Solidarity with France in the face of terrorism
[Jerusalem] – Following massed, coordinated attacks against civilians in the heart of Paris, governments around the world are reflecting on what can be done to protect their citizens and to tackle an ascendant Islamic State (ISIS). The ultra-extremist Sunni Muslim group which controls territory in Syria and Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks which killed at least 129 people and injured hundreds more.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin both expressed their condolences and sympathy with the people of France.
“Israel stands shoulder-to-shoulder with France in this common battle against militant Islamic terrorism,” the Prime Minister said. He added, “I’ve instructed Israel’s security and intelligence forces to assist their French counterparts and their counterparts from other European countries in any way possible.”
Israel is just a few dozen miles from Islamic State territory in Syria and the Sinai Peninsula, and has been watching the group closely. Unlike Western aircraft, Israeli jets are within easy striking distance of ISIS targets. In its campaign against ISIS, United States air force planes generally fly from Germany, as they have not been given sufficient access to use Turkish air bases, Nitzan Nuriel, a research associate at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Inter Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Media Line. If Israeli airbases were to be used to launch US raids, greater force could be brought to bear on the Islamic State. This would be increased even more if the Israeli Air Force was to join the sorties.
Yet analysts say, that is highly unlikely to happen due to the convoluted politics of the powers in the region. Instead, Israel will offer its Western allies intelligence, as well as its considerable experience in protecting civilian locations from terrorist threat, Nuriel, who is a former director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, said.
The Jewish state will not join the coalition against ISIS due to the sensitivities of Gulf Arab states who are members of the coalition, Meir Elran, a senior research fellow and head of the program on Homeland Security at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have all taken part in attacks against ISIS, and all are countries which are uncomfortable with any visible alliance with Israel.
“There is a resentment on their part to Israeli participation. Israel could have done a lot more if that kind of limitation would be taken off the table,” Elran suggested.
Israel could still conduct strikes if it were to do so without advertising the fact, Moshe Ma’oz, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “Israel could be part of it. Maybe not (overtly) sticking out because it could be a weapon in the hands of ISIS who would say ‘you are fighting alongside the Zionists,’” Ma’oz suggested.
Additionally, he argued that if Israel were to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states could become more palatable, facilitating greater cooperation against ISIS.
For the time being ISIS does not appear to demonstrate a serious threat to Israel. “(ISIS) doesn’t have access to the state of Israel, not from the Golan Heights and not from Lebanon. The only place they do have access is the Sinai Peninsula,” Nitzan Nuriel said. The southern city of Eilat, located near the border with Egypt was a particularly tempting target for ISIS affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula, Nuriel added.
The Egyptian military is struggling to contain an insurgency in the Sinai. Although the Islamic State affiliate there has not recently targeted Israel, they are considered a credible threat due to the damage they have inflicted on the Egyptian military, and the likelihood that the group planted a bomb on a Russian airliner last month, killing all 224 people on board.
At least right now, Israel appears to be a low priority target for the Islamic State, although this assessment could change. Western intelligence analysts suggestions that the recent attacks on the Russian airline and in Paris show that the group may have pivoted towards conducting attacks outside of its own territory.