US President Barack Obama must be careful not to “degrade and destroy” ISIS in Iraq and Syria to the point of helping Iran and its axis of evil step into the vacuum that would be created and establish its own Islamic Shiite caliphate spreading from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to Iran itself.
This would be a serious threat to the moderate Sunni countries like Jordan, and the Persian Gulf states, and eventually to Israel and the West. Replacing the threat of a radical Islamic Sunni caliphate with the threat of a radical Islamic Shiite caliphate is shortsighted and could be a catastrophic strategic mistake to be regretted for generations to come.
Iran and its axis of evil, which includes the Syrian regime and Hezbollah militias, are as brutal as ISIS. Both are Islamic totalitarian regimes which sponsor terrorism and wish to dominate the region. They both state their intention to defeat those they perceive as infidels, starting with other Muslim states and eventually moving on to Israel and the West.
While ISIS is beheading Shiites, Yazidis and Christians, the Syrian government, with the help of the Shiite Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah terrorists, has been using air attacks, tanks, and chemical weapons to kill thousands of its own Syrian people, mostly Sunni civilians, in the last three years of the civil war.
The only difference is that while ISIS uses social media, including YouTube and Twitter, to record and publicize their murderous and barbaric acts, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah hide and deny their brutality and try to deceive the gullible world into believing that they are civilized.
However, if one looks objectively at their military capacity and capability, Iran constitutes a much bigger existential threat to the Middle East and West, while ISIS is just another terrorist organization, like al-Qaeda, with a lot of money, territories and imitators across the world.
The CIA just reported that ISIS has mustered between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters across Syria and Iraq. While they have captured lots of US made conventional equipment from the Iraqi army, they still mainly engage in low tech Third World warfare by relying overwhelmingly on civilian pickup trucks which are rigged to carry machine guns.
It seems that they have few tanks, armored personal carriers, Humvees, anti- aircraft guns, mortars, or machine guns. But mostly, it has been using medieval, barbaric tools such as gruesome beheadings and kidnappings to spread through modern technology panic and fear among primitive local populations and incompetent Arab fighters. This has also served as great recruiting tool to increase their ranks.
In contrast, the Iranian military consists of 525,000 active personnel and 1,800,000 reserve personnel, including an air force and a navy. They have thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, hundreds of fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, dozens of submarines, and are in possession of hundreds of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons which could reach Israel, Europe, and US regional bases. In addition to chemical and biological weapons, they are on the brink of acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The Sunni Persian Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan should be very wary of helping to destroy ISIS while Iran is allowed to enrich uranium and sell their oil because of Obama’s misperception that Iran is different and less dangerous than ISIS and can be successfully negotiated and reasoned with.
ISIS must be contained through US air attacks and not be allowed to expand its territorial boundaries to Jordan and Lebanon. But Iran must be contained too by adding crippling economic sanctions to suffocate it economically till they dismantle their nuclear weapons program and curtail their military presence in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
The new US campaign runs the risk of helping Assad and therefore Iran which has thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah terrorists fighting alongside pro-Assad forces.
The Kurdish army, the Iraqi army and moderate Syrian rebel groups must be equipped with advanced weapons to give them a chance to defend themselves against ISIS. Likely their ground forces will still be too weak, impotent, and dysfunctional to be able to defeat ISIS, even after it is weakened by American air strikes.
The probable failure of these ground forces to defeat ISIS could eventually tempt the West and the Obama Administration, which are against using their own ground forces, to agree to let. Assad stays in power and to cooperate with him, Iran and Hezbollah.
If ISIS were to be destroyed by this strategic cooperation, only Iran with its axis will be standing to fill the vacuum which will be left.
More important, the emergence of ISIS provides a strategic opportunity to gain what was lost after the defeat of Saddam Hussein by the US. When the Islamic Republic of Iran came to power in 1979 there was a balance of terror and power between Iran and Iraq. They fought a brutal war from 1980-89 against each other.
During those years, Iran did not have the resources to intensively develop their nuclear program and their military might was degraded. The defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was good for Iran. After the Iraqi collapse, Iran stepped in and increased their influence in an Iraq under the control of the Shiite government.
Now there is another chance for the world to create another balance of terror in which both the Iranians and ISIS will degrade each other’s military power, influence, and ability to spread terror. Most importantly, President Obama and the world must not take their eyes off the goals of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power or reestablishing the ancient Persian Empire.