Choking ISIL’s funding is a vital strategy

A sound military strategy is one only aspect of the battle against extremism. Money also matters.

His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States. Derek Parks / ELAM
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A sound military approach is only one aspect of the battle against extremism. Money also matters.

As the threat of ISIL has become starker, Arab and western countries have started to act vigorously to contain and destroy the group and its ideology.

In this struggle, the UAE has emerged as the most forceful advocate of a comprehensive strategy against ISIL. As part of the coalition, the UAE military has been involved in the skies over Syria – with the mission being led by Major Mariam Al Mansouri, something that has helped personalise and dramatise the important role of Arab nations.

But beyond the air strikes, there is also an understanding that combating ISIL will require more. It will take a three-pronged approach: a military strategy to degrade and destroy the group’s assets; an economic approach to squeeze the flow of funds to the group; and an intellectual approach, to destroy what The National’s columnist Faisal Al Yafai has called “the architecture of jihad” (See The unholy wars of global jihad in The Review of October 4). This last component could prove to be what ensures that when ISIL is defeated, another similarly warped ideology will not rise in its place.

The economic strategy was outlined over the weekend by the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba. Mr Al Otaiba said: “Over the long term, disrupting [ISIL’s] funding will do more to slow down extremists than any amount of air strikes.”

The economic aspect is key. Groups like ISIL thrive on money; they need funds to equip their fighters and replenish the bullets and missiles they have so liberally fired.

That makes them especially vulnerable to being squeezed economically. Some aspects of their revenue cannot easily be disrupted: extortion in local communities and the kidnapping of foreigners are difficult to deal with from afar. But countries in the region can ensure that smuggling, oil sales from refineries under their control and, especially, the flow of money from private donors, can all be disrupted and shut down. Without money, ISIL will starve.

That is what makes Mr Al Otaiba’s call for laws to end terror funding so vital. It is one of the strongest weapons against extremism and must be wielded firmly.