The Third Eye: Israel-Hamas Conflict Has Enlarged The Threat From Radical Forces

(MENAFN- IANS) New Delhi: The terrorist attack of Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023, and the unending retaliatory military action of Israel in Gaza where nearly 33,000 Palestinians, including a vast number of civilians, have been killed has expectantly seen Islamic radical forces rallying behind Hamas and stepping up their offensive against the US and other close allies of Israel.

Significantly, the Ayatollah Regime in Iran -- because of its Political and ideological opposition to the US -- is firmly backing Hamas notwithstanding the fundamental Shia-Sunni contradiction and even joining up with the China-Russia axis to add a new factor in the Cold War that was developing between the US on one hand and the said axis on the other.

Iran's enmity towards the US has become far deeper ever since Major General Qasem Soleimani heading the Quds Force of Iran was assassinated in a US operation in January 2020.

In April 2022, an Iranian government official in Tehran was charged by the US with the attempt to hire a hitman to assassinate US National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Broadly speaking the current profile of Islamic radical outfits indicates that while Al Qaeda is operating from its strong base in Afghanistan and Yemen, the competitive force of ISIS is strong on its turf in Iraq and Syria -- an offshoot of ISIS called Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan too.

Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) was the first to call for retaliatory violence in support of Hamas. There is already a war-like situation in many regions of the Muslim world between the US and Islamic radicals, and the Intelligence agencies of the US have warned the country of plans of radical forces to stage a spectacular attack of the kind the US had encountered on 9/11.

In the meanwhile, hundreds of ground operations and air strikes on ISIS targets have been carried out by US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Iraq and Syria in recent months.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee in December 2023 that in the wake of the October 7 attack of Hamas on Israel, a threat to the US from foreign terrorists had risen to a new level.

He feared that infiltrators through the country's southern border could plan a 9/11 type of coordinated attack.

General Michael Erik Kurilla, Chief of CENTCOM, earlier warned that the Middle East and South Asia were throwing up Islamic radical forces -- Al Qaeda, ISIS and ISIS-K that had the capability of attacking the US.

In April this year, President Biden ordered that under the Foreigners Intelligence Surveillance Act, the administration could compel US Telecommunications and Internet providers to turn over communications of foreigners outside of the country which passed through the US.

Developments in the Middle East where Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the key players establish the trends of a steady spread of radicalisation in the Muslim world, rise of terrorism propelled by faith and an increase in the incidence of suicide bombing.

Faith-based terror has acquired a global dimension for, besides the Middle East, West Africa and the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt of South Asia have emerged as the breeding grounds for terror outfits.

The phenomenon of 'lone wolves' and determined small cells out to get to the US, is also coming into full play.

Islamic radical forces consider the US as their prime enemy -- they carry the historical memory of the 19th century Jehad of Wahhabis against the British -- and they are inclined to target close friends of the US and Israel too.

Iran, a fundamentalist Shia state, is hostile to US and Israel and is against Saudi Arabia as well.

While India has handled the Middle East countries well, it has to be especially careful against the machinations of Pakistan in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the former's known potential for setting the radical outfits upon India.

The US is vulnerable to the manoeuvrings of Pakistan which pretended to act as the bridge between the US and Taliban but India should be able to educate US policymakers on the danger that the two democracies faced from radicalised forces in the Muslim world.

The two recent incidents of ISIS-sponsored terror attacks -- one in Iran and the other in Moscow have to be correctly viewed so that there was no misreading about the choice of targets made by radical Islamic forces.

Two suicide bombers of ISIS-K attacked the huge crowd assembled at the death anniversary of Major General Soleimani at Kerman in Iran in January 2024 killing 103 persons.

ISIS-K struck again in March 2024 at a concert on the outskirts of Moscow causing the death of 145 persons and injuries to 550 others.

The attack in Iran was reportedly in retaliation against the large-scale killing of ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and was driven also by the deep-seated antipathy of Sunni extremists towards Shias.

In Syria, Iran supports President Bashar Al Assad, who is an Alawite, while ISIS is opposed to him.

As regards the ISIS attack in Moscow, it is a fact that Russia was on the side of the Syrian President against the Islamic State but more than that the provocation for ISIS came from the Russian repression of the Islamic population -- with Russia maintaining a strong security presence on the southern periphery -- and President Putin's aversion to any advance of radicalisation in Central Asian regions.

For ISIS, Russia was no different from the US-led West.

The ISIS offensives in Iran and Russia mark the global rise of radical Islamic forces and their impact on the geopolitics of our times.

Unless countered by well-thought-out measures, faith-based terrorism rooted in the call of Jehad -- that had a natural appeal in the Muslim world -- would grow, particularly because in fundamentalist Islam there was no distinction between religion and politics. This primarily posed a threat to the democratic world at large.

India and the US representing the two largest democracies of the world fully share the concern arising from the spread of radicalisation in the Islamic world and the consequent threat of terrorist violence posed by it.

There are widespread protests in the US and elsewhere against the loss of civilian life in Gaza and these can have the effect of fuelling the expansion of Islamic radical forces.

The world community must intervene to contain the damage caused by the Israel-Hamas confrontation and work to pause the Israeli operations in Gaza, securing the release of all hostages and advancing the long-term solution based on the 'two states' formula in Palestine.

The gains of the US initiative about the Abraham Accord between Israel and the UAE-Saudi Arabia combine have been overrun by the developments that followed the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

US interest in the Middle East fostered through Saudi Arabia is matched by the Russia-Iran collaboration that has been elevated to a strategic level as is evident from the supply of Iranian drones to Russia for use in the Russia-Ukraine military conflict.

The superpower rivalry in the Middle East is in a way being used by the Islamic extremists and radical forces to further their objectives.

Comprehensive measures are needed to counter radicalisation to preserve universal peace against the rise of faith-based violence.

Terrorism is resort to covert violence for a perceived 'political cause' and 'cause' requires commitment dictated by 'motivation'. In Islam 'faith' can be the source of a very strong motivation that does not look back.

Conflicts in the name of religion therefore have to be avoided at all costs in the interest of global peace.

The key to this is working for the advancement of democracy everywhere.

India has a special responsibility in the matter considering its rise in recent years as a world power whose voice of reason and sanity commanded attention.

This country has proven beyond doubt that electoral democracy built on 'One man One vote' is the most sustainable form of government. It has countered the narratives of 'majoritarianism' and 'diminished secularism' by establishing that so long as the state followed the policy of development of all without community discrimination and did not carry a denominational stamp on governance -- like what was done in our neighbourhood -- secularism is built into the foundations of the state.

A diverse nation like India has to be governed with strong hands which is not to be confused with 'authoritarianism'.

Also, valid initiatives to remove regional disparities and promote nationalism are a part of democratic governance.

A healthy democracy combines growth with special attention to the poor of all communities and knows how to reconcile a free market economy with the features of a welfare state.

India has been setting an example of practising the call of 'vocal for local', providing a favourable investment climate and encouraging global competitiveness.

The demand on the handling of international relations in the face of an ever-changing geopolitics has been met successfully by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government which opted for bilateral and multilateral relationships based on mutual interests in security and economy and a declared commitment to global peace and human welfare.

While India is doing well abroad, a developing challenge to its internal security in the form of radicalisation needs to be met in time.

Communal divide can lead to communal militancy and this in turn can be exploited by inimical forces within India and outside to whip up faith-based terrorism. This happened not too long ago in the past when SIMI, the outfit created by Jamaat-e-Islami at Aligarh, joined up with OIC-linked international organisations like the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and International Islamic Federation of Student Organisations (IIFSO) and went on to produce Indian Mujahideen (IM) that was suspected to be involved in terrorist acts like the 2005 Delhi bombings and 2008 Bangalore serial blasts.

It is necessary to put politics done in the name of minorities on a discount and encourage all communities to come under the umbrella of India's nationalism that granted them full political rights and freedom of worship.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)



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