Tackling Syria not Saudi Arabia will weaken The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

The failure to resolve the Syrian Civil War has provided a financial base for ISIS not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

While the media focuses on the Gaza strip, ISIS continues to destabilise the Middle East and the longer they go unchallenged the more they cement themselves in the territories they occupy. Under ISIS controlled areas businesses and civilians are paying taxes and oil fields are being extract to fund their jihad.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been accused of funding them, often by those with a political motive. Iraq’s Prime Minster al-Maliki, a sectarian Shiite, has accused the Sunni Kingdom of morally and financially supporting ISIS. In the West this false claim has been used as an opportunity to criticise the US and UK’s ties to Saudi Arabia and as a result hold them responsible for the crisis.

Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of leadership of the Islamic world is largely done by funding media outlets and madrasas in countries with large Muslim populations rather than supporting militant groups. It is questionable whether or not the Saudi state is supporting ISIS as there are no publically accessible proof of a financial link between them.

While the overthrow of the Iranian backed Assad regime in Syria by Sunni forces may be seen as an objective of Saudi foreign policy. It’s too simplistic to divide the Middle East between Sunni and Shiites. In reality the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been the enemy of Al Qaeda and its offshoot Islamist organisations. 

In the long term a strong and victorious ISIS will only undermine Saudi Arabia’s internal security. Like the mujahedeen after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, jihadists will return to their home country and seek to overthrow the royal family who they see as ‘puppets to the west’. If ISIS funds are coming from the Arabian Peninsula it is more likely that it is private wealthy Saudi citizens rather than the government.

Instead our attention should turn away from the Arabian Peninsula and to the Levant where ISIS have consolidated their control of towns and villages lost by Assad.  Areas of the country particularly in the north controlled by ISIS appear to be an important source of its finance as it allows them to sell the oil and agricultural produce there as well as extort local businesses and officials. Criminal acts such as kidnapping, looting and bank robberies in Syria but also in areas of Iraq such as Mosul that it has occupied also provide funds for their campaign of terror. A recent Washington Post article argued that they could be the richest terrorist group in history.

As they expand against Iraqi forces and the Syrian regime they also acquire the weaponry, ammunition and transportation left behind by fleeing troops. The situation is only getting worse as the West does nothing about the ongoing crisis. 

ISIS is growing in strength and cementing themselves in the areas they have seized leading to the undesirable possibility of ISIS actually emerging as a de facto state within two states.