Israel should welcome Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul, but it should also bear in mind that the Jewish state was never one of its primary targets. The main threat is still Iran.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rushed to Mosul on Sunday to congratulate his armed forces for their great victory over Islamic State. But considering the balance of power on the ground, that should have happened a long time ago.
For nine months, tens of thousands of Islamic State combatants in Mosul managed to survive a massive ground assault carried out by hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and special forces units, fighting alongside Kurdish regiments and Shiite militias, as well as devastating aerial bombardments launched by coalition aircraft. American military advisers supervised this offensive while Washington delivered a steady stream of weapons, equipment, intelligence and considerable funds to the Iraqi army.
Islamic State fighters put up a fight almost to the end with car bombs and suicide attacks. Women and children were strapped with suicide vests and sent out to greet the advancing Iraqi forces. Fighters’ corpses are still strewn in the alleyways of the Old City of Mosul.
The cost of defeating Islamic State in Mosul was unfathomable. Cautious estimates indicate a 40% casualty rate among the Iraqi army’s counterterrorism units, which spearheaded the campaign. Alongside Islamic State fighters, thousands of civilians also perished in the battle for Mosul, some of them in their homes in airstrikes and others while attempting to flee the besieged city.
But the war against Islamic State in Iraq is not over yet. There are still several active pockets of resistance in Mosul, as well as in other areas in the country’s west. The main concern now pertains to suicide bombers embedded in groups of fleeing civilians who will continue trying to inflict damage on Iraqi forces.
On the other hand, the fall of Mosul is undoubtedly a severe morale blow for the jihadi group. In the summer of 2014, in the Old City’s ancient al-Nuri mosque, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in territory seized by the group in Iraq and Syria. The mosque no longer exists, and apparently neither does Baghdadi.
In many respects, this is the beginning of the end for Islamic State in its current form. After Mosul, Raqqa, the group’s “capital” in Syria, will fall too. While the infrastructure will crumble, its extremist, murderous ideology will continue to fuel jihadists in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Israel, of course, should welcome the defeat of Islamic State in Mosul, but it should also bear in mind that the Jewish state was never one of its primary targets. The main threat to Israel is still posed by Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias beholden to Tehran. These groups continue to operate in Syria, Lebanon, and to some degree could potentially grow stronger in Iraq in the post-Islamic State era.