US Official in Testimony to Senate Committee: Facing Territorial Losses, Weakened Morale, ISIS Setting Sights on Israel
by Lea Speyer
With the Islamic State (ISIS) incurring territorial losses in Syria and Iraq — and suffering weakened morale as a result — the jihadist terror group is now setting its sights on Israel, a US official said on Tuesday.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about global efforts to defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk — US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (the acronym used by the White House) — warned that as coalition forces “root out an ISIL presence in the SW tri-border region of Syria adjacent to Jordan and the Golan Heights…[ISIL has] focused on Israel as a target.”
McGurk said this change in strategy — which is partially driven by heavy “losses on the battlefield” — is a result of the terror group’s “hop[e] to generate international headlines to compensate for its defeats.”
McGurk said, the US must not allow ISIS to try to bolster its position and put Israel in its crosshairs.
“Last week, I stood at the border, where ISIL positions and training facilities were visible in the distance…We cannot permit ISIL to re-establish a presence anywhere in Syria, let alone on the borders of our closest friends,” he told the committee.
Along Israel’s southern border with Egypt, McGurk said, the ISIS branch operating in the Sinai — which has close ties to Hamas in the Gaza Strip — is a cause for “concern.” ISIS’ Egyptian affiliate is believed to be responsible for the October 2015 downing of a Russian jet that had 224 people on board.
“The Sinai branch is comprised from a pre-existing violent extremist group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. We estimate its manpower to be from several hundred up to 1,000,” he said.
McGurk added that the US “strongly supports” Egypt’s efforts to cut off resources to ISIS in the Sinai — efforts which include “increased combat operations” by its army and a directive that “closed almost all the tunnels that facilitated arms smuggling along the Gaza border.”
However, at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference in January, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin warned, “The Islamic State is already here; that is no longer a secret. I am not speaking about territories bordering the state of Israel, but within the state itself.”