News / Middle East

    Israel, the Quiet Partner in Fight Against Islamic State Group

    FILE - Israeli soldiers observe the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria, August 29, 2014.
    FILE - Israeli soldiers observe the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria, August 29, 2014.
    Cecily Hilleary

    As the U.S. builds an international coalition against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, Israel has a stake in the outcome of the fight but its role is restricted. 

    Israel in recent days has reiterated its support of U.S. efforts.  Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, telling him Israel is willing to help out, if invited to do so, “taking into consideration sensitivities” and U.S. needs. 

    “The truth is, Israel would love to be in the coalition,” said Paul Pillar, a former U.S. national-intelligence officer for the Middle East who, now a senior fellow at both Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies and the Brookings Institution's Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence.

    Paul R. Pillar, Photo Courtesy, Georgetown UniversityPaul R. Pillar, Photo Courtesy, Georgetown University
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    Paul R. Pillar, Photo Courtesy, Georgetown University
    Paul R. Pillar, Photo Courtesy, Georgetown University

    “And that would strengthen even more, if it could be done overtly, their argument that they are a strategic asset to the United States,” he said.

    But it’s an invitation the U.S. isn’t likely to extend.

    “Because of the well-known politics of the Middle East and the continued high salience of the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, any Israeli involvement in multilateral efforts in that region tends to be counterproductive,” Pillar said, explaining that Israeli involvement could, as during the Gulf War, alienate Arab coalition members.

    ‘Friendly restraint’

    This wouldn’t be the first time Israel has been absent from a coalition at war in the Middle East.

    When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United States assembled a coalition of nearly 40 countries, but made what writer Bernard Reich calls a “diligent effort” to distance Israel from joining—even when Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half” of Israel. 

    “Although Israel likes to sell itself as a strategic asset to the United States in the 1991 Gulf War, it was seen largely as a liability because the fear was that by including Israel, it would break up this otherwise broad-based Arab coalition,” said Max Abrahms, professor of public policy at Northeastern University. 

    Even after Saddam Hussein launched a series of missile attacks on Israel, Washington declined to share information that would have enabled Israel to retaliate.

    “Washington did not provide Jerusalem with the IFF code, the International Friend or Foe code, so that Israel was unable to respond militarily to Iraq,” said Abrahms, referring to electronic codes that enable air traffic systems to identify “friendly” aircraft.

    To compensate for what writer Scott Lasensky termed "friendly restraint," the U.S. sent Israel Patriot missiles that may or may not have deflected incoming Scuds and gave Israel $650 million in emergency aid beyond the $3 billion it already provided annually.

    This isn’t to say that Israel did not contribute anything to the war against Iraq, writes Mitchell G. Bard, executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.  Bard notes that Israel provided the U.S. flack vests, gas masks, sandbags and “detailed tactical intelligence on Iraqi military activities.”

    An armed jihadist stands next to the wreckage of a Syrian government forces aircraft which was shot down by militants of the Islamic State (IS) group over the Syrian town of Raqa on September 16, 2014. The plane crashed into a house in the Euphrates ValleAn armed jihadist stands next to the wreckage of a Syrian government forces aircraft which was shot down by militants of the Islamic State (IS) group over the Syrian town of Raqa on September 16, 2014. The plane crashed into a house in the Euphrates Valle
    x
    An armed jihadist stands next to the wreckage of a Syrian government forces aircraft which was shot down by militants of the Islamic State (IS) group over the Syrian town of Raqa on September 16, 2014. The plane crashed into a house in the Euphrates Valle
    An armed jihadist stands next to the wreckage of a Syrian government forces aircraft which was shot down by militants of the Islamic State (IS) group over the Syrian town of Raqa on September 16, 2014. The plane crashed into a house in the Euphrates Valle

    Now, as the a new coalition decides who will do what in the fight against IS, Reuters has quoted an anonymous Western diplomat who said Israel is providing the United States with satellite surveillance and  information on Western citizens who have either joined ISIS or could stage attacks in their home countries.

    “Israel does know Syria, does know about Syrian air defenses,” Abrahms said.  “Israel has success in eluding Syrian air defenses, so perhaps it could help Washington with some of that intelligence.”

    Defense News quotes an Israeli defense source who said that Israel could possibly conduct “simultaneous” airstrikes in Syria with the primary concern of preventing Hezbollah from obtaining Syrian weapons.

    “It would be in Israel’s interest to be seen here in this country as being cooperative and helpful with regard to the effort against ISIS,” Pillar said, “and for it to become knowledge here in the United States that Israel was being helpful on this front would tend to help them politically. Anything that Israel can do to strengthen its long-standing argument that it is a strategic asset to the United States would be in its interest politically to try to promote.”   

    At least one Israeli official thinks Israel should be a “major pillar” of the coalition against ISIS.

    In a radio interview this week, opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to make peace with the Palestinians. 

    “Had Netanyahu and his minister behaved differently” and negotiated with the Palestinians in chief Mahmoud Abbas in a “satisfactory” manner, “Israel would be a part of the coalition,” Herzog said, adding “it is Netanyahu who has excluded Israel from the anti-ISIS coalition by failing to seriously negotiate with the Palestinians.”

    IS threat to Israel

    Israeli security officials say they believe about 10 Israeli Arabs have joined the IS fight and could stage terror attacks if they return to Israel. Officials also worry jihadists groups will use these recruits to gather intelligence on Israel to support future attacks.

    Marc SchulmanMarc Schulman
    x
    Marc Schulman
    Marc Schulman

    But most Israelis don’t believe ISIS poses any urgent threat, says writer/historian Marc Schulman, who in recent Newsweek article questioned how a group “whose weapons of choice are jeeps mounted with machine guns” could do any harm against an army possessing “the most advanced tanks in the world.” 

    “To most people, the fear of Hamas restarting the war in a week is much more immediate,” Schulman told VOA. 

    Nor does Schulman share Pillar’s belief that Israel wants to join the coalition.

    But that doesn’t mean Israel couldn’t be drawn into the conflict in the future.

    Tensions have heightened along the border with Syria in recent weeks as the Syrian conflict has approached—and occasionally spilled into—the contested Golan Heights.  In late August, Al-Qaida-affiliated rebels seized the Quneitra border and abducted dozens of U.N. peacekeepers and forced dozens others to flee into Israel.   

    And there are unconfirmed reports that IS has set up sleeper cells in two southern Syrian towns near the border with Israel and Jordan. 

    “I guess the biggest potential scenario is if ISIS were to destabilize Jordan,” Schulman said.  “Israel can’t afford to have Jordan turn into an enemy state.”

    And if IS were to start making trouble in the Golan Heights, Schulman says Israel would most definitely have to intervene.

     

     

     

     

     

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 3
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    by: Citizen of Israel from: Israel
    September 27, 2014 4:50 PM
    el cordero you are living in a fantasy world "Israel created Isis" that have also sworned to destroy us where is the sense in that exactly in washington post some ignorant people like wrote the same stuff about Israel and everybody laughed at them like the idiots they are just like you.

    by: Citizen of Israel from: Israel
    September 26, 2014 7:29 PM
    Alright look Israeli leftists haters we cannot help an enemy country because they are enemies that hate we literally owe them nothing we help the west by much too much and I'm not gonna describe by how but we are not the saviors of our enemies just as the west doesn't helping russia we will not help syria iraq or iran.

    by: Morteza from: US
    September 21, 2014 9:58 AM
    As well as supporting them . Double agent

    by: Annom from: USA
    September 21, 2014 5:11 AM
    Israel just worry about the other three terrorist groups attacking you, Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah. Maybe israel isn't helping because the world always become butthurt when they kill 800 terrorist. The second Israel air strikes on isis kill one citizen everyone gets all crazy. Israel just tend to their own problems, because they are already facing terrorist that the world seems to like.

    Muslims hate the Jews, if an IDF jet fly over Syria believe iran would get very angry and attack israel for the heck of it.

    That's God nation, and against my belief to hate israel, Benjamin is a good prime minister, he knows how to protect his country from terrorist. Syria can't, as seen with ISIS, Iraq can't as seen with isis, and even your great US didn't with 9/11. But israel kicks all these terrorist butts.

    by: Rachet from: Lousiana
    September 21, 2014 2:40 AM
    Israeli Cliff Notes: We totally ignored the U.S. over Gaza War and Disrespected President Obama & Sec. of State Kerry. Our arms are depleted. We can help. Re-supply us...at your expense.

    by: Leo Emmanuel Lochard from: USA
    September 21, 2014 12:51 AM
    Great propaganda piece by MOSSAD! Please try objective, detached, disinterested journalism next time. Your partisan partiality to Jewish Zionism taints your launding chants and catechism on behalf of a group of Jews who are keeping more than 1.4 million human beings in ghetto-like concentration camps in "West Bank" and "Gaza" while on the prowl to mow-down peace activists like Rachel Corie with bulldozers and bathe Palestinian children in chemicals like white phosphorous. You're too close to "the problem," but you also create it. God bless you with clear eyes and soberness of mind! All of you need the love and saving redemption of Messiah Jesus Christ our compassionate Lord and Savior! God bless the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, with liberty and justice for ALL, including Palestinians!
    In Response

    by: Leo Emmanuel Lochard from: USA
    September 21, 2014 10:15 PM
    Dear Caleb,
    In addition, you are not “a gentile” by merely saying so. You are a Zionist masquerading behind word-trickery! Besides, this distinction is at the present time irrelevant – you’re either in Christ, the Prince of Peace; or you’re with Satan, who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning! Repent while there is still time before the return of Christ which is imminent! God bless America!
    In Response

    by: Caleb from: Atlanta, GA
    September 21, 2014 8:05 AM
    Your paragraph is simply not true. You have been deceived, at best. Have you been to the West Bank? Recently? I drove through a large portion of it and spent time in PA controlled areas - areas which Jews are not allowed. They are a far cry from what you describe as concentration camps. You will never please Christ by displaying hatred for the Jews. They are His chosen, and will return one day to Him. As a Gentile, I am more than thankful the Kingdom has been extended to me through Christ.

    by: avi_shlaim from: USA
    September 21, 2014 12:22 AM
    "... of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sin alway: For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost."
    I Thessalonians 2:14-16


    "I and the Father are one." 31The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" 33The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." (John 10:30-33)
    In Response

    by: daniel brock from: America
    September 21, 2014 2:53 PM
    The Jews did not kill Christ. Why is so many people blaming the Jew for everything that happens! All nations have been Bless because of the Jew and I am not a Jew but have studied History and even the rewritten lies of history The Jews are not the bad guys.

    by: el cordero from: dallas
    September 20, 2014 11:56 PM
    what rubbish
    Israel is no friend of the USA

    They and their acolytes in the USA caused this problem

    Make no mistake by destroying iraq israel created ISIS

    "Here are the un-Kristolized and un-Feithed facts: even the most boneheaded warmonger must surely see that things are going badly wrong in Iraq. I will not gloat because of our dead and maimed, but this magazine unequivocally stated that we would win the war in a jiffy and most likely lose the peace. It is a disaster born of arrogance. We have overthrown Saddam, who had far less to do with the attack of 9/11 than, say, Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and have succeeded in turning Iraq into what it was not before —the center of anti-Western terrorism.""

    Plague of the Sofa Samurai, the American Conservative
    By TAKI • December 15, 2003

    by: Melanie Phillips from: London UK
    September 20, 2014 11:54 PM
    Israel should burn in hell! The IDF and the Israeli government are terrorists themselves! They're racist murderers for killing and torturing children.

    by: Denis MacEoin from: UK
    September 20, 2014 8:20 PM
    I gave up trying to read this, because the text is buried in urls and God knows what else. It seems worth reading, but can't someone display the text in a readable fashion?
    In Response

    by: Gideon from: USA
    September 20, 2014 9:25 PM
    No problem here. Try another browser.
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