How We Can Defeat ISIS
The Middle East, as we know it, is crumbling. Civil wars rage across the region, millions have become refugees and hundreds of thousands are dead. Borders that have existed for more than a century are ripe for reshaping. All of this has given rise to a major threat to western democracies: The Islamic State.
Da’esh — or ISIS, as it is called in English — has filled the vacuum, seizing swathes of land once belonging to the now failing governments of Syria and Iraq. From that territory, ISIS plots massive terror attacks against the West. Yet as dangerous an enemy as it is, it can be defeated.
I have spent more than 30 years fighting terrorism. As such, I have learned that while terror organizations excel at adapting to the realities around them, it is possible to defeat them, so long as those who fight terror analyze the ever-changing battlefield — and are ready to change the rules of the game when necessary.
What follows is a series of steps needed for the defeat of ISIS.
Firstly, it must be stopped from repeating its terror successes — not only because of the murders, but also because of the media attention those attacks draw toward the group. The potent recruitment tool of the media coverage of attacks is even more detrimental in the long term than the death toll caused in the aftermath of an ISIS strike. We know this from the Paris and Jakarta attacks, both of which yielded media coverage that compensated the group for any ground lost in Iraq and Syria.
Secondly, Western countries must tighten their border control measures so as to prevent any infiltration by
Granting safe haven to refugees fleeing for their lives is important and virtuous, but so is plugging the breaches through which terrorists can reach Europe. Turkey, a case in point, with its border against Iraq and Syria, sees jihadist fighters sneak in daily; its border must be sealed effectively. If not, for some infiltrators, the next stop could be Europe.
Thirdly, given that Turkey is a NATO member-state, securing Turkey’s border must become a NATO mission.
Fourthly, to defeat ISIS, the Arab-Sunni countries must be encouraged to become much more active. The fact that it is losing ground in Iraq to Shiite forces led by Iran is not good news. Sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shiites are a never-ending story and a temporary Sunni setback will always be followed by an anti-Shiite counter-attack.
We must all be clear that militias supported by Iran can be just as cruel and ruthless as ISIS, creating an incentive for more Sunni civilians to adopt the group’s jihadist ideology. A true victory over ISIS is possible only if the group is crushed by the weight of Sunni forces.
Such encouragement has been proven effective in the past. A decade ago, the US made a considerable effort to create such forces among the Sunni population in Iraq. While the effort was terminated when the US left the country, the effort had proven successful until that point.
Finally, more effort needs to be devoted to dismantling ISIS’ financial infrastructure. Oil and gas fields need to be targeted; money smuggling networks need to be eliminated; religious organizations raising money for jihadist activities need to be stopped. From the years I spent fighting terrorism, I know that “following the money” is essential to both achieving military success and preventing a rebirth of any terror organization.
An entire range of economic steps is thus desperately needed in order to fundamentally change the situation in the Middle East in a way that will strengthen stable governments and make it harder for terrorists to gain ground.
Major-General Noam Tibon served in the IDF for over 30 years. He led military efforts against Hamas in the West Bank, first as a brigade commander and eventually as the commander of the entire West Bank region, working closely with the commanders of the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. Major-General (Ret.) Tibon is a Senior Policy & Security Advisor to the organization Our Soldiers Speak. Follow them at www.oursoldiersspeak.org. The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry, or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.