This article examines the “Islamic State” (IS) phenomenon that has shaken the Middle East since the summer of 2014 as well as its large-scale security implications. To this end the article provides a brief historical background on IS, explores and defines its organizational character, as well as identifies and evaluates the different kinds of security threats posed by IS at the regional and global levels. The argument is that IS is not a typical case of a terrorist organization. It is rather a fusion of a state, an insurgency, and a terrorist organization that could be best described as a “quasi-state.” Further, the security threats posed by IS are categorized into conventional and asymmetrical (or nonconventional) ones. The former regard the regional level, while the latter can even have global repercussions. The article concludes with an assessment of IS’s most important security threats and highlights the importance of dealing with its extremist ideology and the conditions that fuel it.
The first draft was completed in March, 2016 and was updated a few days before publication, after the coup attempt in Turkey.
One of the most important side-effects of the turmoil in the Middle East has been the crisis in Turkey’s relations with its Western partners. However, the events taking place in the Middle East or the Syria war are not the root causes of this friction; merely a triggering factor. The real reasons lie in the multileveled transformation, a sort of “revolution”, that Turkey has been going through over the past years and particularly since the election of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP) to power in 2002. These domestic changes usher in a new era for Turkey’s political scene that has many similarities – as well as differences – with Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979. As a result, its national identity and ideological orientation shifts, something that undoubtedly impacts its foreign policy preferences, and as such will pose significant challenges to Western actors that try to work with Turkey and secure their interests in the region.
The United Kingdom and Germany have been the latest powers to join the war in Syria though Germany’s contribution will be in ground forces and aerial reconnaissance operations. The UK’s decision has stirred up a heated debate about whether this is the right line of action that should be followed from London, or any other country for that matter.
International bombing operations in Syria have been taking place at least since September 2014 in the context of the Western anti-ISIS “Coalition of the Willing” led by the United States. States like the U.S., France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar, Germany and the UK are participating in one way or another in this coalition. On the other end, Russia and the Syrian regime are also conducting large scale military operations. (See map below)
A couple of days ago I wrote a post on Facebook. It wasn’t against the French flag Facebook launched, thought it may have seemed that way. It was about the tragedy of ascribing different value to people, based on their geographies, culture and religion. My main point was that we mourn, care, act and react selectively, based on what we feel closest to us. Not based on a principled appreciation of human life. Which is reasonable, but we should maybe think about it more. This was not judgement. It was just highlighting a fact, based on my own opinion. Raising awareness of the reality that this is how our system works, and that this is how we are drawn to act and behave. I had no intention to downplay the Paris tragedy. Nor did I suggest that one life matters more than others, or that one tragedy deserves more attention than others. Quite the contrary. I’m as devastated as anyone who watched these events unfolding from afar. And I definitely do not see that post as any kind of “activism” – in the age of Facebook, this word has lost its meaning. It was just the expression of an opinion. Continue reading →
Talk (Video & Text) delivered at the conference “EU Foreign Policy and Humanitarian Aid: Developments in the Middle East”, on October 16, 2015. Organized by The European Parliament Offices in Cyprus & Greece, The Representation of the European Commission in Cyprus & the Diplomatic Academy of the University of Nicosia.
A lot can be said and speculated about the roots and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. It is, however, undeniable that its military advances and territorial gains in Iraq and Syria have had a great impact on the politics of the greater Middle East and beyond. Its presence, operations and organizational character have changed the geo-political landscape of the region and the strategic calculations of many states around it and across the world. At the same time it gave new meaning and significance to transnational asymmetrical security threats. Continue reading →
A new crisis is unfolding on the Turkish-Syrian border and Russia is once again a central actor. According to reports so far, Turkey seems to have downed a Russian Su-24 jet which, according to Ankara, violated Turkish airspace over Hatay. Russia disputes Ankara’s claims and argues that the jet was within Syrian airspace when shot down. The plane crashed in Syria (see the Guardian map below). The body of one of the pilots appeared in a leaked video and is estimated that it’s been captured by the anti-Assad Alwiya Al-‘Ashar group.
When the international anti-ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) coalition was formed back in September 2014, Turkey was thought to be a pivotal participant. However, the international initiative divided Turkey’s political scene which appeared reluctant to follow in the footsteps of its traditional ally, the United States (US). Even after October 2, 2014, when the Turkish parliament voted on a motion that would authorize the government to conduct operations in Syria and Iraq as well as provide Turkish soil and military bases for allied operations, Ankara kept resisting any kind of meaningful military engagement of ISIS. Not only that, but it seemed to be turning a blind eye on foreign fighters crossing into Syria through its borders. Continue reading →