been replaced by the Iranians or their allies, who have even established a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut that passes through Baghdad and Damascus.

Despite reports that ISIS has been contained, however, the organization continued to operate in Syria and Iraq, and according to reports in recent months the group was behind numerous terrorist attacks against government or military targets in those countries that killed dozens and left hundreds wounded. So ISIS has in effect gone back to what it was at its founding just a few years ago—a subversive terrorist organization that enjoys the support of the local population among which it operates.

We should mention that the leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, once warned the leaders of ISIS not to aim too high and try to found an actual country, which he said would be far beyond its capabilities. ISIS refused to listen and cut itself off from Al-Qaeda, but in the end was forced back underground.

The reason for the appearance of ISIS in the first place, and for its subsequent success, has to do with the Shi’ite Iraqi government’s discriminatory treatment of Iraq’s Sunni population, as well as the frustration and anger of the Sunni population in Syria under the Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. None of this has changed, so we can assume that ISIS will continue to enjoy widespread support that will allow it to remain an effective terrorist organization.

It was former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eizenkot who warned against believing the reports that ISIS had been eliminated, pointing out that ISIS is an idea, not an organization. It turns out he was right—ISIS is alive and kicking, and we can assume that in the future it will seek to resume its terrorist activity throughout the world, and even against Israel.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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