In this week's Monday Briefing, MEI chairman Richard A. Clarke responds to the mass shooting in Orlando, and Charles Lister and Antoun Issa provide analysis on events including the pushing back of ISIS in Libya and the upcoming meeting of Hamas and Fatah.
What To Do, and What Not To Do, to Stop the Next Orlando
Richard A. Clarke, Chairman of the Board of Governors
Homicides by guns in the U.S. are over 1,000 times more frequent than fatalities here from Islamist terrorism. By addressing that problem — the ease of obtaining guns and in particular assault weapons — we may also reduce the ability of terrorists to do large scale damage.
Two simple measures will improve security without infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights. First, ban gun ownership for anyone on the terrorism no-fly or watch lists. Combine that with an expedited review and appeal process.
Second, re-institute the assault weapons ban. The sky did not fall when we had such a ban in the 1990s. No one can demonstrate that the ban caused them real harm.
We should not give up our civil liberties to any degree, or give the FBI keys to our encryption. (ISIS will always be able to get encryption without the FBI backdoor in it.) We should not panic. We should come together and fight hate with love and smarts, but we should not panic or give in to stereotyping.
Read the full op-ed at the New York Daily News.
ISIS on Cusp of Defeat in Sirte
Charles Lister, Resident Fellow
Misrata-led militias have made surprisingly fast progress toward capturing ISIS’ de facto Libyan capital Sirte in recent days, with the jihadists now effectively encircled within the city’s dense urban center. While that battle rages on, Government of National Accord-affiliated militias have symbolically assumed control of Zafarana Square, where ISIS has brutally executed dozens of people in recent months. Having controlled roughly 150 miles of coastline in January 2016, ISIS’ core foothold is now a mere third of that.
While territorial progress is indeed of critical importance, the rapidity of Sirte’s collapse should not be taken as a signal of ISIS’ Libyan demise. GNA-linked commanders have reported few opportunities to take prisoners, while some reports have detailed the organized dispersion of ISIS units out of Sirte, by land and sea. Such ‘strategic withdrawals,’ often conducted amid intense diversionary battles and repeated suicide bombings, are a well-practiced tactic of ISIS in its Syrian-Iraqi heartlands.
Given the clear and high-level links between ISIS in Libya and Syria-Iraq, it’s entirely feasible that Sirte has been assessed as ultimately expendable within ISIS’ long-term ‘plan.’ Serious attention should now be focused on preventing ISIS from regrouping further in Libya’s interior or from any potential capacity to re-escalate and divert attention toward the Tunisian border or Libya’s national oil infrastructure.
Nevertheless, Sirte’s seemingly inevitable fall comes amid broader ISIS losses and major pressure on core strategic interests in Manbij, Syria and Fallujah, Iraq. Read moreover, the cornerstone cities of ISIS’ self-claimed caliphate, Raqqa and Mosul, both look to be coalition targets within the next 6-9 months. ISIS-wide morale is on the decline as the ‘caliphate’ shrinks faster than it had expanded. Any and all gains should be used to further Libyan domestic unity, which ultimately is what ISIS fears the most.
Hamas, Fatah to Meet in Doha
Antoun Issa, Senior Editor
Delegations from Hamas and Fatah are meeting in the Qatari capital this week; the latest attempt at implementing a reconciliation deal nominally arrived at two years ago. The talks in Doha come in the wake of increased activity in Cairo involving major Palestinian factions.
There are numerous outstanding issues between the two Palestinian rivals: Hamas’s refusal to hand over control of Gaza’s border crossings to the Palestinian Authority; the PA’s refusal to pay the salaries of Gaza government employees hired by Hamas; the PA’s continued detention of Hamas activists in the West Bank; and disagreement over a schedule to hold presidential and legislative elections. Previous attempts to bridge these gaps have not borne fruit, and there is little evidence to point toward a different outcome this time around.
The challenges of Palestinian reconciliation are further complicated by competition among regional actors that have a significant stake in Palestinian affairs. Recent months have seen a slight warming in ties between Egypt and Hamas, and last week Cairo hosted a reconciliation meeting between PFLP, DFLP and Fatah. Egypt has also welcomed delegations from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Turkey is also beating a path back to Gaza and Palestinian politics through a rapprochement with Israel. The cold ties between Egypt, which enjoys strong influence over the PA, and Qatar and Turkey, both supporters of Hamas, are a major obstacle on the road to Palestinian unity.
Qatar’s hosting of Palestinian reconciliation talks and Turkey’s push to have access to Gaza as part of a rapprochement with Israel are being seen in Cairo as attempts to undermine its role as arbiter of Palestinian affairs. Until relations improve between Cairo on the one hand, and Ankara and Doha on the other—which Saudi Arabia is currently attempting to achieve under the umbrella of building a grand Sunni alliance—then it is difficult to envision any tangible progress on Palestinian reconciliation.