The news that ISIS is massing troops on the Lebanese border indicates the appalling threat from it that faces the whole of the Middle East. ISIS is as blood-thirsty as it is apparently religious, a combination of absolute self-confidence that theirs is the cause of God with absolute ruthlessness in order to achieve it. Those who resist know they must do so to the death, as ISIS is itself committed to death or victory. Yet under the cover of supposed moral purity lies sexual predation on local women, disguised by abusing the Islamic rules for marriage and divorce; blind robbery of the conquered in the name of God; the murder of dissidents and those from other religious groups, including fellow Muslims; and, I suspect, the establishment in power of at least some corrupt leaders whose ambition would include their own self-aggrandisement disguised as religious devotion.
If Lebanon crumbles, Israel will eventually be threatened and then very possibly could be drawn into a regional war against ISIS. That will present a terrible dilemma for Arab citizens, who have traditionally been encouraged by their own people not to serve in the Israeli military – and by Jewish Israelis who haven’t wanted a well-trained Arab populace that they (unreasonably) fear could become a fifth column in a repeat of past Arab attempts to destroy Israel as a nation. However, ‘death to Israel’ is now largely a rhetorical threat as countries like Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia have in reality begun to develop cultural, economic and political relations with the Jewish state. The new threat is quite different from ISIS, because ISIS seeks to destroy every existing state in order to incorporate them into a Caliphate ruled by their own extreme interpretation of Islam.
Imagine what complete victory would mean for ISIS. It would produce an anti-western, anti-democratic, anti-liberal world force, let alone one that is anti- every shade of religious freedom but its own. It would be immeasurably wealthy, technologically savvy, physically brave, fundamentalist-inspired by the confidence that death in battle is a privilege and an honour. Yet long before that prospect another and much closer one is appearing on the horizon – what would happen in Israel if Lebanon fell to ISIS. There would be at least two very peculiar consequences.
First, Israel could find itself fulfilling among its Arab neighbours an old Arab proverb: ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. ISIS is as opposed to the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as it is to Israel. It is murdering Arab Muslims of the ‘wrong’ kind as willingly as it is barbarically crucifying Christians to wipe out the (older than Islam) Arab Christian community. It will bathe Israel in the blood of Jews if it possibly can. One way or another, a war between ISIS and Israel would be the hinge on which Israel’s history turns, either in its destruction or in finding a role at present inconceivable, as an ally of its Arab neighbours.
The second is that Arab Israeli citizens would be faced with a terrible choice between joining a war against fellow Arabs (yet Arabs who would slaughter most of them) and continuing their traditional reluctance to join the IDF to defend a state in which they are relentlessly treated as second-class citizens. A war with ISIS, however, would be against the Arabs as well as the Jews of Israel. That would change the moral and cultural context in which Arab Israelis would choose for or against fighting, rather as Britain’s war with Germany did for many Irish people in 1914. Death or victory? Like hanging, it ‘concentrates the mind wonderfully’.

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