Daesh ‘caliphate’ crumbles but group remains potent threat

Updated 17 October 2017
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Daesh ‘caliphate’ crumbles but group remains potent threat

BEIRUT: The fall of Raqqa has boxed Daesh into a small “rump caliphate” straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border, a remote but strategically key area its enemies are keen to seize.
But even as its proto-state crumbles in the face of multiple assaults, experts warn Daesh remains a potent threat whose ideology is likely to endure long after its “caliphate” is gone.
After more than four months of fighting to retake Raqqa, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared the city liberated on Tuesday, seizing what was once the terrorists’ de facto Syrian capital.
The loss is only the latest in a string of blows against Daesh, which has lost swathes of territory to the SDF, the Syrian regime and to Iraqi forces the other side of the border.
With the loss of Raqqa, the “would-be caliphate of IS (Daesh) that at its height in 2014 threatened to rule all of Syria from Aleppo to the Iraqi border will be cut down to a dwarf territory in Deir Ezzor,” said Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
The eastern Syrian province, which borders Iraq, “will be the center of gravity for IS (Daesh) in Syria,” he said.
“IS (Daesh) always intended for Deir Ezzor and its neighboring area... to be the last stronghold of the caliphate.”
The province’s remote location in “harsh desert” far from both Damascus and Baghdad makes it the perfect place for a last stand, he added.
But the jihadists are already under attack across the province, and losing territory to two separate campaigns.
The first, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river that slices diagonally across the province, is being waged by the SDF with US-led coalition support.
The second is a Russian-backed Syrian regime operation, which has already broken a nearly three-year siege of government-held parts of provincial capital Deir Ezzor city and seized the strategic town of Mayadeen.
“I think the Iraqi and Syrian governments will work to secure the whole border, knowing that neglect of the porous border area will only abet IS in the future,” said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an expert on counter-terrorism.
For Syria’s regime and its ally Iran, a victory in the area would be doubly valuable, cutting off further advances by the US-backed SDF and ensuring Washington cannot block Iran’s land route through Iran into Syria and Lebanon.
Despite suffering major losses of territory, Daesh will remain a dangerous threat for the foreseeable future, experts say.
“The awful truth is that IS will be just as deadly as an insurgency and a terrorist network as it was as a state-like actor,” Heras said.
Al-Tamimi said the group would likely use raids, sleeper cells, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings even after its core territory has disappeared.
“Attacks in Europe will continue for some time. I think the defeat of IS (Daesh) as a state project does diminish its appeal, but there will be supporters for a long time to come,” he said.
Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, warned that the ideology of Daesh would linger long after its “caliphate” was gone.
He said the group saw itself as successful, having “managed to declare a caliphate and keep it going” — something unprecedented in modern terrorism.
That, he added, “will have an impact on the global jihadist spectrum for years and years to come.”


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

Keeping spirits alive Palestinian youths play with rollerblades by walls covered with graffiti at the sea port in Gaza City on Tuesday. AFP
Updated 20 June 2018
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White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

  • The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
  • Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them

AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.