Israel Backs UN Move Against Foreign Terrorists, but Fears World Will Lose Focus on Iran

Historic Security Council meeting led by President Obama poised to adopt strong measures based on 'muscular' Chapter 7 of UN Charter, Israeli UN jurist explains.

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Dr. David Scharia
Dr. David SchariaCredit: Nir Kafri
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Israel fully supports the unprecedented resolution on fighting foreign terrorists that the Security Council is expected to adopt on Wednesday in a special session of world leaders headed by U.S. President Barack Obama. Israelis are concerned, however, that the high profile emphasis on Islamic State could further detract the world’s attention away the much greater threat posed by Iran’s nuclear drive, Israeli sources said.

The Obama-led meeting of the Council’s 15 members is slated to endorse a wide-reaching resolution that would obligate the 193 members of the United Nations to take strong measures against the recruitment, financing and movement of foreign volunteers in terrorist groups – especially those, like Islamic State/ISIS, that operate in Iraq and Syria.

“It’s one of the rare times in history that the Security Council is adopting a decision within the framework of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which deals with efforts to ‘restore international peace and security’ and mandates the use of ‘non-military and military force,’" according to David Scharia, the Israeli jurist who is the senior legal adviser and criminal justice coordinator of the Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).

U.S. officials have expressed hope that the approval of the U.S.-sponsored decision could bolster Obama’s low approval ratings as well as confidence in his ability to muster an international coalition against Islamic State and other jihadist groups, which the resolution defines as offshoots of al-Qaida. This is the second time an American president is presiding over a Security Council meeting – the first was in 2009, when Obama managed a session devoted to nuclear proliferation.

The resolution prescribes measures to deny passage for foreign terrorist fighters – FTFs for short – to and from arenas of conflict in which terrorist groups are involved. It requires UN members to combat the recruitment, finance and organization of FTFs, to enhance international collaboration in areas such as intelligence, legal issues and aviation and to rein in the use of modern technology and communications by FTFs upon their return to their countries of origin or move to another. The resolution defines the FTF phenomena as “an acute and growing threat.”

The New York Times reported this week that U.S. intelligence officials estimate that over 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries – including 2,000 Europeans and 100 Americans – are already fighting alongside Islamic State and other jihadist groups. Scharia says that in the deliberations that accompanied the formulation of the resolution, terror experts said that the FTFs in Syria and Iraq pose an “ exponentially greater danger” to the world than the one created in Afghanistan before and after the 9/11 terror attacks.

“The number of FTFs is much bigger as are the number and range of countries – including Israel - from which they are recruited. And the proliferation of the Internet as well as communications technology, which didn’t exist then, allows the FTFs to organize and to globalize in ways that truly turn it into a threat to world peace,” he explains.

The New York Times reported that the resolution could bring more pressure to bear on U.S. allies such as Turkey, which has allowed thousands of volunteers to cross its borders and join Islamic State and other groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Saudi Arabia and Qatar would also be expected to take stronger measures against clergymen who support the jihadists as well as private donors who have continued to finance them despite Obama’s declared intent to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State. A European official told the newspaper that “it will be more politically palatable for some countries to follow a Security Council resolution on foreign fighters than the urgings of the United States.”

Israeli sources said that they are confident that the language of the resolution excludes its potential misuse against foreigners, especially American Jews, who volunteer to fight for the IDF, an issue that became prominent in the wake of the falling of several such soldiers during Operation Protective Edge. The sources said that the issue was more acute for Russia, which feared that the resolution could be used against volunteers in eastern Ukraine, but these concerns have been allayed and Moscow has signaled in recent days that it would support the new measure.

Without referring to individual countries, Scharia confirmed that the resolution does not apply to foreign armies: “There are countries that forbid their citizens from enlisting in foreign armies and there is an international convention that deals with mercenaries taking part in foreign conflicts – but this matter is outside the scope of the proposed resolution, which deals in terror groups.”

The Israelis sources also said that they welcome the strong language of the resolution, because Islamic State poses a growing danger not only to the world and the Middle East but to Israel as well. They said that Israel will make the case that the resolution should also constrain Iran’s ability to bolster terrorist groups such as Hezbollah with foreign fighters. They expressed concern, however, that the devotion of Obama’s Security Council to Islamic State, rather than Iran, could weaken the public case that Israel has been trying to make that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions pose a far greater threat to world peace than Islamic State. Israel’s U.S. Ambassador Ron Dermer has quantified the Iranian threat as “a thousand times” greater than Islamic State.

Experts quoted in the Times and other publications cautioned that although the new resolution draws its authority from the muscular Chapter 7, it will be hard to implement nonetheless. Scharia said that CTED and other UN bodies will now plan and launch an international campaign to promote the new measures and convince countries to enact legislation accordingly, and will then start to oversee and report on the implementation of the decision. It’s a long range project, he says, to fight a threat that will stay with us “for many years to come.”

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