On the ISIS attack on Saudi Arabia’s borders

The threats by terrorist groups against Arab countries are actually homegrown

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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What I wrote yesterday about the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) against Saudi Arabia was not a difficult prophecy to make as ISIS festers inside Iraq, not far from the Saudi border, and controls large swathes of Anbar. On Monday, terrorists from Anbar carried out a treacherous attack against a Saudi border patrol near Arar.

Despite this, I don’t think ISIS poses a threat to the kingdom although the organization has tens of thousands of followers in Iraqi provinces like Anbar, Nineveh and Saladin and in other Syrian areas. The threat can be deterred by the efforts of border guards and by working in cooperation with the Iraqi government. The government change in Baghdad is a good sign for both countries. This ISIS threat can also be deterred by working in cooperation with Anbar’s tribal leaders who’ve been closely cooperating with the Jordanians and working with them to protect border crossings.

Terrorist groups in Iraq can launch many operations against Saudi Arabia and target vital infrastructure and residential areas as part of their propaganda. However, they will not represent a real threat, at least at this stage. ISIS and similar armed groups require a friendly environment and this is why they succeeded in Sunni provinces in Syria and in the west of Iraq.

The threats by terrorist groups against Arab countries are actually homegrown. The threat of radicalism among us is real and it provides rich soil for extremism to grow. It attracts youths and ensures the collection of funds. Radicals and terrorists perceive the religious society as an ally not a rival. This is because they adopt the same rhetoric and they just come up with excuses when they disagree. The problem of ISIS is domestic, it’s not imported from Iraq or Syria or Yemen. This is what we discovered in 2003 when terrorism shook most Saudi cities. We couldn’t eliminate it until we admitted that the al-Qaeda rhetoric was present in Saudi society and until we stopped blaming others for it.

We must not underestimate ISIS, although many think it is a gathering of fanatic madmen

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

We must not underestimate ISIS, although many think it is a gathering of fanatic madmen. ISIS is a developed model of al-Qaeda and it has extraordinary military and administrative skills. ISIS is also distinguished by its propaganda practices, like the recent Iraqi-Saudi border operation near Arar, which ensures ongoing local and international media attention even though the operation itself was not a victory. The organization has, in the past few months, carried out a major propaganda campaign, presenting itself as the defender of the Syrians or as the defender of the Sunnis of Iraq or as the founder of the caliphate or as the enemy of the West and Arab governments. It has succeeded in presenting itself as invincible, unlike al-Qaeda whose members are hiding in Afghanistan’s mountains. It has taken over cities in Iraq and Syria and is still in charge of them. However, the organization cannot succeed without a friendly social environment and this is why it only seized Sunni areas in Iraq and Syria. It intentionally killed many Sunnis in order to subjugate the Sunnis in particular - just as it did with the Syrian tribe of al-Sheitaat when it killed 900 of its youths in order to subdue it and intimidate other Sunni tribes.

At the local level, it’s not possible to defeat ISIS’s raison d’etre without confronting religious radicalism which is the major vein of extremist organizations. Unfortunately, and although we defeated al-Qaeda in the past, its ideology was not uprooted. This is why a new organization surfaces every time an old organization is eliminated. The ISIS ideology inside the country remains a lot more dangerous than that which lies beyond its borders.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on January 6, 2015.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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