As the United States readies its global coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, states are jockeying to join the coalition in order to defeat the extremist group that has relatively quickly jumped to the forefront of attention. American Secretary of State John Kerry announced that more than 50 states are involved in the coalition, and these include American allies like France and the United Kingdom. Australia is reportedly sending SAS members to Iraq following the breakup of a plot to murder Australians on live television.
At about the time American President Barack Obama announced his policy to defeat the Islamic State, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned a meeting to discuss the threat the terrorist group poses to Israel. Despite the fact that the Islamic State (currently) is not in a position to threaten Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, at least outwardly, appears interested in joining the coalition against the Islamic State.
Mr. Netanyahu is right to be concerned about the extremist organization -- even if it does not immediately threaten his country, the Islamic State moves quickly and the reality on the ground could shift dramatically at short notice -- but does that mean Israel should include its name on the roster? Let’s examine a few reasons why it should not.
Immediacy of the Threat. Yes, the Islamic State could muscle the rebel militias around Golan out of the way and from there threaten the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. It could also stir up trouble in neighboring Lebanon or Jordan (places where the militia has pushed into or Islamic State flags have popped up now and then, respectively) and exploit the limited ties it has to militias in the Gaza Strip. However, given the campaigns the Islamic State is currently engaged in, it does not have the type of manpower or resources to open up another front, especially because it would be opening up a new front with the most powerful army in the Middle East, the Israeli Defense Forces.
Reputation. Foreign Policy’s Amos Harel wrote a brilliant piece recently focusing on the political gain that Mr. Netanyahu would possibly achieve for Israel (and himself) by joining the coalition, namely in that it asserts Israel’s relevance to issues pertaining to the United States and its allies. This, Mr. Harel, points out, could be an explanation for why Mr. Netanyahu is floating the idea of joining in the first place. However, the effect that such involvement would have for the Islamic State’s reputation has not been examined. American airstrikes are already boosting the Islamic State’s credibility, so picture adding “resistance to Israel” to the extremists’ résumé. Their propaganda engines would have a field day with that one.
Necessity. This, I believe, is a crucial part of the question. How necessary is it for Israel to get involved anyway? Even without its name on the list, Israel is already providing intelligence that it has gathered on the Islamic State. Israel has a tremendously powerful army, but those signed on to the global coalition already have plenty of those. The same trappings that will hamper the global coalition (the fact that on the ground action in Syria is virtually off-limits to world powers even if they deploy to Iraq) affect Israel as well. What difference will Israel make beyond what it is already doing?
To answer that last question, probably very little. So let’s not toss the Islamic State anything else for it to feed off of, particularly when such does not really change the course of the coalition. Now of course, a change in situation where the Islamic State becomes more of an imminent threat to Israel would obviously change this calculus and may necessitate Israeli involvement. But for the moment, Israel has other military issues to worry about.