Category Archives: Islamic Jihad

The Nightmare of the Islamic State


The nightmare generated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS) is causing turmoil in the Middle East. Everyone affected is now pondering, “Am I awake or is this just a dream?” The new advances by IS in June 2015 have led to the exodus of another 30,000 Arab Iraqis from Fallujah, now in the hands of IS, to the Kurdish area of Iraq. Another refugee problem, seemingly not a concern of the venerable Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Alice Walker, has been born.

One of the saddest misinterpretations of President Barack Obama was his terming IS a jayvee compared to al-Qaeda. IS has seized Palmyra in Syria, and then Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, capital of Anbar, largest province in Iraq. It has lost some areas to the brave Kurdish forces, and some of its commanders have been killed by U.S. air strikes, but its relentless march continues, and must be stopped.

It is crucial to understand the extraordinary advance and success of this group whose origin can be traced back to the activity of the Jordanian -born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who formed an insurgent al-Qaeda group in 2002, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and was killed four years later. He was replaced by Abu Bakhr al-Baghdadi who rebuilt and strengthened the organization that proclaimed itself the Islamic State in April 2003, a status that was rejected by the rival terrorist groups, al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front.

The speedy territorial aggression of IS incorporated Fallujah in October 2013, and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, amounting to control of about 81,000 square miles, the size of the UK. In June 2014 the terrorist group formally declared itself a Caliphate, a demonstration of nation building.  It is a state governed in accordance with Sharia law. It insists that all Muslims swear allegiance to Baghdadi, that they migrate to the territory he controls, that other jihadist groups accept his authority, that non-Sunni Muslims be treated, according to the doctrine of takfir, as apostates deserving death, that obstacles to restoring Allah’s rule on earth be eradicated, that women wear full veils, that non-Muslims pay a special tax, and that the main enemy is the U.S.-led coalition.

What is disquieting for all the non-believers in the Caliphate is its strength and efficiency. It claims a core of 30,000 fighters who have been joined by 22,000 foreigners from around the world, mainly Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Jordan, and Morocco. It also gets support from Sunni tribes who fear the Shia-dominated Iran.

The Islamic State is well armed; its military capability includes assets of armored vehicles captured from the Syrian and Iraqi armies, 2,300 armored Humvees, tanks, and bomb-proof trucks. It has received funding from private donors, mainly from the Gulf countries, from Islamic charities, but mostly from its sale of crude oil and refined products, kidnapping, robbery, looting, extortion, and sale of antiquities.

In its administrative organization, IS has an elaborate structure of advisory councils and administrative departments that have a wide range of functions: the principle entities are a Sharia religious council; SHURA advisory council; military council; and a security council. The same structure applies in 9 provinces in Syria, and 7 in Iraq. In this administration, former civilian and military officials of the Baath party of Saddam Hussein have been playing a role.

IS proclaims itself a social and political movement. It provides security to Sunni communities located in areas in the midst of conflict, offering itself, while exploiting local grievances, as the only alternative to social collapse in the Arab world. It provides a justice system and other essential services such as schools, clinics and bakeries so that believers can live in the promised paradise. It purports to be the last line of Sunni defense against the many enemies: the U.S.; the so-called apostate Gulf Arab states; the infidel Nusayri Alawite Syrian regime of President Assad, the Rafida (essentially Shia) in Iran and Iraq who reject the legitimate Islamic authority. It is noteworthy that the rivalry between IS and the Nusra Front takes on a tribal inflection.

IS thus contrasts with the al-Qaeda groups in putting less emphasis on religious argument and emphasizing continued territorial expansion, the use of violence and construction and control of a civil society, while insisting, in Stalinist fashion, that in areas under its control all answer to a single authority. Unlike al-Qaeda, the worldview of IS is the belief that the masses need guidance and a vision of the future glories of the state. In this respect, for IS there is an inherent contest between its passion to implement Islamic law with the attempt to get support of people in the territory who may not welcome the imposition of Islamic law.

The increased danger for the west is that IS, through its surrogates, is expanding its activities. Recent incidents include the bombing a Shiite mosque in Saudi Arabia, seizing control of part of Libya, organizing a bloody assault in Egypt along the Mediterranean coast, and establishing links in Nigeria through Boko Haram and in South Asia, especially through its affiliate IS Khorasan, whose former leader Hafiz Saeed, a former Taliban leader, was killed in Aril 2015.

It is disappointing that the Iraqi army, which inflates its numbers with ghost soldiers, has done badly in efforts to resist IS. Shia soldiers flee before the aggressive IS that killed 1500 army cadets. It is encouraging that Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi prime minister since August 2014, a Shia English-speaking individual with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from a British University, has formed an inclusive government and is committed to fighting IS. He helped form an umbrella group Hashid al Shabi of 40 mainly Shia military forces based in Iraq but assisted by some Iranians, to fight IS. The U.S. suggests Abadi also arm Sunni tribes. For the U.S. the essential problem is that the coalition it has assembled is full of conflicting ambitions, and that Saudi Arabia sees the main enemy as Iran with its regional aspirations.

All opponents of IS must wake up and counter its advances, not only militarily but also from the point of view of security as well as halting  information networks, and by skillful use of social media. The danger is that IS is its reaching out to the young , through a  clever core group that sends message through the Internet, social media, and its very well produced propaganda journal Dabiq. It is instilling fear by its public exhibition of beheadings of prisoners and advocating death of all enemies. One valuable western response to all this is the suspension by social media networks of accounts linked to the IS.

IS is appealing to a critical mass available for radicalization who are affected for different reasons: their envy of the west; their acceptance of an Islamic doctrine of redemption; the attractiveness of becoming  martyrs; their acquiescence in peer pressure ; and their swallowing of propaganda proclaiming the power of IS. It has successfully appealed to populations in the East End of London, the banlieues around Paris, and villages in the Balkans. In any case the west must both formulate a counter narrative and prevent terrorist messages. It must overcome the seeming appeal of martyrdom and the promise of an eternal paradise that IS proposes.

Western action will again raise the issue of balancing free speech against security, especially since lone wolf recent Islamic murderers were on the periphery of IS and known Islamist networks, and therefore harder to detect. The task is formidable, as is clear from the limitations the British have experienced where MI5 has 3,000 subjects of interest on its databases but only employs 5,000 to deal with them.

It is tempting to compare IS with the German Nazi regime not only because of the ruthlessness common to both, in the detached attitude towards mass killing, the vandalizing of culture artifacts and the war on cultural heritage, the threat to western civilization, the elevation of the Leader, and the elimination of non-believers. Above all, adherents of both have lost the moral compass that steers civilized people. The west must prevent another genocide. IS must be destroyed before it attempts to emulate the Nazis.

Breaking down the UNHRC report on 2014 Gaza war


· Command responsibility: All four IDF reports of alleged war crimes investigations have assumed that general targeting policy was legal and only individual soldiers could have gone beyond the rules of engagement. The report wants investigations of top military and civilian leaders who set targeting policy. This is a major fault line, but Israel has support from a range of foreign military and top academics for its targeting policy.

· Comptroller got more relevant: The UNHRC probe‘s chairperson Mary McGowan-Davis is following the State Comptroller report on war policy-making to see if it addresses her concerns, not addressed in the IDF reports. That report just got a lot more important.

· Turkel Commission: The report and McGowan-Davis hone in on the lack of implementing ‘Recommendation 2’ of Israel’s quasi-government February 2013 Turkel Report on whether its self-investigating satisfies international law. She totally skipped over its conclusion that Israel’s apparatus meets international law requirements and zoned in on only which of the 18 recommendations made by Turkel to improve investigations have not been implemented. The state has been very slow with addressing some of these and this could be an issue since it was an Israel-sponsored group.

· Gaza blockade: The report repeatedly takes Israel to task for the blockade, though the previous UN Palmer Report said that the blockade did not violate international law. Serious blame for lack of Gaza reconstruction was placed on Israel due to the blockade, seemingly ignoring the blame that many UN officials have placed on donor countries for failing to send most of the funds they promised for reconstruction.

· Accepting ICC jurisdiction: The report demands Israel accede to the Rome Statute and accept International Criminal Court jurisdiction. A non-starter from the Israeli point of view.

· Explosive weapons: Judge McGowan-Davis makes a huge point of attacking Israel for use of explosive weapons in those parts of Gaza which are densely populated. But most of Gaza is densely populated and the IDF has said that Hamas intentionally and systematically abused civilian locations to fire rockets, hide weapons and undertake other attacks. The report does not seem to consider how else the IDF could fight Hamas under these circumstances.

· Defining military objectives – targeting residential buildings: There is a debate about whether the IDF had an overly wide definition of military objective, especially in targeting residential buildings. The report then recognizes that Hamas fought from civilian areas which can convert those areas into military objectives, but perplexingly seemed to say that Hamas’ actions do not modify the legal analysis or obligations for the IDF.

· Warnings: The report unequivocally declares “roof-knocking,” firing a missile without a warhead onto a roof so it will not explode, but will make a loud bang and scare civilians into evacuating before attacking with an armed missile, as ineffective. The Goldstone Report made the same declaration, but whereas there are many international critics of the policy, many foreign military figures and top military law academics have declared the tactic effective, or even cutting-edge and worthy of emulation.

· Israeli investigations of alleged war crimes: McGowan-Davis is highly specific demanding not only investigations, but essentially also indictments, convictions and even sufficiently serious punishments.

· Palestinian investigations of alleged war crimes: McGowan-Davis only demands that there be criminal proceedings with nowhere near the same specificity. This could be a more lenient hand and double-standard, or, in light of her harsh condemnation of Gazan indiscriminate rocket fire, it could be she realizes they have done nothing and nuanced demands only have a chance with Israel.

· IDF release of classified information: The IDF has been complimented by supporters for releasing unprecedented information in its four reports about the military situation on the ground. The report said that too little information has been released and while realizing the IDF may jeopardize its intelligence sources, essentially demands the IDF release far more information. This is a major fault line for judging borderline cases where civilians were killed.

· Proportionality: McGowan-Davis seems to imply that IDF was obligated to completely change targeting policy, including possibly refraining from using missiles and artillery mid-war, after initial casualty reports. This is another major fault line and whereas, she cites one case from an international war crimes tribunal supporting that idea, but there are counter-cases.

· Was Israel’s report of last week referenced: It was unclear whether the report would take into account Israel’s major report released last week. The report did add references to that report, though the reports disagree on a myriad of issues.

Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war


In an olive grove close to houses in the southern Gaza Strip, the earth slides open smoothly, revealing a sight to terrify Israel.

A deep pit containing a 120mm (4in) mortar tube, and three fighters from the militant group – Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Fully armed and in combat fatigues, the men are all wearing head torches. They move quickly, in well-drilled movements, loading and unloading the tube from a stack of mortars at the back of their position.

This is a show of readiness, a show of strength, for the next war with Israel. It is a war that both the militants and the Israeli military, on the other side of the border, believe could come again soon.

The hidden mortar pit is right by the border with Israel, or so I am told.

I cannot be entirely sure as the armed fighters blindfolded me, searched me for tracking devices and removed my mobile phones before the journey.

Viewed as a terrorist group in the West, Islamic Jihad is committed to Israel’s destruction.

Quentin Sommerville was blindfolded before gaining access to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad tunnel

At the back of the firing position is a small curtain that leads into a tunnel cut through the earth. It turns a corner and enters a larger, even deeper tunnel, perhaps 20m down.

Its reinforced concrete walls have an arched roof, tall enough for the men of Islamic Jihad to stand up, and run through it.

This is their escape route, running for hundreds of metres, its exit – or exits – unknown.

The well-constructed walls glisten as condensation reflects off the lights, powered by a car battery, that runs along the length of the tunnel. Deep underground, the air in the tunnel is cool.

Standing inside, his face hidden, is a fighter, with the nom de guerre, Abu Hamza.

“In the last war we noticed that every moving thing on the surface of the earth was bombed, whether it was ambulances, civilians or fighters walking on the street,” he said.

“So [the tunnels] are our hiding place, away from the eyes of the Zionist enemy… we used them to launch [mortars and anti-tank] missiles”.

Islamic State fighter in Gaza tunnelPalestinian militants can move fast inside the tunnels

The tunnel was used in the last war, and it will be used in the next, he said.

As tensions – including attacks – continue between Hamas, who govern Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, Islamic Jihad wants to make its presence felt.

The 50-day conflict in Gaza left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed, with scores more wounded.

Large parts of neighbourhoods in Gaza are in ruins, and the Strip is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis which has left many thousands of families homeless.

Six months on, the rubble from the war lies mostly uncleared and there has been little rebuilding.

Israeli worries

In Israel, communities along the border are well drilled at responding to the rocket and mortar attacks. But they fear even more the tunnels that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad built under the border fence.

People in Israel's city of Ashkelon take cover as a siren sounds to warn of incoming rockets from Gaza. Photo: July 2014Last year’s war was a battle between Israeli artillery and aircraft and militant mortars and rockets from Gaza

Some 32 tunnels were discovered crossing the border and there are believed to be hundreds more inside Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to eradicate the border tunnels but it seems that the threat, though reduced, still remains.

The war in Gaza took place in the skies – a battle between Israeli artillery and aircraft and militant mortars and rockets from Gaza.

But it was also an underground war. Israel was caught unprepared as the militants used tunnel warfare to an extent never seen before.

According to Col Dado, a commander of southern Gaza for the Israel Defense Forces, “the main goal of the tunnels is not to make peace – it is to go and attack civilians and to capture or kidnap soldiers.

“We are worried about it and trying to invent solutions to this problem.”

He would not give details on how Israel is doing so. It is thought to be using enhanced scanning equipment to identify tunnel sites, which it then destroys.

‘We stood our ground’

On Gaza’s southern border, another battle is raging. Near daily explosions can be seen and heard as Egyptian forces extend a buffer zone with Gaza to a kilometre wide.

Egypt’s soldiers move around in armoured vehicles. Border controls have been tightened and they are using explosives to destroy homes and smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi blames Hamas and others for aiding attacks in the Sinai.

Gaza is being cornered, more isolated than ever before. In Gaza City, demonstrators recently took to the streets to protest against Egyptian policies.

Publicly at least, Islamic Jihad refuses to acknowledge Egypt’s role as hostile.

Abu Abdullah, another fighter, said, “we believe that Egypt’s role in the conflict is as a… booster of the Palestinian cause”.

But when I ask another militant when he thinks the next war will come, he jokes: “With Israel or with Egypt?”

And another war with Israel is inevitable, say the militants of Islamic Jihad. They say they lost 145 fighters during the last conflict. Many more civilians were killed. So what was achieved?

“Our biggest achievement is that we stood our ground, and we challenged the occupier,” said Abu Ibrahim, a commander of their Saraya al-Quds brigade.

“Unlike the whole world, we are still able to say ‘no’ to them, ‘no’ to the occupation. We are still able to resist.”

Islamic Jihad fightersIslamic Jihad fighters have been training hard in recent days

Along the border with Israel, it remains relatively quiet. The six-month ceasefire is holding.

But Col Dado, like the men of Islamic Jihad on the other side of the fence, is pessimistic.

“We can see their side is [rebuilding] the tunnels and [preparing themselves] for the next fight,” he said.

“We are doing the same. I hope it will be a long time from today, but I’m not pretty sure about it.

“So – sooner rather than later?” I ask.

“Unfortunately,” the colonel responds.

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