Over the course of the last year, the Islamic State (IS) has moved from being a ‘terrorist group’ to being a state entity albeit without defined borders or international recognition. But the fact is that it occupies and more importantly administers large areas of Syria and Iraq, and is active across the Levant and the Maghreb. It is wealthy, very well armed and attracts volunteers from across the globe. It is a week since a lone gunman, seemingly with ties to IS and probably trained by an IS cadre in Libya, killed 38 tourists in Sousse, Tunisia, and almost certainly killed — for the time being — that country’s tourism industry. On the same day as the Sousse massacre, a mosque in Kuwait was bombed, this being claimed by IS, and there is little reason to doubt the claim. Now the IS is raiding into Egyptian territory, hitting five Egyptian checkpoints in the Sinai peninsula on July 1, killing 17 soldiers and injuring at least 30 others.
Egypt has responded by saying that it is “100 per cent” in control of the situation in northern Sinai and that 100 “terrorists” had been killed in the engagement. The IS went to social media and announced its attacks on Twitter. There is a depth of competency and diversity about IS operations that speak of a sophisticated organisational infrastructure that has both military and civilian components, and a mature and effective command structure. To mount an attack in strength on five Egyptian posts simultaneously would test the competencies of a professional army anywhere in the world. Anybody — or indeed any state — making the mistake of dismissing the IS as a rag-tag bunch of gun-toting zealots puts themselves and the peoples of those states at hazard. Egypt, riven politically and having virtually returned to its default position of military dictatorship, is a country vulnerable to the predations of the IS. It is strong militarily but internal schisms are ripe for exploitation. Our own leadership remains largely in denial of the IS threat, and it does so to the peril of all.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.