IS supporters in Kashmir, July 2014 (Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Islamic State advances through the Middle East, moving toward Israel, the question must be asked: Can Israel contend with a threat presented by IS?  

Opposition leader MK Yizchak Herzog.

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog. (Photo: Flash90)

The Islamic State (IS) has become the most feared terrorist organization, as several world leaders perceive it as the leading terrorist threat to the West. The organization has received broad news coverage, and its brutal acts of execution have struck horror into the hearts of many across the globe.

IS has gained a strong foothold in Syria and Iraq, has begun to operate in Lebanon and poses a threat to several Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan. There are reports that IS has begun to operate from the Gaza Strip, and there are accounts that IS terrorists were killed by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge. Israeli military officials estimate that it is only a question of time before IS arrives at Israel’s border in full force.

Does IS pose a true threat to Israel’s security?

Herzog: IS Could Pose a Strategic Threat to Israel

Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog warned on Wednesday of the dangers posed by the Islamic State, after the Islamist group executed Israeli-American journalist Steven Sotloff. “IS is a growing power and its proximity to Israel could pose a strategic threat to Israel,” Member of Knesset Herzog said.

According to the opposition leader, who was speaking at a security conference, Israel “needs to use all means at its disposal to create an international coalition which will destroy the organization both in economic and military terms.” Herzog criticized the government’s foreign policy, claiming it has resulted in Israel’s diplomatic isolation and hindered its ability to act jointly against the IS threat.

Israel Must Prepare for IS Emerging in Jordan

Former Israeli intelligence expert Jacques Neriah suggested in a CNN interview that Israel must prepare itself for the eventuality that IS could reach the shores of Tel Aviv, despite the fact that the fighting rages more than 915 kilometers (595 miles) away.

Analysts have noted that the real threat to Israel’s security would not be a direct assault from IS, which would have to overcome the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, re-mobilize, and then launch an attack from Israel’s northern neighbor to succeed. The main threat from IS stems from its reputation, as its success could spur increased terror activity from IS-affiliated groups in Gaza and the Sinai desert.

Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv, former head of the IDF’s operations branch, believes the threat to Jordan from IS should also be perceived as a direct threat to Israel.

“Jordan has the longest border with Israel. For Israel, any change or real threat that puts Jordan in instability has a direct effect on Israel, such a direct effect that can change the whole national security policy of Israel,” he said, warning that 2,000-3,000 Jordanian jihadists have recently returned home from fighting with the rebels in Syria “to prepare the ground for the next stage.”

Yadlin: We Can Take our Hand off the Siren Button

Herzog’s opinion, Neriah’s analysis and Ziv’s fears are not shared by Major-General (res.) Amos Yadlin, director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and formally the head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate. Yadlin asserts that IS poses no existential threat to Israel. Writing for YNET news, Yadlin states that despite the trail of horrors that it leaves behind, the jihadist group is operating hundreds of kilometers away from Israel’s border, and even if it were closer, it is unlikely that it would be able to strike at Israeli residents.

He further called to end the panic surrounding IS: “At the end of the day, we are talking about several thousand unrestrained terrorists riding pickup trucks and firing with Kalashnikovs and machine guns. Together with several other militias that have joined it, and may desert it once the military momentum grinds to a halt, IS is now said to include about 10,000 fighters, half of the size of Hamas’ military force. And unlike Hamas, which is indeed on our fences, IS has no tunnels, no artillery abilities, no ability to strategically target the State of Israel and no allies to supply it with advanced weapons.”

Yadlin writes that the threat IS poses to Israel as a global jihad organization is not essentially different from that of al-Qaeda, with which Israel has been living for more than a decade now.

Major-General (ret.) Amos Yadlin speaking at an INSS conference.

Major-General (ret.) Amos Yadlin speaking at an INSS conference. (Photo: Flash90)

The former chief of intelligence believes that if threatened by IS, Israel and the IDF would have no difficulty contending with it.

“Had IS diverted its efforts from Iraq and turned to Israel, it would have become an easy prey for the Israeli intelligence, for the Air Force planes and for the precision weapons possessed by the IDF ground forces,” he stated. “The moment it encounters a modern army, IS will get off its pickup trucks, which will reduce its ability to move towards Israel even more.”

In any case, IS is occupied with other objectives, including the armies of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon and even its sworn Shiite enemy, Hezbollah. Furthermore, the success that brought IS global newspaper headlines has already been mostly curtailed, and it now faces a broad coalition, including Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Kurdish militias (Pêşmerge), the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Syrian army, the Lebanese army, Hezbollah and Israel, all of whom seek to destroy it.

Yadlin believes the IS will not take root within Israel among its Arab population, saying: “This terror organization’s jihadist ideology is so radical that it has even been rejected by al-Qaeda, and we should not expect it to be seen favorably in Gaza or the West Bank.”

In conclusion, Yadlin emphasizes:  “We can take our hand off the siren button. IS is not a significant threat to Israel in the near future. Despite the horrific images emerging from Iraq and Syria, we should maintain a realistic agenda and focus on the main issue – the nuclear threat from Iran.”

Author: Aryeh Savir
Staff Writer, United with Israel