The two wings of the ‘Caliphate’

ISIS’ activity in Sirte and Sinai is illustrative of a strategy by ISIS to create two centers of power

Dr. Theodore Karasik

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ISIS’ activity in Sirte and Sinai is illustrative of a strategy by ISIS to create two centers of power not only to destabilize Libya and Egypt but neighboring countries from West Africa to Saudi Arabia. These two wings of the caliphate need to be recognized for what they are: A strategic and tactical pincher move to “pop” Egypt and spread ISIS’ deviant ideology across North Africa. ISIS is also looking at the outer edge of the caliphate’s appendages to form the space necessary to send more fighters from the Caliphates core in the Levant to Libya and Egypt.

ISIS was displaced in Derna by Majlis Shura Al-Mujahideen which is an al-Qaeda affiliate. But the defeat didn’t matter because ISIS is pliable. ISIS is able to fill the gaps in Libya and choose Sirte as its next stronghold because of its strategic location.

Sirte is a more formidable hub for ISIS then the former stronghold of Derna because Sirte is a major port city

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Since the fall of Sirte into ISIS’ grip in May, the group massacred hundreds through executions involving decapitations and crucifixions of Sirte’s residents to proclaim its intent to control all aspects of the port city’s citizenry and physical assets. Sirte is a more formidable hub for ISIS then the former stronghold of Derna because Sirte is a major port city. Mediterranean Sea access is now an ISIS prerogative.

A center of ISIS action

Sinai is also a center of ISIS action with almost daily attacks by ISIS’ appendage on the peninsula. Rumors of Sinai tribal infighting don’t seem to be working as a communications strategy by Egypt. Instead, the Sinai is increasingly becoming the launch point for other ISIS operations in Egypt specifically targeting Cairo. The assassination of Egypt’s chief prosecutor, the attack on the Italian Consulate in Cairo last month and now a powerful car bomb detonated outside am Egyptian state security building in northern Cairo which injured 29 people, including six policemen, shows that ISIS wants to break President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s ability to govern by forcing an armed struggle to disrupt Egyptian society. ISIS also executed Croatian hostage Tomislav Salopek and kidnapped four Hamas supporters in an expansive attack against the Palestinian Islamist group. If nothing is done, the strategy and the tactics by ISIS may just work to destabilize Egypt and gain control of more waterways. That outcome would be disastrous.

Why are the two wings becoming more important to contend with through kinetic force? According to an Arab official, the reason is that there may be a regional deal on Syria soon. What to do with the rump Syria appears to be coalescing in Russia with the Kremlin acting as a focal point for the GCC and Iran to settle the near term for Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is likely that a Moscow-3 round of Syrian negotiations will be announced.

A Syrian peace agreement will have an impact on the two ISIS wings. With a potential agreement brokered by Moscow, ISIS fighters will likely flow to the two wings in order to focus on further destabilization of Libya and Egypt in order to open a full blown second front. To boot, from Libya, ISIS can further enact its plan to network its destabilization plan. It’s a threat to not only Algeria and Morocco but also Niger and Mali. Linking up with Boko Harum is part of the action plan for Caliphate expansionism.

Calling for international action

Again, Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk is appealing to Arab states to launch air strikes against militants allied to ISIS. Egypt has repeatedly called for international action against the ISIS group in Libya, appealing for U.N. intervention in February and warning that the Libyan unrest threatens the whole region. Egypt launched its own air strikes inside Libya that same month, after Islamic State militants killed dozens of Egyptian Christians in the infamous “Message in Blood to the Christian Nation.”

Overall, the two wings of the caliphate need to be addressed post haste. With Operation Golden Arrow, combined with the Saudi-led operation Yemen making significant progress, the next step in pacifying ongoing extremist trends in the region by military force needs to focus on Libya and Egypt. By finding a fix to the Syrian mess via Moscow, Arab forces can concentrate on clipping the wings and taking the air out of ISIS in North Africa.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans.

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