As the G-7 begins its meeting in Germany there are two major elephants in the room which will undoubtedly provide much attention but not much publicity at the gathering; Iran and ISIS. In fact the entire Middle East is ripe for consideration at least as much as Ukraine, Russia, and world-wide economic conditions. In Syria alone, there are a number of very serious issues occurring almost simultaneously which could well change dramatically the balances of forces in the region. The shifting events there not only will dramatically impact immediately Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, and Iraq but also will affect the role of the West and in particular the U.S. continued
Many analysts now truly believe that President Assad’s days as leader in Syria truly are coming to an end. Rebel forces are continuing a stubborn resolve against the Government forces. They are joined –but not together—by ISIS forces which are making significant inroads in Syria while meeting little opposition. While the Islamic State forces have so far only captured U.S. supplies and ground vehicles in Iraq, they appear to be marching through the region, scaring off Government troops in both Iraq and Syria.
As they proceed to Damascus and with the anti-Assad forces themselves in a weakening position, there is the genuine potential that the Assad regime looks ready to fall. This can be prevented only if Iran intercedes in major way to prevent an ISIS victory. If the Islamic State actually were to gain control of Syria, then these radical Islamists may indeed have secured their first national territorial possession on their way to re-creating the new caliphate.
Such a sequence will produce two immediate responses. First, it is not clear whether Hezbollah, which sent significant forces into Syria in support of the Assad regime, has been significantly degraded by its alliance with President Assad. If so it could reduce the size of its forces on the line in any potential confrontation with Israel, although it probably does not reduce its missile inventory. This could set up potentially for Israel the most difficult enemy on its northern border in decades.
Second, the turmoil in Syria will undoubtedly affect how Israel prepares for any future military engagement in the North. The Hezbollah missiles could now find themselves in the hands of ISIS forces, which, while lacking an air force, might well be able to create a longer, more brutal, and less stable border with Israel.
Meanwhile over the past year the West and the U.S. in particular, have not demonstrated a well-defined strategy to deal with ISIS. In some respects U.S. policy against ISIS is as misguided and will be as successful as America’s Vietnamization strategy was in South East Asia. Continued support of anti-ISIS forces from the air clearly has not been nearly as effective as predicted. Boots on the ground are not an option and the local surrogates have evidenced only a limited will to fight.
Nothing constructive can come from this confused U.S. policy to combat radical Islamic terrorist groups. So too with respect to Iran, the President may be committed to an ideology in the region including his desire to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but he has no sense of a policy of how to make it happen. He is more and more about winning the negotiations than he is in the consequences. Ironically and also fortunately for him and the rest of the G-7, Iran will probably not let it happen.