ISIS’ Situation and Prospects in the Middle East

Published October 25th, 2021 - 08:24 GMT
Several Middle Eastern countries with the most ‘ISIS-affiliated’ citizens have been in Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. However, ISIS has tried to use unstable areas to attract and train new generations of terrorist fighters.
Aleppo, Syria 18 NOV 2017: Logos written by ISIS fighters on the walls-Photo by Mohammad Bash-Shutterstock
Several Middle Eastern countries with the most ‘ISIS-affiliated’ citizens have been in Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. However, ISIS has tried to use unstable areas to attract and train new generations of terrorist fighters.

By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh 

The ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), has had many ups and downs in the region over the past few years since taking office. The first country that was invaded by ISIS was Iraq. Actually, ISIS has seized on feelings of marginalization, neglect and deprivation among the communities of the region.

ISIS was suppressed in Iraq and Syria in 2019, but was not completely defeated. In 2020, it maintained attacks in both countries.  In Iraq it was concentrated throughout the country and in Syria on the eastern side of the Euphrates River valley. It is estimated that about 10,000 fighters went into hiding after the fall of the caliphate and still have a $ 100 million war fund and a global cell network from outside the Middle East

Last year, 10,000 ISIS members were held in detention centers and tens of thousands of women and children were held in humanitarian camps. That means, a combination of fighters, their families, etc. (from 57 countries) have spent time in prisons and detention camps under the protection of Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria.

Several Middle Eastern countries with the most ‘ISIS-affiliated’ citizens have been in Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. However, ISIS has tried to use unstable areas to attract and train new generations of terrorist fighters.

Middle Eastern branches have not given up their allegiance to ISIS, despite their retreat. Therefore, the ISIS is continuing communication, employment, training, media production, exchange of expertise and lessons learned from Iraq and Syria . They continue their activities through small cells, despite losing their commanders and major cities in Iraq and Syria and retreating to the desert.

In the same approach, their secret cells, by recruiting from refugee camps, settling in the desert areas of Deir Ez-Zor, Tadmor and Homs, carried out attacks against local militias, Russian soldiers, checkpoints and government convoys.  They use 15 years of experience in Iraq and carry out low-cost attacks such as roadside bombings.

They use the sectarian, political and security weaknesses in the region and the security vacuum of some provinces and remote areas between the territory under the control of the Iraqi federal government and the regional government of Kurdistan.

Increased cooperation between Russia and Iran against ISIS, the removal of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019 and a large number of ISIS leaders, the release of nearly 8 million people from ISIS domination, the global expansion of the anti-ISIS coalition to 83 members, the presence of members such as Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and institutions such as the Arab League have played another important role in reducing the threat posed by ISIS in the Middle East.

In another dimension, ISIS has lost a network of suppliers and technicians for a vast arsenal of weapons to the Turkish-Syrian border region and its purchasing network.

Also, the information of the Iraqi government shows that this organization currently has only light weapons and has lost its financial resources. . They are also, without medium and heavy weapons, advanced technology, including chemical or biological weapons.

In fact, although ISIS is present in the provinces of Diyala, Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk in Iraq, and it exploits the weak communication and coordination between the different provinces of Iraq, it is very far from its peak of 34,000 fighters, and the califa refuses direct contact with its supporters.

Apart from Syria and Iraq, in fact, in other Middle Eastern countries, the level of ISIS threat is much lower. In recent years, ISIS attacks in Saudi Arabia (what it calls ‘Najd Province’, ‘Hijaz Province’ and ‘Bahrain Province’) were aimed to senior officers and leaders, Shiite citizens and their places of worship, and non-Muslim foreigners.

But Saudi Arabia has been able to reduce the problem through a combination of intelligence systems, strong security measures, and so on. The Saudis disbanded several other terrorist groups, thwarted several other attacks on military and religious targets, and uncovered dozens of ISIS-linked operatives

In another dimension, Lebanon announced the identification and destruction of a gang affiliated with the ISIS terrorist group in the country. Also in northern Jordan, security services have thwarted dozens of operations over the years .In 2014, the self-assertion of ISIS in Yemen (ISY) seemed a bigger threat than Al-Qaeda. But the Yemenis did not welcome ISIS, and in 2017, two of their main training camps were destroyed in airstrikes in Al-Bayda province

However, given the continuing anonymity in Yemen and the approximately 1,200-mile Yemeni coastline, Yemen is likely to remain the site of ISIS terrorist activity.

In addition, the Sinai Desert in Egypt is a good place for ISIS to operate. The ‘Islamic State – Sinai Province’ group is affiliated with ISIS and has about 1,500 terrorists as fighters. So far, ISIS has carried out several attacks on churches targeting Egyptian Copts.  

By reducing its activities in northern Sinai, ISIS appears to have intensified its attacks in central Sinai, targeting strategic facilities and the Suez Canal. Terrorists look at the region as a backyard because of the natural cover of the area and its rocky and uninhabited caves.  The anti-terrorist activities of the Egyptian army against ISIS have been successful, killing more than 100 people and surrendering dozens of ISIS operatives
ISIS is also facing a lack of budget and equipment. Despite the optimistic trend against ISIS in Sinai, the organization has shown tremendous capacity to emerge in new places or return to old places.

Prospects for the presence of ISIS in the Middle East

Today's Middle East is embroiled in complex and expanding crises and conflicts. Also, important and effective economic, social, intellectual, political and security factors affect the possibility of the re-emergence of the ISIS.

The fragility of the governments of the countries and the failure of nation-building, the involvement of foreign actors, the division of ethnic, tribal and religious groups, the false propaganda of ISIS, highlighting intellectual and social challenges, weak economy and uneven growth, poverty, unemployment, corruption, globalization, lack of popular Islamic knowledge, concentration of services and humanitarian aid in urban centers, etc., will play an important role in the continuation or expansion of ISIS.

The weaknesses of governments and their policies, the persistence of internal divisions and will provide the ground for the remnants of ISIS. ISIS also uses divisive and fanatical narratives to recruit troops. Recognizing these feelings and understanding the underlying factors can eliminate the factors of attraction. The Saudis seem to have been very successful in changing the lives of radical ISIS members.  

It should also be noted that the current ISIS is not extremely powerful in the Middle East and the number of its victims has been declining. At the same time, it has enough capacity to destabilize these fragile countries.

Therefore, assistance is needed to stabilize basic needs due to the severe drought and recession in crisis countries in the region. In addition, it is essential to take appropriate action to increase operational efficiency to address the root causes of supporting ISIS and efforts. 

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