The author, an independent analyst with expertise in international relations and Middle Eastern/North African area studies, argues that the presence and nature of non-state armed groups in the West Asia region — characterized by their fluidity and resistance to traditional tools of state confrontation — pose complex challenges that many countries overlook in their policymaking...
While the development of regions requires stability, peace, and security, the presence of numerous non-state armed groups in the West Asia region, each supported by one or more regional countries from east to west, has added complexity to the political landscape. Essentially, one of the dilemmas in this region is the disorder and Dionysian spirit caused by these groups, as well as the difficulty of considering them in all regional equations. This factor has created a highly dynamic and incalculable situation. These groups neither have international responsibilities nor can they fit into the framework of international law. They engage in actions that easily qualify as crimes against humanity for any government. They do not require a fixed geography; their leaders are usually hidden, do not require diplomacy, and as a result, they do not need to be recognized within the international community. Their bases can range from a secure team house to the mountains of a region, and overall, they exist in the region like ghosts that can easily influence many equations, yet remain difficult to be seen.
This crucial point, the Dionysian nature, and the ghost-like characteristics of these militia and terrorist groups, are aspects that many countries have overlooked in their policymaking to resolve the issue. It is likely that the tools used to confront governments cannot be effectively used against groups that do not conform to the logical order of states. In simpler terms, while we use tools such as economic sanctions, political condemnation, or even war to exert pressure on governments, such expressions have limited effectiveness in dealing with non-state armed groups. These groups are flexible, morphing from one form to another, and as long as the conditions for their presence remain, they will persist.
When the United States launched its attack on Afghanistan in the early 2000s to eradicate Al-Qaeda, the intended outcome did not materialize. Instead, they witnessed a transformation within Al-Qaeda, including a shift in its geographical location to North Africa for nearly two decades. Despite their military offensives, the United States failed to destroy Al-Qaeda. The actual change occurred within the American security system, coupled with extensive intelligence penetration among Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. This resulted in a significant decrease in Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on American soil, rather than a direct war against Al-Qaeda, which caused its activities to “disperse” to other regions of the world.
When the same government in the United States, namely President George W. Bush, initiated an attack on Iraq with the plan of transforming the country into a successful model of nation-building, democracy, and modernity, it actually led to the emergence of new social tensions and new challenges. In the first place, it resulted in the marginalization of Sunni groups into a political minority in Iraq and the empowerment of Shia as the dominant force in the country, ultimately preparing the ground for the formation of ISIS. The campaign against ISIS also never brought about its definitive conclusion. While it may have dislodged ISIS as a “state-like” entity, the fight against ISIS as a terrorist group was never fully victorious. ISIS, as a militia/terrorist organization, merely changed its form, and regardless of the fact that it still remains somehow active in Iraq and Syria, it is likely to persist as a significant challenge for future decades to come, both in Africa and Khorasan.
This is almost what has repeatedly occurred in the latest Israeli wars against Hamas. The predominantly right-wing faction in Israel, which step by step gained power in Tel Aviv after the terror of Yitzhak Rabin, has employed various military and warfare tactics to destroy Hamas, but in practice, it has led to its growth and empowerment. Netanyahu had again and again proclaimed that war against Hamas would debilitate it, but each time regional analysts were faced with a more powerful Hamas than before, equipped with more missiles, advanced tools, and perhaps even more experience in engaging with Israel. In the 50-day war in 2014, Hamas launched 2,200 rockets towards Israel, but in the October offensive, on the very first day of the war, they launched 2,200 rockets towards Israel. If this is not a sign of failure after more than fifteen years of siege, sanctions, and even military confrontations with Hamas, then what is? Why do I believe that even in the event of a direct war between Israel and Hamas, with the entrance of the Israeli army into Gaza, Hamas will still persist or even strengthen?
We asked this very question a little earlier in the context of Afghanistan. Why, despite two decades of war by the United States in Afghanistan, did the Taliban ultimately enter Kabul with over sixty thousand forces and overthrow the Afghan government, which appeared to have numerous international supports?
The reason for that is as follows: The unresolved issue was merely set aside. Just as in Afghanistan, the issue of ethnicities, particularly the Pashtuns, remained unresolved, in Palestine, the issue was also merely set aside. Several countries in the region, by temporarily setting aside the issue of Palestinian statehood, Palestinian refugees, settlements, and Jerusalem, attempted to enter the Abraham Accords for peace. However, this agreement was not acceptable to a significant portion of Palestinian supporters. Neither the Palestinian society nor even other regional societies, and even the Israeli society itself, considered the situation as normal. Many Palestinians felt marginalized and ignored. Therefore, this peace was nothing more than a signed agreement between governments and did not find true depth in the societies of the region. This peace remained incapable of addressing the sociological complexities of the region and even Israel and Palestine themselves, and instead of delving into the sensitive atmosphere filled with militia groups, it interacted with these groups as if they were a state, disregarding the fact that the roots of these groups are greater than what we see on the surface.
These groups require particular conditions for their formation and continuity, all of which we clearly see in Gaza today: the existence of a notable sense of discrimination or great injustice, the presence of a population willing to join militia/terrorist groups, the presence of governments willing to provide financial and arms support, or at the very least, moral and media-political support to these groups, and an unstable and insecure environment. Some may add an ideology to this list, but in my opinion, in such a context, it doesn’t really matter whether it is right-wing extremism, nihilism and anarchism, leftist Marxism, nationalism, or Islamism; opponents of the current situation will find their ideology and turn it into their own flag for further engagements.
Faezeh Ghasemi is an independent analyst with expertise in international relations and Middle Eastern/North African area studies.
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.