Regarding increased ISIS’ defeats in Syria and Iraq and the fact that in the not too distant future bases of the terrorist group are going to be in their most vulnerable position since 2014, a question arises that has ISIS any plan to relocate into another place in the Islamic world?
Activities of ISIS terrorists indicate that they have their eyes on somewhere. Studying ISIS’ operations outside of Iraq and Syria, one may conclude that the terrorist group’s next bastion will be in the North African region, most likely in Libya.
ISIS measures show that its current infiltration rate and gains in Libya are quite similar to those of the terrorist group in the beginnings of the Iraqi and Syrian crises.
After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the dead Libyan dictator, there have been endless internal conflicts and wars in Libya. Currently, there are two governments ruling over different parts of the country. One of these governments is Secular and the other is Islamic. Due to this discord, the Libyan military is also in a bad situation.
Aside from the military vulnerability of Libya, there are other factors that make this country suitable in ISIS’ eyes. Libya’s significant reserves of energy (such as the oil reserves in northern regions of this country, which could be a good substitute for the lost regions of Iraq and Syria), short sea lane to Europe, being close to unstable African countries such as Egypt, Algeria, and Sudan, are all reasons for Libya to be a platform for ISIS, especially since ISIS terrorists are currently losing their strategic bases in Iraq and Syria.
Over the past few weeks and after the heavy defeat of ISIS in Fallujah, News about mass transit of commanders and prominent clerics that are affiliated with ISIS to Sirte have been heard. Sirte is ISIS’ base in north of Libya.
The question that the international community and especially Europe should answer to is: Is it possible to prevent ISIS from spreading in North Africa? In other words, is the scenario of defeating ISIS terrorists in Iraq repeatable in Africa?
To answer this question, one must look at the causes and factors of the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and then examine the possibility of implementing the same factors in North Africa.
Role of the Foreign Players in Suppressing ISIS
During the positioning and establishment of ISIS in Libya Europe’s security, particularly its southern coast, has been declining. European intelligence services understand this situation better than any other organization, because they are currently involved in containing terrorist cells active in their countries. On this basis, if ISIS’ presence in Libya continues to increase, it is expected that Europe take serious measures in dealing with this Takfiri and terrorist group.
Attempts will be taken by Europe to cut off and control the regional support that ISIS receives. Also, NATO’s military presence and wide aerial attacks in form of a European coalition will be probable in the future. Thus, it can be speculated that transregional countries will take a stance towards the Libyan crisis that is similar to the stance and activities of US and some European countries towards Iraq and Syria.
Over the past few weeks, international and regional players have made efforts to establish and support the national unity government in Libya. These efforts are indicative of international concern for Libya’s lack of a central and powerful government.
However, the persistence of numerous and political and military conflicts among different groups in the country, will definitely help the establishment and growth of a group like ISIS in Libya.
The efforts of the international community and especially Europe in removing obstacles that are present in the way of the formation of a national unity government in this country. These efforts includes sanctions against the Libyan Security Council, regional powers’ secret and public support of establishing a form of a proxy war in Libya, and the tensions between the Secular and Islamic governments.
It seems that in the near future, a national unity government will be formed in Libya, with direct support of Western countries. But it is very unlikely that the formation of such government would be able to solve the fundamental issues and problems that are present among different groups and parties in Libya. With the arrival of ISIS commanders and a considerable number of terrorists to Sirte, the power of ISIS in Libya is constantly increasing.
The formation of a national unity in Libya in order to fight the ISIS terrorists is quite difficult and seems unlikely, but it is not completely impossible.
Undoubtedly, if ISIS’ operations in Libya keep intensifying, it is very likely that the three abovementioned factors will come true, with similarities and differences to what went on in Syria and Iraq.
But what makes a major difference in the fight against terrorist threats between Eastern Muslim world (especially in Iraq and Syria) and the Western Muslim world (especially Libya) is the lack of the most important factor in combating terrorism, which is resistance.
The North African countries generally lack the concept of popular resistance. Even ancient religious structure such as al-Azhar lack the general public’s support, due to their extremely conservative positions and historical alignment with dictatorial powers. Even if such structure existed, the North African region lacks operational infrastructure needed to make use of it.
In Iraq and Syria, the potential capabilities of Islamic resistance have been activated through Resistance Axis, led by Iran, and have been manifested in different organizations, such as Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, it is a completely different story in North Africa. The countries in this region either completely lack the infrastructure that is needed for Resistance, or like Egypt, with a very traditional and classic military and security structure, does not have the power needed to deal with modern security threats such as ISIS. In fact, despite a substantial position in the country, the Egyptian army has been unable to establish full security in Sinai. This further shows the role and importance of resistance in providing security.
Therefore, due to the lack of Resistance, North Africa, areas surrounding it such as the eastern and central parts of Africa, and even the southern shores of Europe are exposed to ISIS threat. Also, the situation of these regions is ambiguous, and the future of these areas will depend on the decision of Western powers and their allies.