International Efforts to Confront the Islamic State Gather Pace

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Efforts to create a coherent and unified response to the Islamic State threat continue to gather pace as Arab leaders met last Sunday in Cairo.  There are signs that such efforts are bearing fruit as Bahrainis, Iraqis, Saudis and others come forward with various proposals for stemming the growth of the IS. Even in countries like Lebanon, where many are given to dismiss the threat coming from IS, there are some who are calling for tackling the threat of Islamic fundamentalism head on. The Iranians and Americans, for their part, have both given mixed messages regarding the possibility of mutual cooperation, with Tehran accusing Washington of taking advantage of the current insecurity in the region to sow dissension among the Muslim countries.

According to an Arab News report on the latest Arab League meeting, “Arab League foreign ministers agreed on Sunday to take all necessary measures to confront Islamic State and cooperate with international, regional and national efforts to combat militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria. The Arab League also endorsed in the closing statement of its meeting in Cairo a UN Security Council resolution passed last month calling on member states to ‘act to suppress the flow of foreign fighters, financing and other support to extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.’”

To show that words are not enough in the fight against the IS militants, the Gulf Daily News reported that Bahrain’s government “unveiled a new two-pronged strategy to beef up security and counter terrorist threats. ‘All measures will be taken to bridge any gaps, and remedy any loopholes through which the scourge of terror may spread to the homeland,’ said the Premier. Bahrain will also step up co-ordination with regional and international actors in the global fight against terror….His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa affirmed the counter-terrorism plan as he received…Shura Council chairman Ali Saleh Al Saleh along with MPs and Shura members.

The Iraqis, finding themselves on the front line, have begun reconsidering the existing security arrangements between Iraq and the United States: “State of Law member and ex-National  Security Advisor Muwafaq al-Rubai’i proposed today the formation of an expanded security committee with Washington and the NATO to enhance security and fighting against terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East. He pointed out that the security agreement was not activated, so it is imperative for the coming government to review its relations with USA in regard to security cooperation. Rubai’i added that most indications denote the increase of terrorist groups in the region, which necessitates forming a security council to administer the crisis.”

Even though IS does not currently pose a clear and present danger to Lebanon, Al Arabiya’s Nayla Tueni argues that should not be a reason for the Lebanese society to become complacent: “Time constraints no longer allow us to continue addressing our local issues with shallow talk. Lebanon, and the Lebanese people, confront an existential threat which can only be addressed by ending the prevailing political and social coma. Therefore, we would not be exaggerating if we say that we are being called upon to defend our existence and to prove – for once in our history – that we, as citizens and not as narrow-minded people or followers of a certain sect or religion or party, are capable of defeating the threat posed against us.”

James Dorsey, in a an op-ed written for the Daily News Egypt, highlights the ‘ideological challenge’ which the Islamic State poses to Saudi Arabia “with IS tracing its roots to the philosophy of 18th century warrior-jurist Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab and other Islamic sources on which the kingdom was built….IS challenges Saudi rulers with its effort to create a state that implements the very principles the kingdom’s Wahhabi rulers claim to embrace. In doing so, it forces Saudi Arabia to walk a tightrope balancing its policies severely restricting women’s and other human rights with its fending off of mounting international criticism that it is jihadism’s ideological mother lode.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Eyad Abu Shakra goes further to suggest that the IS phenomenon poses a threat to Sunni interests in the region and as such it should be confronted immediately: “The emergence of ISIS and similar groups is undoubtedly a very dangerous development in the Middle East, as they threaten to tear apart its social fabric. However, they do not threaten just the region’s religious and sectarian minorities; ISIS and its allies also threaten Sunni interests….Thus, it is the duty of Sunnis, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, to defend their own interests and confront all those who harm or distort the image of Islam by their ignorance, extremism and arrogance. It is incumbent on all Muslims and Arabs to be aware of all aspects of the crucial challenge they now face, and not misinterpret the great changes taking place all around them by relying on parochial attitudes.”

No wonder, then, that religious leaders, including most recently the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, have condemned IS, and have “urged Muslims to confront the ‘oppressive’ Islamic State jihadists if they fight Muslims after seizing swaths of Iraq and Syria….’This group is aggressive and oppressive. It sheds blood,’ Aleqtesadiah daily quoted Al-Asheikh as saying. ‘If they fight Muslims, then Muslims must fight them to rid people and religion of their evil and harm,’ he said in a response to a request from an Iraqi for a fatwa or edict on fighting IS….Last month, the Kingdom’s highest religious authority branded Al-Qaeda and IS jihadists Islam’s ‘No. 1 enemy’, and warned Muslim youth to steer clear of ‘calls for jihad’ issued on ‘perverted’ grounds.”

Amid calls for a greater U.S. involvement in the region and signs that U.S. President Barack Obama is heeding such calls, the Iranians have ramped up their criticism against what they see as the instrumentalization of the IS threat by the United States. According to a Gulf Today report, “Iran accused the United States on Sunday of not taking the threat from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Iraq and Syria seriously, and charged that U.S. aid had previously helped the jihadists. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif levelled the accusations despite an expanding U.S. air campaign in Iraq since Aug.8 that provided key support in relieving a jihadist siege of a Shiite Turkmen town north of Baghdad late last month….’There is still no serious understanding about the threat and they (the United States) have as yet taken no serious action,’ Zarif was quoted as saying by Iran’s Mehr news agency.”

Judging from comments made by the commander of the Iranian army and published by the Tehran Times, it is not clear whether any kind of U.S. involvement would be acceptable to the Iranians, who suspect the Americans are stoking the fires of inter-sectarian conflict in the region: “The United States is using ISIL terrorists as a pretext to sow discord among Muslims, the commander of the Iranian Army says. ‘Today, proxy wars are the most important threat to the region and to the entire world. The world arrogance, headed by the United States, spares no efforts to create rift among Shia and Sunni Muslims through arming terrorist and takfiri groups like ISIL, al-Nusrah, and Jund al-Shaitan [a reference to the terrorist Jundollah group],’ Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan told special units of the Army in Mashhad on Sunday.”

The Iranians have also insisted in a comprehensive strategy that looks beyond the immediate threat posed by the Islamic State, pointing out that “Any regional or international coalition in the campaign against terrorism in the Middle East region is doomed to failure without considering regional security and political issues, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council says….Iran is monitoring all political and security developments in the region, adding that Tehran would use all its political clout to prevent the West from applying “domineering policies” in the region. Ruling out baseless claims regarding Iran-U.S. cooperation in Iraq, Shamkhani said the nature of Iran’s campaign against terrorism runs contrary to the “ineffective” U.S. actions.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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