[Opinion] Despite an ongoing fight in the Middle East against the Islamic State, some countries in the region are demonstrating more of an interest in their own agendas than the security of the region.
The Middle East is a region that has become increasingly unstable in recent years. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, a wave of revolutionary protests across North Africa and the Middle East, on 18 December 2010, the region has been wrought with violent and bloody protests. Several civil wars have broken out, Libya and Syria – neither country reaching a stable state yet.
Within this instability emerged a number of terrorist organisations, with one particular group catching the attention of the world media. The Islamic State, beginning under the name ISIS, shocked the world when it swiftly captured large portions of Iraq in summer 2014, in a lightning fast offensive. ISIS continued to shock the world through its continued, and unanswered, progression through Iraq and Syria.
By the end of August 2014, the forces of ISIS controlled much of Iraq and Syria. At this point, ISIS established a caliphate – an Islamic state controlled by their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known as ‘Caliph Ibrahim’ – and sought to expand their lands from the far east of Asia to the west of Europe. Social media was utilised as a propaganda tool by the group, and foreign fighters travelled from across the world to join their ranks. Videos were produced, showing the extremist group executing western hostages.
The international community, particularly the west, reacted quickly. Air strikes are commonly carried out against IS forces and strongholds across Iraq and Syria – such as the recent air strikes in Raqqa. However, these strikes have made little progress and most of the deceased are civilians. This has led to the outcry to deploy troops to the region, to fight the enemy. The United States, along with a number of European countries, are considering this option, but being so soon to their withdrawal from Afghanistan, many are reluctant.
However, the responsibility of military intervention and ground strikes on the region has fallen to these countries, away in the west. This is because the strongest militaries in the region – Israel and Turkey – are unwilling to intervene. They have their own agendas that they continue to value over the human cost and danger to security that the Islamic State poses.
Other Arab nations in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have tried to offer support but are unable to provide the same impact as Turkey and Israel. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, particularly the UAE, have offered airstrips for western planes to launch strike runs from, but neither country has significant land forces to contribute in a fight. However, should the United States start a ground battle, these countries would likely support their western ally. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have a more difficult situation at hand. They have a large army, and have deployed them along its border, but they don’t dare advance for fears of insurgency within its state – which has been a major problem in the past for the Arab nation.
The response by Israel has been particularly limited, with no military response to the Islamic State and very minor medical assistance. The main reason for this is the ‘decades old’ conflict between Israel, a Jewish nation, and Palestine, an Arab state. Israel’s intervention against the Islamic State would show the country supporting surrounding Arab nations, jeopardising their situation with Palestine by appearing more open to collaborative effort with the Arab world. Israel’s military, which is the only in the world to have mandatory conscription of both men and women, have also been busy with its own military action. Operation Protective Edge was the Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip, territory claimed as Palestine. This military involvement in Gaza, with mortar bombardments, ground infantry fighting and a naval blockade, contributed to the increasing instability within the Middle East.
Turkey, the other large nation that has not intervened militarily, has positioned an enormous wall of heavy armour, troops and artillery on their border with Syria. Despite this, and with the Islamic State fighting in the border town of Kobane just 200m down the road, the Turkish forces would not get involved. This is because of the involvement of Kurdish forces in the area, and the deep dislike between the Turks and Kurds. Turkey has had years of Kurdish insurgency and, as a result, refuse to intervene against the Islamic State due to it showing support of the Kurdish actions. However, the Turkish government – following increasing pressure from western powers – has allowed a military column of Kurdish peshmerga, the organised military of Iraqi Kurdistan, to cross over the border and travel through Turkey, on its way to protect and assist its fellow Kurds in their fight to protect Kobane.
In conclusion, although there is increasing military intervention from the west and countries around the Islamic State’s land, there are still hidden agendas that are preventing the large military forces of Turkey and Israel from intervening, and potentially swaying the Middle Eastern situation into the favour of the west, and the Syrian and Iraqi civilians.