ISRAEL TREATING VICTIMS OF JIHAD
THE DECISION by the Obama administration to launch airstrikes against Isis in Iraq over the weekend has brought to the fore a new Middle East crisis that, at least for a few days, overtook Gaza as the world’s number one story.
But beyond shifting international attention, the chaos in Iraq, which is rapidly redrawing boundaries in the region, could have major implications for Israel.
President Barack Obama’s decision to support the Kurdish battle against jihadi forces and to back the replacement of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad is an indication that his administration may be prepared for the first time to forcefully take sides in the region’s main con- flict. This could well be a crucial stage in the disintegration of Iraq and the emergence of an independent Kurdish state. Israel already has discreet ties with the Kurds and at least one deal to buy locally extracted oil.
The threat now posed by Isis to Jordan and Lebanon could lead to a wider regional alliance taking in Saudi Arabia — which has already promised $1bn in military aid to Lebanon — the US and Israel.
Iran and its proxy, Hizbollah, also enemies of Isis, are already over-extended in their campaign to support the Assad regime in Syria. In this scenario, both would be isolated, along with their remaining allies in Baghdad and Damascus.
Greater Saudi influence over Lebanon would hurt Hizbollah’s capacity to threaten Israel. Meanwhile, with the US no longer relying on Iran to provide regional stability, the Islamic Republic’s bargaining power in next month’s nuclear talks could be greatly diminished.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have tried to draw comparisons between Hamas and Isis, but the analogy is a poor one. While they both are Sunni Islamist movements, there is a great deal of difference between the Muslim Brotherhood’s political Islam, upon which Hamas was founded, and Isis’s vision of a global caliphate.
Israel is now part of the Egypt-Saudi coalition, which sees both streams as enemies and is trying to convince the Americans to adopt a similar attitude.
The fact that in Gaza some jihadist groups, including a number of former Hamas members, are already identifying with Isis, may make that easier.
Israel, Egypt and the Saudis are all now on the same side. It remains to be seen whether the US administration will give up its hopes of placating Iran and instead follow up on its new campaign in northern Iraq by joining the new coalition. Such a move would change the face of the region.
FOR the past week in northern Iraq, tens of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority, have been stranded on the Sinjar Mountain, facing death by starvation or by the Isis jihadis, who awaited them below.
Jerusalem-based NGO Shevet Achim is one of the few organisations to have assisted the charity Kurdistan Save the Children in this crisis, and is providing surgery for Yazidi children suffering from cardiovascular ailments.
Since the crisis began, a small number of Yazidi families have been screened by Shevet Achim in Sulaymaniya, Iraq, and then taken to Israel via Jordan, said the NGO’s spokesperson, Madeleine Miles.
“The majority of the patients have been Muslim, and now we have a number of Yazidis, but in the hospital there is no distinction,” said Ms Miles, who added that the group has worked with many Israeli hospitals and government workers, who viewed the mission as “an honour”.
Since its inception in 1994, the NGO has facilitated the transfer of thousands of children from Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Iraq to Israeli hospitals for life-saving procedures.
At least 500 Yazidis have been murdered, and some buried alive, by Isis, which accuses the ethnic Kurdish group of devil worship.
Kurdish soldiers celebrate after expelling Isis from Makhmur, northern Iraq