Israeli think tank: Don’t destroy ISIS; it’s a “useful tool” against Iran, Hezbollah, Syria
Head of a right-wing think tank says the existence of ISIS serves a “strategic purpose” in the West’s interests BEN NORTON
Israeli think tank: Don’t destroy ISIS; it’s a “useful tool” against Iran, Hezbollah, Syria Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Credit: Reuters) According to a think tank that does contract work for NATO and the Israeli government, the West should not destroy ISIS, the fascist Islamist extremist group that is committing genocide and ethnically cleansing minority groups in Syria and Iraq.
Why? The so-called Islamic State “can be a useful tool in undermining” Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Russia, argues the think tank’s director.
“The continuing existence of IS serves a strategic purpose,” wrote Efraim Inbar in “The Destruction of Islamic State Is a Strategic Mistake,” a paper published on Aug. 2.
By cooperating with Russia to fight the genocidal extremist group, the United States is committing a “strategic folly” that will “enhance the power of the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis,” Inbar argued, implying that Russia, Iran and Syria are forming a strategic alliance to dominate the Middle East.
“The West should seek the further weakening of Islamic State, but not its destruction,” he added. “A weak IS is, counterintuitively, preferable to a destroyed IS.”
Inbar, an influential Israeli scholar, is the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank that says its mission is to advance “a realist, conservative, and Zionist agenda in the search for security and peace for Israel.”
The think tank, known by its acronym BESA, is affiliated with Israel’s Bar Ilan University and has been supported by the Israeli government, the NATO Mediterranean Initiative, the U.S. embassy in Israel and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
BESA also says it “conducts specialized research on contract to the Israeli foreign affairs and defense establishment, and for NATO.”
In his paper, Inbar suggested that it would be a good idea to prolong the war in Syria, which has destroyed the country, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing more than half the population.
As for the argument that defeating ISIS would make the Middle East more stable, Inbar maintained: “Stability is not a value in and of itself. It is desirable only if it serves our interests.”
“Instability and crises sometimes contain portents of positive change,” he added.
Inbar stressed that the West’s “main enemy” is not the self-declared Islamic State; it is Iran. He accused the Obama administration of “inflat[ing] the threat from IS in order to legitimize Iran as a ‘responsible’ actor that will, supposedly, fight IS in the Middle East.”
Despite Inbar’s claims, Iran is a mortal enemy of ISIS, particularly because the Iranian government is founded on Shia Islam, a branch that the Sunni extremists of ISIS consider a form of apostasy. ISIS and its affiliates have massacred and ethnically cleansed Shia Muslims in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
Inbar noted that ISIS threatens the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the Syrian government survives, Inbar argued, “Many radical Islamists in the opposition forces, i.e., Al Nusra and its offshoots, might find other arenas in which to operate closer to Paris and Berlin.” Jabhat al-Nusra is Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, and one of the most powerful rebel groups in the country. (It recently changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.)
Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based militia that receives weapons and support from Iran, is also “being seriously taxed by the fight against IS, a state of affairs that suits Western interests,” Inbar wrote.
“Allowing bad guys to kill bad guys sounds very cynical, but it is useful and even moral to do so if it keeps the bad guys busy and less able to harm the good guys,” Inbar explained.
Several days after Inbar’s paper was published, David M. Weinberg, director of public affairs at the BESA Center, wrote a similarly-themed op-ed titled “Should ISIS be wiped out?” in Israel Hayom, a free and widely read right-wing newspaper funded by conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson that strongly favors the agenda of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the piece, Weinberg defended his colleague’s argument and referred to ISIS as a “useful idiot.” He called the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran “rotten” and argued that Iran and Russia pose a “far greater threat than the terrorist nuisance of Islamic State.”
Weinberg also described the BESA Center as “a place of intellectual ferment and policy creativity,” without disclosing that he is that think tank’s director of public affairs.
After citing responses from two other associates of his think tank who disagree with their colleague, Weinberg concluded by writing: “The only certain thing is that Ayatollah Khamenei is watching this quintessentially Western open debate with amusement.”
On his website, Weinberg includes BESA in a list of resources for “hasbara,” or pro-Israel propaganda. It is joined by the ostensible civil rights organization the Anti-Defamation League and other pro-Israel think tanks, such as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).
Weinberg has worked extensively with the Israeli government and served as a spokesman for Bar Ilan University. He also identifies himself on his website as a “columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel.”
Inbar boasts an array of accolades. He was a member of the political strategic committee for Israel’s National Planning Council, a member of the academic committee of the Israeli military’s history department and the chair of the committee for the national security curriculum at the Ministry of Education.
He also has a prestigious academic record, having taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown and lectured at Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Oxford and Yale. Inbar served as a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and was appointed as a Manfred Wörner NATO fellow.
The strategy Inbar and Weinberg have proposed, that of indirectly allowing a fascist Islamist group to continue fighting Western enemies, is not necessarily a new one in American and Israeli foreign policy circles. It is reminiscent of the U.S. Cold War policy of supporting far-right Islamist extremists in order to fight communists and left-wing nationalists.
In the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the CIA and U.S. allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia armed, trained and funded Islamic fundamentalists in their fight against the Soviet Union and Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed socialist government. These U.S.-backed rebels, known as the mujahideen, were the predecessors of al-Qaida and the Taliban.
In the 1980s, Israel adopted a similar policy. It supported right-wing Islamist groups like Hamas in order to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, a coalition of various left-wing nationalist and communist political parties.
“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” Avner Cohen, a retired Israeli official who worked in Gaza for more than 20 years, told The Wall Street Journal.
As far back as 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower insisted to the CIA that, in order to fight leftist movements in the Middle East, “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect.”
Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.
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