While the forerunners and later derivative groups of what is now ISIS, or IS as they now prefer to call themselves, were busy fighting Israel’s enemy in Syria, Israel and the US together with their Western allies were content to let the al-Assad regime forces and the Islamists slug it out between them. Both sides remain, however, the enemy of Israel. But, as the civil war in Syria progressed, so the various Islamist forces ranged against al-Assad began to coalesce. Though still not quite fully united, the group that now calls itself the Islamic State has emerged by far the most influential. It has grown almost exponentially over the last twelve months or so and has now spread itself into Iraq where it has become a regional threat as it continues to collect more and more fighters both locally and from overseas.
But its growth has now reached a tipping point. Not only is it a threat to the already unstable politics of Iraq as the movement expands eastward out of Syria into Iraq, but it has now also become a threat to Israel as Israel and its Western allies begin to realise that IS hasn’t taken its eye off the ball in western Syria where it borders with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
So far the Islamists that have flocked to the so-called ‘Islamic State’ forces have been busy consolidating their forces in the territories they now occupy where they are using local recruits to slowly expand holdings in order to build and establish their ‘caliphate’.
However, in western Syria the IS are now also beginning to become influential and the Israeli fear of having them on their border has startled the Israeli government and, just to assure IS that Israel is still a potent force, Israeli yesterday demonstrated its potency by shooting down a Syrian jet strike aircraft when it strayed over the border into Golan Heights airspace on the very same day that the US and their allies attacked IS targets in Syria. With the US attacking IS and Israel demonstrating there is no let up in its desire to see al-Assad gone, it’s clear that Israel remains intent on not allowing the polarising of forces fighting each other in Syria to influence its own long term strategic goals of defeating both the so-called ‘Islamist’ extremists on one side and al-Assad and his allies Hezbollah and Iran on the other.
It’s also clear that Israel and the US, together with their allies, have colluded with each other to define a strategy to defeat a direct threat to Israel without letting it be seen that the West and its allies are taking the battle to the IS in Syria in order to protect Israel. It could very well be the reason why Netanyahu called a sudden halt to the onslaught against the Gaza Strip at a time just when his extreme right-wing partners in his government were calling for the complete occupation of the Gaza Strip and the destruction of Hamas.
As the ceasefire in the Gaza was announced almost unilaterally by Netanyahu there was barely a murmur of protest from the extreme right-wing. Something clearly had upset Netanyahu’s plans for the Gaza Strip. Could it have been the growing threat of the IS potentially coming to Israel’s doorstep in the Golan Heights? It certainly seems that way.