Muslim pilgrims pray at Mecca. By targeting Shiites, the Islamic State is proving its Sunni credentials.Muslim pilgrims pray at Mecca. By targeting Shiites, the Islamic State is proving its Sunni credentials.

The undeclared long-range goal of IS is to overthrow Saudi Arabia. No document or video-clip says this but the broad sweep of Islamic history and the horrifying character of IS atrocities point in this direction.

Islamic law stipulates that only a caliph can declare a jihad. So in 1996, the Afghan Taliban swore loyalty to their leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, as Caliph or Commander of the Faithful.

Mullah Mohammad had no ambitions beyond the borders of Afghanistan. But in 2000 Osama bin Laden imputed to him a grander calling when he called on pious Muslims to abandon their jobs and families for jihadist training under caliphal aegis in Afghanistan. Thus did Caliph, the sanctified title theoretically borne by the leader of a universal Sunni Muslim state, get tied into international terrorism.

The title carried an uncertain meaning when fighters in Iraq and Syria declared an Islamic State in 2015 and swore fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their Caliph. Were the Caliph’s ambitions confined to Syria and Iraq? Or did they encompass all of Islam? After Paris, the world is asking that question.

Conquering the world or destroying Western civilisation is certainly beyond the capability of a small army of radicals concentrated in a land-locked swath of desert. But terrorising people in different countries into believing such a possibility not only brings in recruits, but also puts pressure on Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia to bring the Islamic State to heel.

And that suggests to a broader objective, and the only rational one: To replace the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a caliphate based in Mecca.

Cleverly, the Islamic State has defanged potential Saudi opposition by targeting Shi’ites, whom Saudis deem heretical. Indeed, IS has reportedly received financial support from anti-Shi’ite individuals and groups