Now it is finally recognized that Iran and Syria helped ISIS get started, it is time to look at what happens next in the MIddle East crisis as the storm clouds continue gathering.
The Middle East is on fire and the speed with which events have happened has taken many by surprise. There is a real potential for further escalation of the chaos which is engulfing the region. ISIS control a vast swath of territory which crosses the border between Syria and Iraq. The fighting in this area is growing in intensity. Add to this the current war between Hamas of Gaza and Israel and it becomes clear we are living in critical times.
Among all this chaos, the most stable country in the region is Iran. It is a country with a very rich culture and history. They are not Arab, they are Persian, there is a huge difference in mentality between the two. The Persians are strategic, long term planners and extremely good game players. They understand the power and effectiveness of well run institutions when it comes to managing the population. The leadership in Tehran is also totally amoral and ruthless. One fact which escapes many is this, although the leadership portrays itself as being very religious, it is not. Rather it uses religion as a way of uniting Shia muslims under a common banner.
Against this background, Iran together with the Assad regime in Syria permitted and helped ISIS to grow. The objective being the creation of chaos in Sunni muslim regions of Syria and Iraq. In Syria it allows Bashar al Assad to now portray himself as the only possible stabilizing force in the country, that all rebels are terrorists, taking attention away from what was a popular uprising and using extremists to create a sectarian conflict. The vast majority of fighting by ISIS in Syria has been against moderate rebels in Sunni areas rather than the Syrian regime which is Alawite and Shia. In Iraq ISIS has been focusing most of its efforts on Sunni areas of the country, now it is concentrating a lot of attention on Baghdad and its environs.
While Iran and Syria helped ISIS become established this is not to say they have total control over the organization. Recently Syria has engaged ISIS fighters in battle as have Iranian forces in Iraq. They are not engaging ISIS at a huge level but this is part of the play by both Syria and Iran to create an image that they are the good guys, needed to help combat the expansionism of ISIS.
There are conversations happening that the USA should consider working with Iran to combat ISIS. Not in the sense of boots on the ground, although the neo-cons would love for this to happen and may yet get their way, but in other more discreet ways. If this were to happen it would work entirely in Iran’s favour. Allow me to explain why. By so doing, it will mean that Iran becomes accepted as the dominant power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on the other hand will be humiliated and forced to accept the situation. Most of this has already happened and is the reason why KSA is working to improve its relations with Iran. The other part of Iranian strategy is to continue using ISIS to create chaos in Sunni areas while fighting them in areas that have Shia populations. It really is playing both sides of the coin as it did in the past, when it allowed Sunni group Ansar al-Islam, the fore-runner of Al Qaeda in Iraq to pass through its territory. Yes, Shia Iran has cooperated many times in the past with Sunni extremist groups. Now the fighting is coming closer to Baghdad on a daily basis, with its mixed Sunni/Shia population we can expect to see Iranian involvement increasing as it works to show it is the good guy by helping resist the group it created. The leadership of ISIS understand this but the foot soldiers of ISIS who are fighting on the ground have no idea they are being used.
To be honest, there is very little the USA can directly do about ISIS. If they put boots on the ground then all Sunni muslims, extremist or not, would be against them. The memory of American troops in Iraq and the mess they created is still very much an open wound.
In the longer term the prognosis for the Middle East crisis is one of increasing volatility. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza will probably lead to a 3rd intifida, there are already calls for this to happen. The current conflict is different, with wide coverage on social media of what is happening in Gaza there is a lot of outrage being directed at the Israeli government, unfortunately there is a lot of anti Semitism about now too, many people now equate being a Jew with being a murderer. What is happening in Gaza, the shedding of innocent blood of women and children is on the hands of the Knesset and the IDF. What the fallout of the current situation will be is hard to say exactly, but this situation will not be allowed to die down as in times past. Social media has put the images of what is happening in the minds of everybody around the world in a way which has never before happened. When global public opinion is focused on the actions of one country then you can be sure there will be consequences.
ISIS will continue creating chaos in Syria and Iraq but will not stop there. Long term objectives are to spread chaos to KSA with the objective of capturing Mecca. They will also have Jerusalem in their sights as they consider it to be one of their holy places. They are not worried about triggering an even bigger conflict in the region, they believe they are doing the work of Allah even if that were to lead to world war 3
All the while Iran will remain aloof as it gives the appearance of having no involvement in the creation of chaos. The only way for this to change would be if some destabilizing situation were to unexpectedly develop in Iran. My personal view of this is to expect the unexpected.
Finally Turkey, it is the wild card of the region. It is slowly progressing down the road to becoming an authoritarian regime. It also allowed ISIS to import heavy weapons from Libya through its ports and across its borders into Syria. Turkey is a majority Sunni population country which until the fall of the Ottoman empire was the spiritual leader for Sunni muslims worldwide. It is a well understood fact that Turkey misses its glory days. As the Middle East crisis develops and instability increases, it will pay to watch Turkey very closely.
The outlook for the Middle East is tempestuous to say the least. As always it is the ordinary people who will suffer the most. While there is the possibility of the short-term situation leading to increased terrorism threats around the world, the current situation means that those who go to fight for ISIS are concentrating most of their energy on expanding the Islamic State that covers territory in Syria and Iraq. For the time being they are generally too busy where they are now to concentrate on terrorist attacks in Europe or the USA. However, as time goes on, the threat level will increase as they consolidate power, it will become necessary for some sort of direct international intervention, more likely than not under the auspices of the United Nations. The only way to deal with a supranational threat will be via supranational organizations.
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