BAHRAIN (Gulf Daily News): Further attempts by Islamic State (IS) jihadists to expand territory under its control are destined to fail, according to an expert.
The militant group’s stated aim of establishing a pan-regional Islamic caliphate should be regarded more as a public relations exercise than an attainable target, according to International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) political Islam senior fellow Dr. Nelly Lahoud.
She said the group was seeking to position itself as the leader of the “jihadi landscape,” but it would be wrong to over-estimate its capabilities in the long run.
“It is important not to underestimate the achievements of IS, while it is also critical not to allow our concerns about terrorism to exaggerate the standing of the group in the long term,” Lahoud said during a conference in Manama yesterday.
“IS stated objectives are many, especially if it is going to change the map of the Middle East.
“Their stated objectives have to be ambitious, but this doesn’t mean their leaders believe in turning these ambitions into reality.
“After all, we are not talking about a world power, let alone a state.
“The group’s largely accidental rise (raises the question) who are they trying to impress?
“Beyond world powers, they aim at other extremist groups – trying to eclipse Al Qaeda and score points against them.
“The IS leaders may not be crafty statesmen; the group is ultimately parochial.
“Although their stated ambition is the leadership of the world through the expansion of its proclaimed caliphate, its realistic eye is on the leadership of the jihadi landscape.”
However, she added that Gulf countries were not immune to the short-term threat from IS, which has declared “provinces” in countries including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – an exercise Lahoud described as symbolic expansion.
“The IS declared its province in Bahrain in October, but they don’t have any territorial ‘government’ in the country,” she told the GDN.
“As far as territory is concerned, the only places where they have proper territories is Iraq and Syria – apart from some in Libya.
“With respect to the other 33-plus provinces declared so far, mainly following operations they were able to carry out, most of them could be counted as symbolic of the expansion of their caliphate declared in June last year.”
She made her comments during the first Bahrain Bay Forum, organized by the IISS at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay.
The two-day event, which opened on Saturday, brought together global decision-makers to discuss economic development against the backdrop of regional insecurity.
Lahoud warned the threat of IS to other countries in the Middle East was greater in the short term, particularly with the group more likely to launch attacks as it was “losing ground in Iraq and Syria at the moment.”
She said other factors that increased the short-term threat were a lack of common ground in confronting the group, as well as disillusionment of Arab Sunnis with their own governments – warning that more attacks similar to that in Paris were possible.