The Islamic State should be weakened but kept alive as a strategic tool to keep “the bad guys” — Iran, Syria, Russia and Hezbollah and various other Islamist organizations — too busy fighting to export more of their violence to the West.
“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,” writes writes Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the conservative Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, in a paper published this month.
“The Hobbesian reality of the Middle East does not always present a neat moral choice,” he said.
Echoing the views of the Netanyahu government, Inbar lashes out at the Obama administration for failing to grasp that America’s main enemy is Iran. The Americans have played up the threat from Islamic State to legitimize Iran and justify Washington’s nuclear deal with Tehran, he charges.
“The West yearns for stability, and holds out a naive hope that the military defeat of IS will be instrumental in reaching that goal. But stability is not a value in and of itself… The defeat of IS would encourage Iranian hegemony in the region…”
He also slammed America’s move to coordinate military action against IS in Syria with Russia. “Is it in the West’s interests to strengthen the Russian grip on Syria and bolster its influence in the Middle East?” he asks.
He adds: “Only the strategic folly that currently prevails in Washington can consider it a positive to enhance the power of the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis by cooperating with Russia against IS.”
Instead, Inbar argues, a weak IS would be more advantageous to the West than a destroyed one.
It could undermine the glamorous image of the so-called caliphate in the eyes of Muslim radicals, while an IS destroyed by the West could, paradoxically, have the opposite effect, causing a rise in radicalism.
A still-functioning IS would continue to act as a magnet for extremist Muslims from all over the world, helping intelligence agencies to identify them more easily, keeping them away from their home countries, and, in some cases, assuring their deaths and sparing the West more terror attacks, Inbar argued. By contrast, a neutralized IS would send terrorists back into a “terrorist diaspora” where they could radicalize more Muslim immigrants.
Inbar notes that while the terror organization has killed thousands and swiftly conquered large swathes of land, it has only succeeded in places where there is a political void. Its poorly-trained troops have been far less impressive when faced with well-organized opposition from forces such as the US-backed Kurds.