[The following article by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was written for The Jerusalem Report.]
As the fanatics of the Islamic State (IS) advance into the beleaguered Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani – butchering, beheading and raping in what has become an all too familiar ritual of death – the international community sits idly by.
The events of Kobani are an ugly reminder of Srebrenica.
The Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide by Serbian military units in July 1995 during the Bosnian war. Eight thousand Muslim Bosnians, mostly men, were murdered, and many women were raped and sexually abused, while international forces (led by Dutch troops) deployed to protect them did nothing.
Kobani has now been under siege for weeks by IS jihadist, for whom the capture of the town would be a major strategic accomplishment.
Taking Kobani would give IS control of a major gateway to Turkey; deepen the area under its control in Syria and take it further westward and closer to desired access to the Mediterranean. As these lines are written at the end of the second week of October, IS had captured half the town.
Kobani’s Kurdish militia fighters are outnumbered and running out of ammunition and food. The US Air Force has launched a handful of airstrikes to slow IS’s advance as part of the new strategy adopted by President Barack Obama – but to no effect.
The US president had declared that IS is a threat not only to the Middle East but also to the US and Europe, and, in effect, to the whole of Western civilization.
Therefore, one could have expected that the US – supported by other Western (UK, France, Australia, Canada) and Arab (Jordan, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia) air forces – would fight this battle with the utmost vigor.
Yet, the US has so far launched no more than a few hundred air strikes against IS in Iraq and a few dozen in Syria. This is not only too little too late, it is an absurdity. Is this all mightiest air force on earth can do? Surely, they can do better.
By comparison, Israel’s Air Force launched, on average, more than 100 aerial strikes daily against Hamas during the recent Gaza war that lasted 50 days.
No less troubling is the behavior of Turkey, a member of NATO. Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, until recently the country’s prime minister and now its president, put his army on a state of alert. Turkish tanks and troops are deployed at the border just over a kilometer from Kobani where they can see smoke pouring out of the besieged town, yet do nothing – just as the Dutch and other Western forces did in Srebrenica.
Erdogan has his own reasons for not sending in Turkish troops. In his short-sighted policy, he perceives Syrian leader Bashar Assad as a greater threat than IS – ignoring the aspiration expressed publicly by IS leaders to march one day into Istanbul. He hates the Kurds and doesn’t care if they bleed, thus hoping to weaken his own Kurdish minority, which aspires to self-rule.
As for the Kobani Kurds, they expect the worst.
“We were given knives in case bullets run out.” This message was indirectly conveyed to me by some local commanders in Kobani. “We don’t expect to leave alive if the world doesn’t help us to push back IS.”
If this happens, Kobani could turn into a modern-day version of the tragic end of the Jewish zealots in their ill-fated stand against the Romans at Masada.
Turkey might be justified if it prefers not to see only the blood of its sons being spilt in this battle. The US, its NATO allies, the Arab nations and as many UN states as can be mobilized must also deploy their troops. Without boots on the ground, IS will not be defeated – not in Kobani nor in the rest of Syria and in Iraq. And it will not end there.
IS is also present in Lebanon. It has some embryonic cells in various parts of the country, especially in the northern city of Tripoli. But, more dangerously, it is sending battle-hardened combatants from Syria into Lebanon.
There are daily battles along the Lebanese-Syria border between IS on one side and the Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army on the other that already have already cost hundreds of casualties on both sides.
Former Lebanese president Michael Suleiman (Lebanon’s political parties have failed time and again over the last 10 months to elect a new president) said in interviews to the press in early October that IS’s ultimate goal is to conquer Lebanon in order to gain access to the Mediterranean.
At first glance in would appear to be a surprise that in these border clashes IS has been joined by its archrival, the Nusra Front – the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. But, until two years ago, the two groups were united – or rather they were part of one organization that pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin-Laden as leader of al-Qeida after the latter was killed by the US.
But during the heyday of the Syrian civil war, al-Zawahiri disapproved of some of the tactics used by IS and in return, IS rebelled against the al-Qaida leader and declared itself an independent group, under Abu Baker al-Baghdadi as caliph.
The main difference between the two groups is that while al-Qaeda is dedicated to first fight the West, IS’s priority is control of territory.
Thus came into being the declaration of establishing the “Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” – recently changed the grandiose “Islamic State” a clear hint of the group’s desire to conquer all the Arab and Muslim lands in the Middle East (Israel included) and beyond to spread into Europe.
In the last year, ISIS started battling Nusra Front fighters and eventually expelled them from the northeastern parts of Syria, including from Kobani and its surroundings.
Outnumbered by IS, Nusra redeployed its 7,000 combatants to southern Syria. They now control most of the border areas on the Syrian Golan facing Jordan and Israel.
Israeli military sources have told me on a few occasions that they closely monitor Nusra terrorists along the border but that so far it seems they have no intention of turning their guns against Israel.
A senior Israeli intelligence officer who follows the two organizations tells The Jerusalem Report that he was “not surprised” by the tactical alliances and cooperation occasionally seen between IS and Nusra. “The two cooperated in the past and continue to do so when it suits their interests,” he explains. “They share the same goal of fighting the Assad regime and are also ready to join forces against Hezbollah, which supports Assad.”
There were reports after the US commenced air strikes against IS in Syria that Nusra had declared it would ally itself with IS against the US. These reports, however, have been refuted by Israeli intelligence.
The senior source points out that among the targets bombed by the US were two that belonged to the Khorasan unit – a mixed bag of terrorists from various parts of the world including Chechen, Pakistani and Afghani members of al-Qaida who came as volunteers to Syria to fight alongside Nusra.
In response, the Nusra commander, Abu Mohammad al-Julani (his name implies he is a Syrian from the Golan) has denounced the US-led air raids and warned of retaliatory attacks on the “homes” of the Western and Arab countries that have taken part in the bombings.
In an audio message, he called on European and US citizens to denounce Washington’s actions. “Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price,” he said, warning that the battle would be brought “to the hearts of your homes.”
But, as the senior intelligence officer explains, there was nothing in the message that could be interpreted that Nusra will join IS in the battle. “Basically, the coordinated efforts by the two groups directed against Hezbollah are a tactical and temporary move. Nusra and IS remain bitter enemies. They are like water and oil.”