A remarkable editorial last month in al-Naba, the Islamic State's weekly Arabic newsletter, offered a gloomy assessment of the caliphate's prospects, acknowledging the possibility that all its territorial holdings could ultimately be lost. Just two years ago, jihadist leaders heralded the start of a glorious new epoch in the world's history with the establishment of their Islamic "caliphate," which at the time encompassed most of eastern Syria and a vast swath of northern and western Iraq, a combined territory roughly the size of Great Britain.Recent advances by the Iraqi government and Syrian Kurds have cost ISIS 12 percent of their territory, and it seems the Iraqis are on the verge of a major effort to retake Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.
The editorial, titled, "The Crusaders' Illusions in the Age of the Caliphate," sought to rally the group's followers by insisting that the Islamic State would continue to survive, even if all its cities fell to the advancing "crusaders" - the separate Western- and Russian-backed forces arrayed against them.
"The crusaders and their apostate clients are under the illusion that . . . they will be able to eliminate all of the Islamic State's provinces at once, such that it will be completely wiped out and no trace of it will be left," the article states. In reality, the group's foes "will not be able to eliminate it by destroying one of its cities or besieging another of them, or by killing a soldier, an emir or an imam," it says. . . .
The editorial asserts that the "whole world . . . has changed" with the creation of a theocratic enclave that has "shown all of mankind what the true Islamic state is like."
"If they want to achieve true victory - they will not, God willing - they will have to wait a long time: until an entire generation of Muslims that was witness to the establishment of the Islamic State and the return of the caliphate . . . is wiped out."
But of course even the loss of all its cities will not end the Daesh's ability to make trouble. Most experts have interpreted the recent spate of terrorist bombings around the world as a shift in strategy from holding territory back to terrorism. As one Islamic State operative told a western journalist,
We do have, every day, people reaching out and telling us they want to come to the caliphate. But we tell them to stay in their countries and rather wait to do something there.Terrorism is bad, of course, but not so bad as having ISIS armies on the march, enslaving women and carrying out genocide. So I would be happy to trade the elimination of the Islamic State for a short-term increase in bombings.