PRIMER: Why is the Levant so important to ISIS?

by Will Hall, |
(Freely distributed)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – The lands of Edom, Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Phoenicia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Babylonia and the Sinai Peninsula are playing a significant role in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) terrorist war for control of territory in the Middle East.

Some will recognize this description of the Fertile Crescent, the area of the world where civilization began. The Bible describes the Garden of Eden as between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in this region.

Others will remember a good portion of this territory describes "the promised land" of Canaan, a name for the region which precedes any other found by historians.

The area also largely describes the Levant.

Map courtesy of (cropped)

The Levant encompasses most of this ancient region, although the name is used more specifically today to refer to an area including parts of Turkey and Egypt, bits of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, most of Jordan and Syria, and all of Lebanon and Israel.

It is a region of the world that has been fought over for thousands of years in a bid to control vital access to the Mediterranean Sea and the nations that border it. The corridor was a vital land bridge—for military and economic control—for the Ottoman Empire, connecting Europe and Africa. Likewise it provided a base for projecting power on the waters of the Mediterranean.

It also is an area of sacred significance for Christians, Muslims and Jews who identify holy sites within it relating to the establishment and growth of their religions. The Catholic Church waged multiple political and religious campaigns there from 1096 to 1291—known as the Crusades.

ISIS sees the territory in the same religious, military and economic terms in its efforts to establish a caliphate, an Islamic state, for the region.

The Levant offers to give the Muslim extremists power extending from Egypt to Iraq and makes Saudi Arabia vulnerable to attack, imperiling two of Islam's most revered holy sites:

-- The Sacred Mosque in Mecca is believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham. One of the Five Pillars of Islam—stating the essentials of this faith—requires a pilgrimage to this site at least once in a lifetime. Moreover, all Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca daily, unifying all Muslims around the world.

-- Medina is the second most holy city for Muslims because Mohammad is buried there.

If ISIS also were to take control of Israel, it would hold as well the third most holy city for Muslims. Jerusalem is the home of the Dome of the Rock where Muslims believe Mohammad ascended to the seven heavens to negotiate with God, reducing the prayer requirement from 50 to five times daily.

In essence, control of the Levant could lead to reestablishment of the Islamic Empire that existed in medieval times which stretched around the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt to Spain, and would allow this group to establish itself as the political and religious broker of Islam.