Brutal killing shows Islamic State suffering setbacks

Dramatic and sickening burning of Jordanian pilot used to cover up terror group’s losses on the battlefield

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Jordanian security forces leave Swaqa prison, after the executions of Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouly on Wednesday, February 4, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Raad Adayleh)
Jordanian security forces leave Swaqa prison, after the executions of Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouly on Wednesday, February 4, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Raad Adayleh)

The sick way Islamic State terrorists burned Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz Kasasbeh alive should not be misunderstood: It means the organization has suffered defeats in battle and is letting out its frustration in brutal and vicious acts that go beyond even its past depravities.

The pilot, who was captured on December 24, paid the ultimate price a month ago for the blows the organizations has absorbed in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and even on the economic “battlefield.”

Jordan claims the terrorist organization killed the pilot on January 3, but the Islamic State hid this fact, possibly in an attempt to get more out of its negotiations over the two Japanese hostages. But Jordan’s insistence on involving the pilot in negotiations tangled the Islamic State in its own lies.

Killing the Japanese hostages was also part of the terrorist organization’s plan to win more public resonance and create at least the appearance of a successful organization.

However, the reality for the Islamic State is not as simple as it was in the spring and summer of last year. Its territorial expansion has been stopped, especially in Iraq.

In Kobani, which is in the Kurdish area of Syria, members of the organization have been defeated, losing one of the symbols of their war in the region.

Kurdish militias have proven that with a fighting spirit and a few supplies (and aggressive air support from the international coalition) you can halt the advancement of the Islamic State — and even defeat it.

Its routing in Kobani turned IS from an undefeated army to one that can be overpowered potentially in just weeks or even days.

The Kurds in Iraq are not resting on their laurels from the Kobani victory and set out to attack an area north of Mosul, the same Islamic State stronghold that had become a symbol of incredible IS power. In the past few weeks they have succeeded in conquering several villages on the outskirts of the city and they are now approaching Mosul from the north.

At the same time, Shiite militias fighting with the Iraqi Army have been scoring noteworthy victories in the southern outskirts of Mosul, in the Diyala Province for instance, and are approaching that city from the south. Along the way, those same Shiite militias, which rely on American and Iranian assistance, have been expelling thousands of Sunni Muslims from their homes, in a form of revenge on those Sunnis who not too long ago feuded with Shiites.

On the battlefield itself, in light of the aerial blitz on its forces, Islamic State has changed its course of action. It is regrouping in the cities it has already conquered — Mosul, Raqqa in Syria and others — but is finding it difficult to go out on raids with masses of fighters. The coalition’s planes strike IS convoys, and so the organization has taken to operating in civilian attire and in smaller convoys.

Also its income has been seriously hit, because the refineries and fuel tankers it controlled have been attacked and the pressure on Ankara to cease its fuel trade with the Islamic State has increased. This pressure has borne fruit. Although Turkey has not completely stopped buying gas from IS, the extent to which it does so has plummeted.

And besides all that, the Islamic State still has to manage a daily routine, at least in Mosul and Raqqa. It has to give basic assistance to the population, including medical care, sanitation, education and more, even when it does not score big victories. In light of the depletion of its resources and its difficulties on the battlefield, it is hard to imagine how it will prove itself to be a real Islamic country and not just a passing phenomenon in the bloody history of the Middle East.

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