With the savage videotaped beheading of a second U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, by the IS on 2 September 2014, it’s becoming impossible to ignore how desperately the group wants to draw American forces into its End Times scenario.
The repeated, explicit incitement embedded in statements accompanying first the beheading of American reporter James Foley and now of Sotloff, was aimed directly at President Barack Obama in order to goad the U.S. and its allies into a military reaction that would give IS the common infidel enemy it needs to consolidate its own Sunni ranks against any possible regional backlash. Without the return of U.S. and other Western forces into the region, IS may well fear the sort of Sunni Awakening (or “Sahwah”) that eventually defeated its al-Qa’eda (AQ) predecessor, Al-Qa’eda in Iraq (AQI), along with the 2007 U.S. surge.
Issue 3 of IS’s slick online magazine, ‘Dabiq,’ is titled “A Call To Hijrah” and gives us a revealing look at the new Caliphate’s strategy.
The number one priority for the moment is consolidating territorial gains made during the blitzkrieg advances of June and July 2014. IS needs a continued influx of Muslim fighters from around the region as well as abroad to accomplish this and make the Caliphate an established, governing reality—hence, the heavy emphasis on encouraging Muslim youth to join the latest jihad caravan.
According to the 7-Phase al-Qa’eda timeline outlined in a 2005 Der Spiegel interview with Seif al-Adl (the AQ military commander who’s been running joint terror operations out of Iran ever since 9/11), the period 2013-2016 is marked by the establishment of a Caliphate, so this puts them right on track.
The latest Dabiq issue also makes reference to a hadith that declares “The Hour of Resurrection” cannot come until the ‘Romans’ (Christian Westerners) land forces in Dabiq, an area near Aleppo in northwestern Syria. According to Muslim eschatology as recounted in Dabiq, this sets up the great battle, or “Final Confrontation” of the “Al-Hamah” (meaning Armageddon) in which Muslim forces will triumph, go on to conquer and slaughter all remaining on earth who will not convert to Islam, and usher in a millennium of ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ under the universal rule of shariah.
Thus far, though, even as Obama’s own military leaders are urging immediate action to destroy IS, the administration has hesitated to commit more than some targeted air strikes, humanitarian aid, and limited numbers of Special Operations Forces (SOFs) on the ground, who are working alongside the Kurds to blunt the IS advance.
But as IS sees things, the only way it can forestall the possibility that regional Sunni tribes might unite against its brutal shariah enforcement, involves pulling U.S., Australian, British, and other Western military forces once again into a high casualty confrontation in the land of al-Sham.
If videotaped beheadings don’t do it, a spectacular IS attack on the American homeland might—just as with the original 9/11 attacks, when Usama bin Laden (along with Hizballah, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) provoked the U.S. into the massive invasions of Muslim lands that launched the “Islamic Awakening,” according to the AQ conquest timeline.
A parade of Islamic Caliphates, from the Ummayad and Abbasid, to the Fatamid and Ottoman, has come and gone over the centuries of Islamic history. It is impossible to tell at this point how this latest would-be Muslim empire will fare in the long run but even as the U.S. reacts with both fear and fury, it will be to our advantage to understand how the IS enemy is manipulating our natural responses, deliberately seeking to instill terror that corrodes our confidence and trumps our better judgment.
For a national security leadership that variously armed, trained and then contemptuously dismissed these jihadis as the “JV team,” Obama and his advisors have backpedalled rather dramatically in recent days, issuing a stream of panicky assessments about the “barbaric” “cancer” of “ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil” “beyond the pale of humanity.”
Before we rush headlong into the fray of intra-Islamic sectarian fitna once again, however, let’s understand what we’re up against: it would help, of course, if the Obama administration hadn’t purged all mention of Islamic terror and its inspirational foundations in the Qur’an, hadiths, Sirat, and shariah from the USG training curriculum, but a quick dive into a few of the Qur’an’s key jihad and terror verses (Q 8:12, 8:39, 8:60, 9:5, 9:29) should prove instructive.
U.S. strategy towards IS must include an aggressive defense of our own people and interests at diplomatic facilities and military bases as well as those of partners and allies in the region (Israel, Jordan, the Kurds). The U.S. is uniquely capable of organizing humanitarian aid to assist the Christian, Yazidi, and other ancient peoples targeted by IS for annihilation or subjugation. There’s no substitute for a robust intelligence and Special Operations Forces (SOF) capability to provide warning and options for application of U.S. power and influence as required.
But with nearly a dozen missing Libyan civilian airliners, thousands of loose surface-to-air missiles, hundreds of Muslims carrying Western passports (including our own) all fired up to join the jihad, and a collapsed southern border through which no one knows how many Islamic terrorists already may have passed, IS efforts to drag the U.S. into its Armageddon scenario could reach an even more alarming level as the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 date approaches.
Clare M. Lopez is the vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy.