Tunisia’s crucial battle for Ben Gardane

The Tunisian state proved to be efficient, alert and decisive in the face of the attack

Mashari Althaydi

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Few days ago, Tunisia set a major example when its army, police, and national guards, with the help of its people, repelled a dangerous incursion carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Ben Gardane city near the country’s border with Libya.

An ISIS battalion formed of Tunisians - most of them likely to be local residents – took to the streets and declared their control over the city. They announced the establishment of Ben Gardane state under the authority of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi.

The murderers belonging to ISIS surfaced across the city, stopped passers-by and started inspecting their identity cards. They thought that this small city, linked to the exchange of goods on the border with Libya, will mark their first victory in Green Tunisia. However, things did not go according to their plan.

The Tunisian state proved to be efficient, alert and decisive. Most importantly, the people of Ben Gardane took the initiative to collaborate with the Tunisian army, national guards and police against the invaders. Tunisia’s Prime Minister, Habib Essib, stated that the attacks were carried out by around 50 armed men who tried to take over three security installations and tried to establish a new state in Ben Gardane.

The Tunisian interior and defense ministries announced that the security forces killed 46 terrorists in three days. Efforts are on to track ISIS remnants in the country. As many as 13 security personnel and seven civilians were killed in clashes with the terrorists.

Pressure from Libya

ISIS has been under pressure in Libya as a result of the progress made by General Khalifa Haftar-led forces, the secret US-NATO raids on its locations in Sirte and other cities as well as Sabratha near the Tunisian border.

Perhaps the attempts to take over Ben Gardane was aimed at expanding the organization’s authority toward Tunisia and complicate things for NATO and the Americans. Nevertheless, Tunisians have resisted this malicious attempt.

Perhaps the attempt to take over Ben Gardane was aimed at expanding the organization’s authority toward Tunisia and complicate things for NATO and the Americans

Mshari al-Thaydi

ISIS planners are seeking actively to control more than one location in the region for various reasons. They want to demonstrate the power of the terrorist organization and weaken Arab and international alliances. This is why they have tried to expand in Libya recently.

Tunisia has had a unique relationship with ISIS because it has been reported that several Tunisians, whether from Europe or within Tunisia, form a large proportion of its leaders and cadres, especially in Syria and Iraq.

The challenge for Tunisia is two-fold because ISIS certainly has many bases inside the country even though their strength is not known. The invasion of Ben Gardane has established this fact.

However, the Tunisian state, along with its people were found to be combat-ready despite all the economic and political problems they are facing. Tunisians have achieved an important victory not only for themselves but for all Arabs and Muslims.
The battle for Ben Gardane has been a ray of light amid the dark ISIS night we have faced. Tunisia deserves support from the Arab world.

This article first appeared on Asharq al-Awsat on Mar. 11, 2016.
Saudi journalist Mshari Al Thaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Al Thaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists.

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