Suddenly everyone knew ahead of time about the terror attacks at the airport and the Metro in Brussels. The European Union warned Belgium a few weeks ago of security gaps at the airport. The president of Turkey announced loudly that he had warned Belgian and Dutch security officials about Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the perpetrators of the attacks, who had been deported from Turkey to Holland last year. Haaretz (Amos Harel, March 24) reported that the Belgian authorities had received a specific warning of the terror attacks.
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The fact that so many international security entities had reasonably reliable information raises a number of serious questions, the most important of which is whether the strategy in the war against Islamic State has failed, missing the change in the character of the war ISIS is waging in the West.
Last November, Western coalition aircraft bombed the city of Derna in Libya, which was under ISIS control, killing among others Abul-Mughirah al-Qahtani, considered ISIS’s leader in Libya. The killing of senior ISIS commanders has become part of the method of fighting the organization, as if these were terror cells that could be wiped out by killing their commanders.
This month, a replacement was found for Qahtani – Abdul Qadr al-Najdi, who has already stated that “Libya is the gateway to Rome of the Islamic State.”
In February the Americans attacked the Libyan city of Sabratha, killing 40 people. According to reports in the West, all of the casualties were ISIS fighters, but according to reports from Libya, 48 hours before the assault ISIS had withdrawn its forces to the city of Sirte, east of Sabratha. As in Iraq and Syria, the coalition forces, mainly U.S. aircraft, continue to attack ISIS bases in Libya. But attacking them does not stop terrorists from landing in Europe and according to various reports, 400 terrorists have already been sent to strike targets in the West.
Even the term “ISIS bases” is tricky. For example, in the city of Ajdabiya in central Libya, three forces are fighting alongside each other. One is ISIS, which has control of part of the oil fields in the western part of the district, another is a government militia securing the other oil fields, and the third is the Libyan army led by General Khalifa Haftar. Ajdabiya’s mayor, Salam Jadran, is the brother of the militia commander, while a third brother, Osama, is a senior figure in ISIS.
The Jadran family has branches extending from the Libyan army, through the oil field militias and ISIS. And so, when the American forces operate against ISIS they are hitting not only Islamist fighters, but family and tribal alliances. Can such an assault prevent terror in Europe? Can it encourage the Libyan army to join forces with local militias against ISIS?
The Libyan example also attests to another failure in Western strategic perception. The assumption is that if only stable governments would arise in Iraq, Syria and Libya, they could control unified military forces that would efficiently fight ISIS.
This assumption rests, rightly, on the understanding that only a ground war can defeat ISIS. But in such a war, according to the West, only Arab blood, not Western blood, must be spilled.
ISIS’s method of conquest – moving into new areas from those over which it has lost control – gave the West the impression that it was impervious to terror attacks. Unlike Al-Qaida, ISIS started a Muslim-Muslim war, and its targets were in Arab countries and, selectively, in Islamic countries. Ostensible proof of this was found in the fact that until last summer, ISIS did not attack Turkey or Iran, although it is waging a bloody war against Shi’ites and Alawites in Iraq and Syria. Neither did it carry out attacks in Russia, despite Russian involvement in bombing its bases in Syria.
The effort to attribute to ISIS a universal strategy has still not proven out despite its declarations that such a strategy exists. Did the attacks in Brussels, France and Turkey come out of a war room in Raqqa, Syria, considered ISIS’ capital, or were the terrorists operating on an independent agenda after being trained by ISIS? And if ISIS aspires to worldwide terror, especially against the West, why has it not taken advantage of the million refugees in Europe and more than 3 million in Turkey? ISIS, in fact, opposes Muslim migration to Europe and on its website calls on refugees to come to areas under its control.
Another theory holds that striking at Western targets is intended to create hostility between Muslims and Christians and lead Muslims to immigrate from Europe back to Islamic countries. But like the other theories, the effort to find an overarching model to explain “Islam against the West” does no good in the fight against this organization.