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When will ISIS win? When we think like them

Why did the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria target a remote border post between Saudi Arabia and Iraq?

Jamal Khashoggi

Published: Updated:

Why did the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria target a remote border post between Saudi Arabia and Iraq? Because it could not target Riyadh, and would have if it could. The operation in Saudi Arabia’s Arar was easy. Terrorists came from Iraq, their alleged state, where they plan and train, and where there is an excess of arms. If they had tried to attack Riyadh, they would have needed to smuggle weapons and store them in safe houses, at the risk of being exposed, or of infiltration by security forces.

Saudi Arabia has been successful against jihadists within in its own borders, and in Yemen they are tied down fighting government forces as well as the Houthis. ISIS thinks it has a secure and free space between Iraq and Syria, from where it can take the battle to Saudi Arabia.

ISIS thinks it has a secure and free space between Iraq and Syria, from where it can take the battle to Saudi Arabia

Jamal Khashoggi

Jihadists believe that Riyadh has allied itself with infidel countries, and that this makes anyone who accepts this an infidel. They are convinced that Saudi Arabia is subject to a conspiratorial project of Westernization.

In the firing line

If they could, security institutions would have been their first target, including the Interior Ministry and soldiers. Next would be cultural institutions, especially the press. Religious figures would also be targeted, as would foreigners and non-Muslims, as well as economic and oil facilities. The aim would be to stop the development and distribution of money, which keeps people away from jihad.

Their ranks and armoury are increasing in Iraq and Syria, but no distinguished Saudi leader has emerged among them. Perhaps ISIS’s ‘caliph’ only wants Saudis as pawns. He knows that taking the battle to Saudi Arabia is difficult because the border with Iraq has been fortified. Smuggling arms and people is impossible.

Public relations

Perhaps an easy operation such as the one against Arar keeps Saudi ISIS members busy. It is also beneficial in terms of public relations, as it keeps the dream of invading the Arabian Peninsula alive, and enables the recruitment of more members. ISIS knows this dream is still out of reach, so in the meantime its strategy is to attack Saudi Arabia from within. As such, we have to look for gaps in our internal defenses.

We must, as much as possible, neither think nor act like ISIS. Some Saudis have justified the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last Wednesday. This is one such gap. Few Saudi scholars have individually and publicly condemned the crime because the magazine insulted the prophet Mohamed. Had a Saudi magazine done so, sharia law would have been applied. ISIS is using the incident to infiltrate the minds of youths. It will only win if we accept to think like it.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on January 9, 2015.

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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

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