IS Resurgence and the Israel-Hamas Conflict: Implications for Europe

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After years spent in the shade, the Islamic State (IS) terror group is back in the limelight. 

European countries strengthened security over the Christmas period, amid suspicions of terror attacks and violence connected to Israel’s war in Gaza. This raises serious concerns as the once-powerful group making a comeback. 

At its peak between 2014 and 2015, IS founded its very own caliphate, ruling large parts of Iraq and Syria and discharging deadly terror attacks across the world. 

Since then its existence might have been drastically reduced. Yet, the body remains a threat, particularly in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa.

IS has adjusted and evolved since the peak of its power in Iraq and Syria, seizing chances as they arise and attacking strategically to generate change. The haven its Afghanistan chapter enjoys has allowed IS Khorasan to maintain and now export its terror into the region with aspirations to push into the West.

IS Khorasan is an IS offshoot that operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. It was formed in 2015 when a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, dissatisfied with their leadership, pledged allegiance to IS. The terror group is known for its brutality, carrying out attacks against civilians, government forces, and religious minorities.

While IS never moved away and since war broke out between Israel and Hamas a lot has altered for the terrorist organization. IS never faded, but since 7 October it has become more appropriate as a challenge, It can be said that the Hamas’s attack has been “a blessing” for IS.

As the uptick in incidents shows, the Israel-Hamas conflict is holding security repercussions well beyond the Middle East, notably in Europe. These repercussions are multiple and diverse, each carrying specific security risks related to violent extremism and terrorism.

The threat from jihadi terrorism could grow as a result of the conflict in Europe. Last Dec, a man killed one and wounded two in a knife attack near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The attack appeared in part inspired by the situation in Gaza, although more aspects were at play given the perpetrator’s irregular profile and previous attention to jihadism. After arrest, he explained his attack by the death of Muslims “in Afghanistan and Palestine.” The German domestic intelligence agency (BfV) recently evaluated that the terrorist danger is “higher than it has been for a long time,” notably due to the risk of seizures inspired by the conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

In Britain., MI5 has expressed worries that the conflict could fuel the terrorist threat domestically, while intelligence services in France and Belgium have been more careful—realizing a risk but recognizing (before the Paris attack) that there are no definite indications so far of terrorist intentions linked to the ongoing conflict. The perpetrators of two recent terrorist attacks in France (Oct. 13) and Belgium (Oct. 16) appeared triggered only marginally by the situation in Gaza, as their radicalization and damaging plotting predated the Hamas terrorist attack. 

Global jihadi groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are very different from Hamas, as evidenced by their periodic rivalries, but they are still possible to use the conflict to also seek to recruit and mobilize. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have both already taken benefit of the moment to call for individuals to act against Jewish targets in Europe and North America. The terrorist threat could also grow from the far right, as accelerationist groups and white supremacists intensify both antisemitic and Islamophobic content to advance their agenda, which is to trigger a civil war. 

The increase in hate speech and racially motivated crimes creates a feeling of insecurity among both Jewish and Muslim communities. They have also directed several arrests—almost 600 in France in the month that observed Hamas’s attack. In the U.K. there have been at least 253 detentions during protests and public gatherings connected to the Israel-Hamas conflict, around half of those linked to hate crimes and eight to counter-terror investigations. Several European nations have raised their domestic threat levels as a result of the Israel-Hamas dispute, including Austria, Spain, Portugal, and Slovenia. France and Belgium had already increased their terror threat levels after recent terrorist attacks in Arras and Brussels, and several European governments have also reinstated temporary border controls in the Schengen area

The Israel-Hamas row could affect Europe’s security in many different modes in the short-to-medium term. Not every danger is equally likely, nor would every threat have an equal effect within Europe. However, taken together, the concurrent and ongoing presence of these dangers justifies higher security threat levels for now. A true 360-degree course is required from the security services to detect and oppose the various threats detailed above, encompassing violent extremism, terrorism, and foreign influence.

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