Is ISIS making itself heard in Geneva?

Dr. Theodore Karasik
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It seems that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) feels “left out” of the Syrian peace process. Over the weekend, two ISIS attacks occurred in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and Damascus. Both attacks targeted Shiites.

ISIS has made it clear that killing Shiites is part of the caliphate narrative and was one of the first comments from terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi while announcing the Islamic State. The attacks are sending a strong message of the scope of deadly ISIS intent. Not only does ISIS want to antagonize Iran but also the entire international community at this critical juncture in Geneva.


While ISIS killed five and wounded 18 others at the Imam Reda Mosque in the Eastern province town of Mahasen, over 70 people were killed in Damascus’ Sayyda Zeinab suburb by at least three suicide bombers. Hundreds were wounded.

What ISIS wants to achieve is part of a larger plot to disrupt Geneva 3 talks as they begin. The messages to all parties involved is clear: We, ISIS, are not going anywhere.

To boot, ISIS is targeting not only the Hezbollah-Iran-Russia axis in the Damascus attack but also the Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC). The Committee is grouping together Ahrar al-Sham and the Army of Islam, two groups fighting to overthrow Assad and who are also in attendance at Geneva 3.

The ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham is not part of the team sent to Geneva, but the delegation has named Army of Islam official Mohammed Alloush as its chief negotiator. ISIS will have none of this HNC grouping so the deviants are continuing their targeting of Shiites in Saudi Arabia to cause sectarian discord in order to weaken the HNC and further challenge Saudi security requirements.

Talks the target?

As the talks begin with the bloody reminders over the weekend, ISIS continues to dominate the interior of Syria out to the Iraqi border in the east. The physical link between the Syrian and Iraqi parts of the so-called caliphate consists of crude roads across the Levant. Severing these links should be a priority for both the Russian and American led air campaigns. It would not take much to sever these links. However, that is not happening.

There is literally no attempt to halt the internal situation in the caliphate except for occasional, temporary victories – such as in Deir Ezzor where 63 ISIS terrorists were killed and another 84 wounded by the Syrian Army – are not going to alter the ground situation. The same goes for Saudi Arabia where ISIS is still able to operate and target.

ISIS is also keeping up its threatening messages to Europe in the run up and during the Geneva 3 talks. The deadly apocalyptic group is promising to attack UK and Spain for having crushed Muslim rule in Andalusia more than 500 years ago. But Britain will receive the “lion’s share” of the slaughter “in response to its declaration of war against the Muslims”, the group said in reference to last month’s UK Parliament vote on airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

ISIS threatens an attack on Britain will be so severe, “that it will turn children’s hair to white”. With U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura planning six months of talks, ISIS certainly will have the first half of 2016 to further make its point.

The question is whether ISIS can successfully interrupt the diplomatic process supported by the United States and Russia. The Geneva 3 talks are seeking a ceasefire and later working toward a political settlement to a war that has killed more than 250,000 people, driven more than 10 million from their homes and drawn in regional and global powers since it began nearly five years ago. It’s a true nexus. ISIS knows this point. The key issue remains a political transition and Assad’s own future – though how that will be addressed remains unclear.

Geneva 3 is an opportunity for ISIS to disrupt, degrade and destroy international resolve in finding a workable solution

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Later this week, international attention will be focused on Syria again when world leaders meet in London for the Supporting Syria and the Region conference 2016. Efforts to mitigate the effects of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis look likely to proceed more rapidly than the Geneva talks. For ISIS, the London meeting will serve as another notable event in trying to tamper the Syrian disaster by exploiting the situation.

Overall, after two meetings in Geneva in 2012 and 2014 had failed to come up with a solution to the prolonged Syrian crisis, a third round of talks in the Swiss capital is taking place now. But there is a sense of alarm in what ISIS is planning to do across the regions involved in the multiple sides present in the current round of discussions. It is highly probable that ISIS will try to continue to scuttle the talks to take strategic and tactical advantage through its own shock and awe.

In other words, Geneva 3 is an opportunity for ISIS to disrupt, degrade and destroy international resolve in finding a workable solution. From ISIS’s point of view, attacking Shiite targets is a notable step in its plans for 2016. This past weekend represents the group’s own next step as part of the Geneva 3 “anti-process”. ISIS is known for its anti-social and anti-civilization approach to its brand of global politics.

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.

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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