What Israel Must Do About ISIS

ISIS well understands that the Internet and social media have become key in the battle for hearts and minds.

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A still from an undated video posted on a social media account frequently used for communications by ISIS, June 28, 2014.
A still from an undated video posted on a social media account frequently used for communications by ISIS, June 28, 2014.Credit: AP
Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli

It was the Islamic State’s 9/11. Far fewer wounded, fortunately, but in terms of the effect – the shock, the magnitude of the strike and its symbolism, the precise planning and production, the creativity and operational capability – it was 9/11.

ISIS has shown over the past few months, as former CIA chief David Petraeus said six months ago, that the greater threat to the West today is not Iran but ISIS. Iran is a state. Its regime has men and women for whom it is obligated to care. ISIS has no obligations to anyone. The term “military deterrence” is meaningless when it comes to this organization.

That does not mean that ISIS does not have to be dealt with by military means. It certainly does. Moreover, the difficult decision has to be made to launch a ground operation to take over the oil fields of which ISIS has taken control, which are the main source of its economic power, and to liberate the cities and villages where it holds women prisoner and tortures them, and forces men to fight with it.

But ISIS draws its greatest power from its amazing ability to enlist forces. This ability stems from the canny use it makes of the Internet in general and social media in particular. ISIS has created a kind of live, ongoing Hollywood series – a fantasy of adventure and excitement, heroism and justice, reverberating effects and of course, success and victory. This is how it enlists more and more young men (and a few young women, too) who do not really understand what they are getting into, but on the computer, and especially in light of their hopeless lives, it looks tempting.

The Western world must understand that social media are a key battlefield for ISIS and so it is there – in the digital world, in the arena of hearts and minds – that a key portion of the battle against it must take place. Every war is a war for hearts and minds, but in this particular war they are a particularly significant component. And you don’t change minds only by military means. Minds can be changed by diplomatic means – in this case, by intensive work on the Internet battlefield.

New and creative thinking is needed here about how to operate on the Internet. Western countries must understand that this is not just a “platform”; it is a weapon, most of which is in their hands. After all, it is not the Muslim world that invented YouTube and Facebook and a good many of the servers through which these networks operate; the Western world did. Creative psychological efforts must be invested in this battle. The fact must be internalized that the Web is not just an important intelligence tool – it is an active means of fighting to change hearts and minds.

To wage this battle, a large, strong, well-organized coalition must be formed that closes ranks around the decision to fight tooth-and-nail for the core values of civilization, which place human beings, not God, in the center. This battle must be led by faith in human rights, not metaphysical directives. It must be a coalition that resolves to fight for the values of liberty and equality, even if it does not always have fraternity within itself.

This coalition must aspire to include Arab countries that fear ISIS and want to root it out, perhaps even more than we do. But it should also take advantage of the timing, and turn the crisis into an opportunity to draw a clear line and make unequivocal demands: Saudi Arabia cannot continue funding reactionary Muslim education in various countries, which lays the groundwork for molding ISIS members. Qatar cannot go on giving them money. This is an opportunity to cause these countries to understand that they cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Israel must also decide whether it is part of this coalition, because to participate it is not enough to warn of the dangers of ISIS and cooperate on intelligence. Israel must decide whether it wants a border with a country that can become a partner in the coalition against ISIS or whether it wants to live without a border alongside a hothouse for ISIS terror.

The Shin Bet security service continues to note that the source of Palestinian terror is despair and frustration on a personal and national level. If we do not move ahead toward an agreement that resolves the Palestinian problem, the frustration and despair will lead to assistance to ISIS terror across the border.

Netanyahu, as usual, is busy creating a false impression and propaganda that presents a parallel between Palestinian terror and ISIS, although he knows well that it is not the same terror. But if Israel continues to insist on leaving the situation in the territories as it is, it is with its own hands establishing ISIS terror and the responsibility for that is Netanyahu’s.

Today more than ever, ISIS is turning an agreement with the Palestinians into an important strategic component of Israel’s security. To be part of this war against ISIS, part of the Western world, part of this coalition, Israel must move forward on a political agreement with the Palestinians.

Merav Michaeli is a member of the Knesset for the Zionist Union. She is Chair of the Caucus for Female Knesset Members, and is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

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