ISIL is Now threatening to assassinate twitter employees

SOCIALMEDIA INTELLIGENCE

ISIL has already broadly threatened the United States for its airstrikes against the group, infamously killing two American journalists, and threatening to behead a British citizen for the United Kingdom’s participation in the efforts to stem ISIL’s growth.

However, as Vocative reports, the group is now threatening employees of the social media site Twitter, which has been (somewhat half-heartedly) engaged in the monitoring and closing down of the accounts of ISIL fighters:

The call for retribution against the online platform was first announced Sunday night in a series of tweets asking “lone wolves” in the U.S. and Europe to make Twitter employees the focus of their attacks.”

Here is a translation of a tweet from a since-banned Twitter account, which employed a specific hashtag in its repeated calls for violence.

twitter

“#The_Concept_of_Lone_Wolf_Attacks The time has arrived to respond to Twitter’s management by directly attacking their employees and physically assassinating them!! Those who will carry this out are the sleepers cells of death.”

Writing in Politico, Jacob Silverman outlined how the group uses Twitter and other social media sites to recruit new members, boast of its activities, and make ISIL-related hashtags trend. By and large, Twitter hasn’t been able (or perhaps hasn’t chosen) to do much about it:

Yet in the days after [James] Foley’s death, something strange happened: very little at all. The video was released on a Tuesday. By Friday, many IS supporters had reappeared on Twitter under new or similar account names — some even bragged about dodging Twitter’s censors. Many of them were defending Foley’s murder or pointed to what they saw as Western hypocrisy over the apparent belief that graphic footage of one American mattered more than the gory photos and videos they had been posting for months.”

According to the SFGate, Twitter hasn’t revealed whether it’s beefing up its security, telling the paper, the “security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials

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Ex-Shin Bet head backs Bennett for Obtaining Info On Tunnels

Yuval Diskin says that if economy minister took it upon himself to go out to the field and get informed, he did the right thing

BY SPENCER HO

Even if Economy Minister Naftali Bennett did skirt official channels to get information about the threat of Gaza’s tunnel, he did the right thing, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said Wednesday

Diskin’s statement came a day after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon lashed out at ministers for second-guessing the government’s management of the conflict this summer with Hamas, detailing that he had disciplined a former officer who leaked information to Bennett about the network of cross-border tunnels that allowed Gazan fighters to infiltrate Israel.

“The fact that cabinet minister Bennett decided not to rely on existing information transmission structures, took the initiative, went down to the field, studied the data, came prepared for the cabinet session and even challenged the prime minister and defense minister — to me, it is praiseworthy, especially if this was the main reason that the tunnel threat was discussed seriously, which resulted in the destruction of many of them,” Diskin wrote on Facebook.

Israel initially balked at waging a ground war in Gaza, only sending in troops after some lawmakers insisted that infantry troops were needed to destroy the tunnel network.

Diskin further asserted that based on the fact that the tunnel threat was never brought to the attention of the public or the security cabinet during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, “it can be assessed that in all likelihood, Bennett acted correctly because without his efforts the matter would not have come up for discussion, as the prime minister and defense minister were trying to steer the discussion toward a ceasefire without a ground operation to destroy the tunnels.”

Bennett, a member of the inner security cabinet who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, was an outspoken critic of how Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducted the Gaza war.

Speaking to Channel 2 news Tuesday, Bennett stopped short of accusing Netanyahu and Ya’alon of withholding information from the cabinet, calling the slow trickle of information a “natural” part of the process.

“I think naturally things in the cabinet, because of the [short] amount of time there is, we don’t get all the information; this is natural,” he said.

However, he also insisted that as a member of the cabinet, he had the right and obligation to seek information from other sources besides what is presented in the cabinet sessions.

“I’m a veteran of the Second Lebanon War, and I left there with the heavy impression that the political echelon does not get the true picture,” Bennett, a former commando in the IDF, said. “I will never let that happen again.”

Without pointing fingers, he criticized the fact that the operation — prior to the order for ground troops to enter Gaza — was seemingly based on the assumption that “Hamas does not want to use the tunnels; Hamas does not intend to use the tunnels.”

Bennett’s statements in cabinet meetings about the IDF’s findings in Gaza reportedly raised suspicions that led Ya’alon to order Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to investigate whether Bennett was receiving information from IDF sources that did not come through regular Defense Ministry channels.

Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, seen in the Israeli parliament on June 09, 2014. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, seen in the Israeli parliament on June 09, 2014. (photo credit: FLASH90)

Defense officials accused Bennett of opening “a private, unapproved channel” to gain information about IDF findings and deployments.

Bennett was “using military information for political ends,” Ya’alon charged at the time.

According to reports in the Hebrew-language press, senior defense officials are charging that former IDF chief rabbi Avichai Rontzki put on his reservist’s uniform, including brigadier-general insignia — despite not having been called up — and wandered among IDF units in the south during the fighting, then passed information he heard from soldiers and commanders to Bennett.

Both Rontzki and Bennett have denied the allegations, with Bennett insisting in a Channel 2 interview Tuesday that he only spoke with Rontzki once about the morale of the soldiers in the field.

In addition to praising Bennett, Diskin also lashed out at the prime minister and defense minister for their tight control of information and insisted that the public must demand to know whether they “sought a ceasefire even though they knew the severity of the offensive tunnel threat and didn’t bring it to the attention of the cabinet.”

However, he also condemned any leaks of unauthorized information by soldiers or officers and called for harsh punishments should allegations be proven true.

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ISIS Is Having An Alarmingly Easy Time Recruiting Fighters In Turkey

BI\JEREMY BENDER

A startling number of recruits for ISIS come from neighboring Turkey, according to a report by Ceylan Yengisu of The New York Times.

“As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports and government officials here,” Yengisu writes.

Turkey, a secular Muslim country led by a moderate Islamist party, faces a problem of disgruntled Islamists hoping for a more purely Islamic society.

“Recruits cite the group’s ideological appeal to disaffected youths as well as the money it pays fighters from its flush coffers,” Yengisu notes.

ISIS pays its members $150 a day, a potentially significant financial incentive to join the radical organization. Unemployment in Turkey was an estimated 9.3% in 2013, and almost 17% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook.

16TURKEY-master675

By fighting for ISIS, youth with limited opportunities would be able to earn more than three times Turkey’s average per capita GDP.

Turkey is a NATO member, but it’s allegedly turned a blind-eye towards jihadist recruitment in its own territory. The Republic’s policy of regime change within Syria, supported by what could generously be called a lax attitude towards anti-Assad Islamist extremists recruiting and operating inside of Turkish territory, has largely been credited with facilitating the rise of ISIS. Rebel fighters could retreat into Turkish territory and sneak recruits and supplies into and out of Syria.

“There are clearly recruitment centers being set up in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, but the government doesn’t seem to care,” Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Lond-based Royal United Services Institute think tank, told The New York Times. “It seems their hatred for Bashar al-Assad and their overly nuanced view of what radical Islam is has led to a very short- and narrow-sighted policy that has serious implications.”

This estimate of about 1,000 Turks fighting alongside ISIS disagrees with other attempts at determining the number of foreign fighters in Syria. AFP, citing numbers from the London-based Centre for the Study of Radicalization, placed 400 Turks fighting in Syria for ISIS.

So far the Turkish government has resisted calls for it to join a US-led coalition against ISIS, and it has failed to fully secure its border with Iraq and Syria. But Turkey also has its hands tied: ISIS is holding 49 Turks hostage.

The hostages include diplomats, along with their wives and children. ISIS’s recent spate of beheading Western hostages could be a message for Turkey not to become involved, lest the 49 Turks face a similar fate.

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SHIN BET: Hamas Launched Serious Plot in West Bank to Overthrow Fatah’s Palestinian Authority

INTELLIGENCE REPORT by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

Major Claim by Israel’s Shin Bet — Hamas Launched Serious Plot in West Bank to Overthrow Fatah’s Palestinian Authority

Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, claims that it uncovered a serious plot by Hamas – including unprecedented military preparations – to start an uprising in the West Bank: not only against Israel, but against the Palestinian Authority.

According to Shin Bet, Hamas’s goals in the West Bank included – at some stage – “a military coup” to topple the P.A., which is led by the late Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah faction. In the Gaza Strip in 2007, after winning an election there, Hamas fighters soundly defeated al-Fatah men – killing many and forcing the survivors to leave.

Shin-Bet-logo
Shin Bet’s logo: Hebrew words mean “The Defender That Won’t Be Seen”

Shin Bet officials, in issuing details today, insist that this is all true – and not an Israeli invention aimed at jamming a huge wedge between Hamas and the P.A. The officials deny any connection with the fact that all day Monday, there was high tension over not knowing if a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas would be extended to allow for more negotiations in Cairo.

Hamas is branded a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and many other governments. The Fatah faction, which as the P.A. has engaged in negotiations with Israel on-and-off for 21 years, is considered to be relatively moderate. (Rightwing Israelis argue that Fatah also backs terrorism and does not truly want to live in peace alongside a Jewish state of Israel.)

Shin Bet says its information about “military” organizing by Hamas in the West Bank is based on interrogations of recently arrested suspects. Information is being released at this time, because it is in legal documents that formalize charges against around 70 Hamas members.

The officials tell of 93 arrests in the current investigation, including a man who allegedly was recruited in Malaysia where he studied computer sciences. Hamas had him trained for code-breaking and cyberwarfare.

According to information cleared by Israeli authorities for publication, the Hamas military organizing began in May – unrelated to the kidnap and murder of three young Israeli men in the West Bank a month later.

Over the weekend, the Israeli army destroyed the family homes of two Palestinians who are the prime suspects in the murder of the three Israelis. Human rights organizations complained that this was “collective punishment,” without any court indictments, trials, or convictions.

As for the “military” plot including a coup to take over the P.A., Shin Bet officials say the plan was hatched by Hamas activists in Turkey – with others in Jordan involved in the planning.

The plan included severe terrorist attacks inside Israel, launched from the West Bank, that would trigger harsh responses by Israel. That, in turn, would lead – Hamas allegedly hoped – to the eruption of a widespread uprising by West Bank Palestinians: a third Intifada.

It seems that Israeli intelligence received some of its information on this plot from Jordan’s security agencies, which is believed to have spies inside various Palestinian factions – and Jordan is reputed to engage in harsh interrogations to extract information about alleged plots.

As part of the Israeli investigation in the West Bank, according to Shin Bet officials, dozens of weapons and hidden storage facilities were found. Guns, valued at around half a million dollars, are believed to have been smuggled in from Jordan.

Shin Bet believes it broke up this plot before attacks on Israelis – or on the P.A. – could be carried out. But one Shin Bet official said the information obtained proves that Hamas – and certainly its leadership outside the Palestinian territories – are deadly serious in their objective to take over the entire Palestinian movement.

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The Man Behind the ISIS Media Curtain Ahmad Abousamra

ISIS STUDY GROUP

Ahmad Abousamra was born in France in 1981 and grew up in the upper class neighborhood of Stoughton in the Boston area of Massachusetts. Abousamra is highly educated having attended Xavier Brothers Catholic School in Westwood and then Stoughton High school in his senior year. He is also a graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in computer technology. He was also employed at a telecommunications company. Abousamra is a dual citizen of the United States and Syria and is believed to be living in the city of Aleppo, Syria.

Ahmad Abousamra and another individual, Tarek Mehanna, had made multiple trips to places such as Pakistan and Yemen for the purpose of receiving military training to fight American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The two are reportedly to have celebrated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States according to at least one report associated with Special Agent Heidi Williams of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Ahmad Abousamra and Tarek Mehanna have both been charged with terrorism related activity. Tarek Mehanna was apprehended at his parents’ home on October 21, 2009 and later convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 17.5 years in prison. The two had previously made a trip to Yemen in 2004 trying to find a terrorist training camp to acquire training. However, they were unsuccessful in either finding one or being accepted in one. Mehanna is said to have worked with another individual in the media wing of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) founded by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, which became the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), then Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) and finally the Islamic State (IS). Both individuals were originally questioned by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2006. Ahmad Abousamra was added to the Most Wanted Terrorists List in 2012. Given the associations Ahmad Abousamra had with Mehanna and background information on Tarek Mehanna is astonishing that the FBI would not have requested he be put on a no fly list with the probable cause they had.

Ahmad-Abousamra
FBI Most Wanted Terrorist Images of Ahmad Abousamra

Screen Shot of FBI Most Wanted Terrorist Images of Ahmad Abousamra with Base Information
Ahmad Abousamra and Tarek Mehanna are believed to have become self-radicalized. Something to keep in mind about this time frame is that Anwar al Awlaki was very active during this time and had contact with at least two of 9/11 hijackers. It is likely that many self-radicalized individuals are either reading comments from people such as Awlaki or are in direct contact with them. This accelerates the radicalization process. It is not known if Awlaki himself had contact with the individuals. There are numerous radical imams, some of which are in the US or others such as Anjem Choudray in the UK.

Assessment: The media arm of the Islamic State Al Hayat Media Center has run a very effective marketing and social media campaign and has been very aggressively targeting westerners. We believe that this targeting of western recruits started before the Syrian conflict began in 2011. The rationale behind this assessment is the quick infusion of western fighter into the Syrian conflict when it erupted in 2011. Reports of westerners began appearing very shortly after the conflict became an open revolt against the Assad Regime. A single western is worth a mint to the marketing and media strategy of Al Hayat which is why they frequently make them showcasing westerners in their video releases and mujatweets. The westerners are often shown smiling and happy, one even referred to it as better than being in Disneyland. This aids in spreading fear by showing the reach that the Islamic State has through its foreign service recruits. It also aims to make jihad seem “cool” or the thing to do.

The Al Hayat Media Center uses social media like Twitter to gauge support in different areas that it has interest in. These can be called be SMAI (Social Media Areas of Interest) which are not necessarily defined by geographic location, they can also be defined by segmentation as a marketing campaign does by various demographics. Why is this important? It is important because just like marketing strategies that companies use to market products, the Al Hayat Media Center continues developing its marketing and social media strategy for recruitment and believe it or not warfare.

By constantly evolving and adapting its marketing and social media strategy the Islamic State continues to gain recruits. It is also using this marketing and social media strategy to gain influence among other groups and pledges of fealty/loyalty. Here are some of the organizations and their stances:

Hapilon ASG faction: Philippines
BIFF: Philippines (pledged support NOT allegiance)
RSM/JTD: Philippines
JAT: Indonesia/Malaysia
JI: Indonesia/Malaysia (has memo of understanding with ISIS and AQ allowing them to provide fighters to both organizations’ affiliates without having to pledge allegiance to anybody)
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis: Egypt/Gaza
Sheikh Abdullah Othman al-Assimi AQIM faction: Algeria/Mali/Libya
Tehreek-e-Khilafat: Pakistan
Boko Haram: Nigeria
Elements of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula): Yemen/Saudi Arabia
Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade: Lebanon
Naqshabandi/al-Duri Baath Party Wing: Iraq (also known as JRTN)
1920 Revolutionary Brigades: Iraq
Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen: (Yemen)
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia: (Tunisia)
Ahl Al Athar: (Syria)
Ibin al-Qa’im: (Syria)
Aisha: (Syria)
Elements of the HIG: Pakistan/Afghanistan
al-Attasam belKetab: Sudan
Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has some factions pledging allegiance.

This opens a vastly larger recruiting pool and this is just a handful of the organizations and they are not limited to the Middle East.

It is also likely that the Al Hayat Media Center is developing its own cyber warfare capabilities. We have noticed that the areas that Islamic State intends to attack or in some way utilize gets heavy social media attention which could be used as a predictive indicator of intentions to attack, transit or otherwise use an area for some purpose. They use fear when intending to attack an area and they use friendlier based messaging when they are gauging their support levels as they have been doing along the Syrian-Turkish border which is imperatively important to their oil smuggling operations that greatly aids in financing operations. This financing also aids in their production and distribution of videos.

It must also be assumed that they are developing cyber-attack capabilities with some of their recruits being highly educated and some of those being westerners such as Ahmad Abousamra. Highly educated, tech savvy individuals are definitely highly valuable recruits as they can help in not only social media and marketing, but also in attacking various computer networks in an area. The limits and capabilities of their cyber-attack abilities is not yet known, but must be assessed as a highly desirable developmental program for the Islamic State.

We have been tracking the recruitment of westerners for some time now and estimate official numbers from the United States, Canada, the UK and even Australia to be underestimated by each of those countries. While the media reports state that Ahmad Abousamra is living in Aleppo, Syria it is more probable that he is at the Abu Musab al Zarqawi training camp which is likely located in Raqqa, Syria. We base this assessment off the recent executions of the two US journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff. We also assess that this is where Al Hayat is producing the execution videos which is a camp named after Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The executioner is very crisply dressed in his ISIS outfit which indicates he is not likely a field soldier in the organization. The orange jumpsuits the executed journalists wore were also very clean and crisp meaning they were not in the outfits long before being executed. This indicates very close proximity to an area the organization feels is safe and has facilities. It is also likely that the execution video is shot over a period of days, possibly even weeks. This would explain the relative calmness of each victim before the actual execution takes place. Having analyzed several dozen beheading videos where the victim was executed on the spot the actions of the executioner and the victim are different.

This camp has children as young as 8-9 years of age being in videos which is again part of their messaging of being part of the Islamic State, something more than yourself. This could be akin to the Hitler youth program during the Nazi reign in Germany.

This camp is an integral part of the Islamic State’s successful media and marketing campaign for recruitment, morale and welfare and they also attend a basic training style course here complete with physical training, hand to hand combat and basic rifle marksmanship and advanced skills.

Below is a production by Al Hayat Media Center, “O Soldiers of Truth Go Forth”. Note the phrases “Rally all the soldiers”, “The Islamic State has been Established”, “Jewish Rabbis are Humiliated”, “Break the Crosses and Destory the Lineage of the Grandsons of Monkeys”. You can see this is not something produced by some cheap software in a desolate location. It shows sophistication and capability.

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ISIS, in Magazine, Warns of ‘Armageddon’ Against US, West

NEWSMAX By Drew MacKenzie

An Islamic State (ISIS) magazine called Dabiq has warned that the United States and other Western “crusaders” are facing Armageddon at the hands of the terror group’s fighters.

The publication is packed with disturbing pictures of bloody corpses, bombed-out buildings and knife-wielding jihadists, while one issue even has a section devoted to the beheading of American journalist James Foley, The Washington Post reports.

Filled with snazzy graphics and printed in English and other languages, the magazine is being used as a recruitment tool by the terror insurgents to enlist and radicalize foreigners around the world.

The Islamic State, which has an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters from 74 countries, also employs Dabiq to promote its violent campaign to defeat the “Romans” or “crusaders” from the West, who are symbolized by photos of President Barack Obama and Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain.

“You will invade the Arabian Peninsula, and Allah will enable you to conquer it,” says the second issue of Dabiq, called “The Flood,” which has an image of a Noah’s Arc-type boat on the front, possibly indicating the end of mankind as the world knows it.

“You will then invade Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will fight the [false messiah], and Allah will enable you to conquer him,” continues the Islamic State columnist.

In another issue, the magazine threatens the West with an apocalypse, which will result in the terror organization one day ruling the world. “A day will come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master, having honor, being revered, with his head raised high and his dignity preserved.”

The publication champions the Islamic Sates as the key voice of the Muslims, while drawing a definitive line in the sand between the two “camps” in the world — one dependent on the Islamic faith and the other with the United States and Russia as its leaders, according to the Post.

It says there’s “the camp of Islam and faith, and the camp of kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy — the camp of the Muslims and the mujahidin everywhere, and the camp of the Jews, the crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr, all being led by America and Russia.”

The magazine justifies its killing of Foley as retribution for “the countless accounts of American soldiers executing families and raping women under the sanctity of the U.S. military and Blackwater.”

“Muslim families were killed under the broad definition of ‘collateral damage,’ which the U.S. grants itself alone the right to apply. Therefore, if a mujahid kills a single man with a knife, it is a barbaric killing of the ‘innocent.’ However, if Americans kill thousands of Muslim families all over the world by pressing missile fire buttons, it is merely ‘collateral damage.’”

The magazine derives its name from the Syrian city of Dabiq, which has historical and religious significance for Islam, according to the Institute for the Study of War. The city was the site of the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1516, strengthening the last caliphate in the region, the Post said.

Ella Lipin, a research associate with the Council of Foreign Relations, said that the publication mobilizes followers by employing an “Islamic apocalyptic tradition,” with the West as the modern-day Romans.

“Both the organization and its new recruits understand this script, made all the more relevant and compelling by the recent debate about U.S. airstrikes in Syria,” Lipin wrote.

READ MAGAZINE: https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/islamic-state-e2809cdc481biq-magazine-2e280b3.pdf

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Jihadist Women Use Twitter to Promote IS Militant Cause

VOA

On Twitter, @Umm_Talib comes across as a typical foodie. She cooks for friends, posts photos of restaurants and recently retweeted an appetising shot of a Vietnamese chicken salad.

But there is more to her than meets the eye.

Her posts, mostly in English, often include the word “jihad”, and her profile picture is that of a women covered in a black niqab (a veil showing only the eyes), holding a gun.

The text across the photo reads: “I know what I am doing. Paradise has a price, and I hope this will be the price for paradise.”

This price she speaks of is becoming a jihadi bride and moving from what reports deduce as Britain to Syria to join the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has been making headlines in recent months for beheading two American journalists.

And she is not the only foreign-born woman who wants to be a jihadi bride. The Arabic word “jihad” means “struggling”, but has been wrongly used to mean “holy war”.

There have been female jihadists in the past, for example, the Chechen black widows who have carried out numerous suicide bombings since 2000 to avenge their dead husbands and family members killed in the uprising against Russia.

The most notable black widows attack was on Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow in 2002, where about 700 people were killed.
Security and terrorism experts interviewed believe that ISIS is making a concerted effort, on the order of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to bring more women into the fold, through photos and social media posts by and of the women in ISIS.
And what is most alarming is that women from as far as Britain, Germany, Australia, Malaysia and the United States are heeding the call.
Last Wednesday, Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, from Colorado, pleaded guilty to trying to help ISIS. She had joined the US Explorers, a military career exploration programme for youth, and had intended to use her American military training to aid Islamic militants. She told investigators her plan was to travel to Turkey, marry an ISIS fighter and eventually make her way to Syria.

And earlier this month, the parents of Glasgow student Aqsa Mahmood, 20, made a public plea for her to return home. She left Scotland for Syria last November to join ISIS, and has actively been encouraging other women, through social media, to join her.
Khadijah Dare, 22, supposedly from London, marked the beheading of American journalist James Foley – the video of which was released on Aug 19 – with a tweet that expressed her desire to be “1st UK woman 2 kill a UK or US terrorist”.
While there are no concrete figures on the number of foreign women in ISIS, the Florida-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium believes the number is about 200, or 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the 2,000 or more foreign fighters in ISIS, which has overrun vast territories in Iraq and Syria.

The consortium’s editorial director Veryan Khan says the women, usually aged between 20 and 30, fall into two categories.
Those in the first group are married with children, and leave for Syria with their husbands or to join them.
Those in the second group are aged between 16 and 20, and they go to Syria to marry ISIS militants.
Says Mr James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank in Washington: “ISIS appears to be recruiting women primarily to marry off to their fighters. It has even established marriage bureaus in some areas to facilitate arrangements.”
One such young woman is Aqsa, a former radiology student who grew up in an affluent neighbourhood in Glasgow, listened to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books.
In news reports, her parents Khalida Mahmood and Muzaffar Mahmood (the first Pakistani cricket player for Scotland) expressed surprise that she had self-radicalised through the Internet and found her way to Syria.
Terrorism experts find it difficult to pinpoint what drives a person to religious extremism.

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Jihadi Women on Twitter

VOA

Pictures of kittens and designer footwear are tweeted out alongside extremist rhetoric, descriptions of the “good life” in Syria, and pictures of battlefield gore.

Welcome to the so-called “Umm network” of well over 100 people who claim to be foreign female jihadists on Twitter.

“Umm” is an honorific name in Arabic, used to address women as a mother figure.

As with the Islamic State (IS) militant group, Twitter is apparently a favorite social media tool of the Umm network, according to analysts who monitor jihadist social media activity.

It is used in a variety of ways, including recruitment of women and men, dissemination of pictures and videos for would-be jihadists, and promoting IS messaging.

One of the best known members of the Umm network is @UmmLayth – a.k.a. Aqsa Mahmood, who identifies herself as a Scottish teen of Muslim descent who left home for Syria where she is believed to have married a militant. She no longer tweets, but authorities think she was likely lured to Syria through online networking.

While the number of European women jihadists may be as few as 30, according to London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, there is fear their ranks could grow.

In France, a hotline for reporting radicalization reported that 45 percent of the calls concern women. Recently, a 16-year-old French woman was arrested in France as she allegedly was making her way to Syria.

Erin Saltman of the London-based Quilliam Foundation, a counterterrorism think tank, puts the number of Western women who’ve traveled to Syria at around 200 compared to 3,000 men.

Western officials have expressed concern that Western jihadist fighters returning from Syria and Iraq could stage terrorist attacks in their home countries.

Need for women

IS militants want to establish their version of a fully-functioning Islamic society, known as a caliphate, and to achieve that, they need women as wives and mothers.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the self-proclaimed IS, has called for both men and women to join in the state-building process.

“With the influx of men, women are needed to serve as wives,” analyst Saltman told VOA. “Social media accounts of jihadi wives serve to spread IS propaganda, encourage other women to join and describe the life of a jihadist wife in order to reassure and give an idea of how life will be for potential recruits.

“Women are more likely to recruit fellow women to join IS, which is the primary goal of most of the female social media accounts,” Saltman said.

An American woman, 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley, was arrested in April by the FBI as she was making her way to Syria to join IS militants. On Wednesday, she plead guilty to a terror charge.

According to those who monitor IS recruiting efforts, the group targets women much in the same way they target men, identifying those who may have lost their way or are seeking a sense of belonging.

“The content of the Umm’s accounts strains to make extremism appear like a normal lifestyle decision,” wrote Jytte Klausen, a Brandeis University professor and founder of the Western Jihadism Project, which focuses on jihadi activities in the West, in an academic paper on the Umms. “An example is a posting of pictures with their children dressed in [IS] fan gear, much as Manchester United fans dress up their kids for fun.”

Other targets are disaffected Muslims.

Mia Bloom, author of several books on women and terrorism, said that some Umms paint a picture of a utopian society where women can live genuinely like a Muslim.

IS recruiters also take advantage of a would-be target’s lack of Arabic language skills.

“You can manipulate the Quran any way you want,” Bloom said. ”And they won’t be able to counter [a particular interpretation] because they may not well versed in the religion or language.”

Bloom added that once someone is recruited from a certain community, “they will be useful in recruiting from the community from which they came.”

Humera Khan of the Washingon, DC-based social activist group Muflehun, which works to counter violent extremism, said the Umm network provided foreign female jihadist with a sense “sisterhood,” while the men are away fighting.

“There’s a whole lot of internal communication there,” she said. “It’s not just outward facing.”

Further highlighting the importance of women to IS is that they don’t appear to be used in suicide bombings as is the case with other extremist groups.

“When they’re recruiting, they’re recruiting 18 to 25-year-olds, the peak childbearing years,” said Bloom. “If you’re going to set up a new caliphate, you’re going to need to populate. That’s why they aren’t usually active on the battlefield.”

Women as young as 14 have also been reportedly targeted.

Women can also give a powerful nudge to a Western man who’s thinking about coming to Syria or Iraq, Bloom said.

Some of the accounts question would-be jihadist manhood with taunts like “if you were a man, you’d step up,” she said. “Part of their goal is to shame men who aren’t going into going.”

And for those women whose husbands are killed, Khan said there are group homes for widows in Raqqah, the capital of IS’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

IS communication strategy

The Umm accounts appear to be part of a larger IS strategy to create resilience into its social media communications efforts, Klausen said.

“It’s part of an overall architecture of distributing messages, that makes it impossible for governments to take down,” she said. “It acts to create a perception of normalization of something that is not normal.”

Klausen said the accounts are also used to drive traffic to other sites and social media platforms.

“Supporters back home follow the fighters who post original content and retweet content from organizational accounts,” she wrote in her paper. “Information flows from organization accounts in Arabic and English via accounts of foreign fighters to a broader network of disseminators.”

Twitter has shut down several accounts associated with IS, but a report by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the global jihadist movement, said the company needs to do more.

“Twitter must adapt to these new circumstances and become more proactive in deterring such activity,” the report said. “It has the capability to carry out account monitoring and suspensions on much larger scales than it has thus far. Meanwhile, amid the current inactivity, jihadists continue to gain support, recruit, and promote terrorist organizations through its service.”

IS did take note of Twitter’s shuttering accounts associated with the militant group. Other accounts associated with the group posted death threats against Twitter employees.

According to Klausen, none of the Umm accounts she has monitored have made direct threats.

A Twitter spokesman said the company would not comment on “individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.” They provided a link to the company’s rules for unlawful use.

But shutting down Twitter accounts en masse might not work.

“A lot of the Twitter accounts that have been shut have migrated to LinkedIn,” Bloom said.

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Israel’s Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean

About 90 percent of Israel’s foreign trade is carried out via the Mediterranean Sea, making freedom of navigation in this area critical for the Jewish state’s economic well-being. Moreover, the newly found gas fields offshore could transform Israel into an energy independent country and a significant exporter of gas, yet these developments are tied to its ability to secure free maritime passage and to defend the discovered hydrocarbon fields. While the recent regional turmoil has improved Israel’s strategic environment by weakening its Arab foes, the East Mediterranean has become more problematic due to an increased Russian presence, Turkish activism, the potential for more terrorism and conflict over energy, and the advent of a Cypriot-Greek-Israeli axis. The erosion of the state order around the Mediterranean also brings to the fore Islamist forces with a clear anti-Western agenda, thus adding a civilizational dimension to the discord.[1]

The East Mediterranean Region
The East Mediterranean is located east of the 20o meridian and includes the littoral states of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza (a de facto independent political unit), Egypt, Libya, and divided Cyprus. The region, which saw significant superpower competition during the Cold War, still has strategic significance. Indeed, the East Mediterranean is an arena from which it is possible to project force into the Middle East. Important East-West routes such as the Silk Road and the Suez Canal (the avenue to the Persian Gulf and India) are situated there. In addition, the sources for important international issues such as radical Islam, international terrorism and nuclear proliferation are embedded in its regional politics.

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About 90 percent of Israel’s foreign trade is carried out via the Mediterranean Sea. The East Mediterranean is also important in terms of energy transit. Close to 5 percent of global oil supply and 15 percent of global liquefied natural gas travels via the Suez Canal while Turkey hosts close to 6 percent of the global oil trade via the Bosporus Straits and two international pipelines.

The East Mediterranean is also important in terms of energy transit. Close to 5 percent of global oil supply and 15 percent of global liquefied natural gas travels via the Suez Canal while Turkey hosts close to 6 percent of the global oil trade via the Bosporus Straits and two international pipelines. The discovery of new oil and gas deposits off the coasts of Israel, Gaza, and Cyprus and potential for additional discoveries off Syria and Lebanon, is a promising energy development.

Breakdown of the U.S. Security Architecture

The naval presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet was unrivalled in the post-Cold War period, and Washington maintained military and political dominance in the East Mediterranean.[2] Washington also managed the region through a web of alliances with regional powers. Most prominent were two trilateral relationships, which had their origins in the Cold War: U.S.-Turkey-Israel and U.S.-Egypt-Israel.[3] This security architecture has broken down.

In the post-Cold War era, Ankara entered into a strategic partnership with Jerusalem, encouraged by Washington.[4] The fact that the two strongest allies of the United States in the East Mediterranean cooperated closely on strategic and military issues was highly significant for U.S. interests in the region. Yet, the rise of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) since its electoral victory of November 2002 has led to a reorientation in Turkish foreign policy which, under the AKP, has distanced itself from the West and developed ambitions to lead the Muslim world.[5] With Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at its helm, Turkey supports Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot; helps Iran evade sanctions; assists Sunni Islamists moving into Syria and mulls an invasion of Syria; propagates anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic conspiracies while the regime displays increasing authoritarianism at home. Moreover, Turkey’s NATO partnership has become problematic, particularly after a Chinese firm was contracted to build a long-range air and anti-missile defense architecture.[6]

Turkish policy, fueled by Ottoman and Islamist impulses, has led to an activist approach toward the Middle East and also to strains in the relationship with Israel. This became evident following the May 2010 attempt by a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. In October 2010, Turkey’s national security council even identified Israel as one of the country’s main threats in its official policy document, the “Red Book.” These developments fractured one of the foundations upon which U.S. policy has rested in the East Mediterranean.

Stability in the East Mediterranean also benefited from the U.S.-Egyptian-Israeli triangle, which began when President Anwar Sadat decided in the 1970s to switch to a pro-U.S. orientation and subsequently to make peace with Israel in 1979. Egypt, the largest Arab state, carries much weight in the East Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Africa. Sadat’s successor, Husni Mubarak, continued the pro-U.S. stance during the post-Cold War era. The convergence of interests among the United States, Egypt, and Israel served among other things to maintain the Pax Americana in the East Mediterranean.

the U.S.-Egyptian-Israeli relationship has been under strain since Mubarak’s resignation in February 2011. Egypt’s military continued its cooperation with Israel to maintain the military clauses of the 1979 peace treaty. But the Muslim Brother-hood, which came to power via the ballot box, was very reserved toward relations with Israel, which the Brotherhood saw as a theological aberration. Moreover, the Brotherhood basically held anti-U.S. sentiments, which were muted somewhat by realpolitik requirements, primarily the unexpected support lent it by the Obama administration.[7]

The Egyptian army’s removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in July 2013 further undermined the trilateral relationship since the U.S. administration regarded the move as an “undemocratic” development. Washington even partially suspended its assistance to Egypt in October 2013, causing additional strain in relations with Cairo. This came on the heels of President Obama’s cancellation of the Bright Star joint military exercise and the Pentagon’s withholding of delivery of weapon systems. The U.S. aid flow has now been tied to “credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically-elected, civilian government through free and fair elections.”[8] Israeli diplomatic efforts to convince Washington not to act on its democratic, missionary zeal were only partially successful.[9] These developments have hampered potential for useful cooperation between Cairo, Jerusalem, and Washington.

The turbulence in the Arab world since 2011 has also underscored the erosion in the U.S. position. This is partly due to the foreign policy of the Obama administration that can be characterized as a deliberate, “multilateral retrenchment … designed to curtail the United States’ overseas commitments, restore its standing in the world, and shift burdens onto global partners.”[10] It is also partly due to Washington’s confused, contradictory, and inconsistent responses to the unfolding events of the Arab uprisings.[11] Furthermore, the ill-conceived pledge of military action in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons by Assad and the subsequent political acrobatics to avoid following through elicited much ridicule.[12]

This was followed by the November 2013 nuclear deal, hammered out between U.S.-led P5+1 group and Iran, that allows the Islamic Republic to continue enriching uranium as well as weaponization and missiles—the delivery systems—that has been viewed in the East Mediterranean (and elsewhere) as a great diplomatic victory for Tehran. Regional leaders have seen Washington retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan, engage (or appease) its enemies Iran and Syria, and desert friendly rulers. All have strengthened the general perception of a weak and confused U.S. foreign policy.

North of Israel, along the Mediterranean coast, sits Lebanon, a state dominated by the radical Shiite Hezbollah. Beirut has already laid claim to some of the Israeli-found offshore gas fields, shown above. Moreover, Syria, an enemy of Israel and long-time ally of Iran, exerts considerable influence in Lebanon.

Drained by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and blessed with new energy finds, Washington does not want to get dragged into additional conflicts in a Middle East that no longer seems central to its interests. As it edges toward energy independence, Washington is apparently losing interest in the East Mediterranean and the adjacent Middle East. This parallels Obama’s November 2011 announcement of the “rebalance to Asia” policy.[13] The rise of China is an understandable strategic reason for the reinforcement of U.S. military presence in Asia. While little has been done to implement the Asia pivot, cuts in the U.S. defense budget clearly indicate that such a priority will be at the expense of Washington’s presence elsewhere, including the East Mediterranean. The U.S. naval presence in the Mediterranean dwindled after the end of the Cold War and the mounting needs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.[14] At the height of the Cold War, the Sixth Fleet regularly comprised one or two aircraft carrier task forces; today it consists of a command ship and smaller vessels such as destroyers. While the U.S. military is still capable of acting in the East Mediterranean, the general perception in the region is that the Obama administration lacks the political will and skills to do so.

The possibility that European allies in NATO or the European Union will fill the U.S. position in the East Mediterranean is not taken seriously. Europe is not a real strategic actor since it lacks the necessary military assets, a clear strategic vision, as well as the political will to take up the U.S. role. Others, such as Russia, which has long maintained a base in Syria, might.

Growing Islamist Presence

Elements of radical Islam are increasingly powerful around the East Mediterranean basin. The Muslim-majority countries have difficulties in sustaining statist structures, allowing for Islamist political forces to exercise ever-greater influence. Indeed, Islamist tendencies in Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey all threaten the current unrestricted access to the area by Israel and the West.

Libya remains chaotic three years after the uprising against Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi. Such lack of order may lead to the disintegration of the state and allow greater freedom of action for Muslim extremists.[15] Libya’s eastern neighbor, Egypt, is now ruled again by the military, but it is premature to conclude that the Islamist elements will play only a secondary role in the emerging political system. They still send multitudes into the streets of Egyptian cities to destabilize the new military regime. Apart from the important Mediterranean ports, Egypt also controls the Suez Canal, a critical passageway linking Europe to the Persian Gulf and the Far East that could fall into the hands of Islamists.

Even if the Egyptian military is able to curtail the Islamist forces at home, its grip over the Sinai Peninsula is tenuous. Under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, attempts to dislodge the Sunni jihadists roaming Sinai have increased, but full Egyptian sovereignty has not been restored. This could lead to the “Somalization” of the peninsula, negatively affecting the safety of naval trade along the Mediterranean, the approaches to the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea. Nearby Gaza is currently controlled by Hamas, a radical Islamist organization allied with Iran. Containment of the Islamist threat from Gaza remains a serious challenge.

Further on the East Mediterranean coastline is AKP-ruled Turkey. A combination of Turkish nationalism, neo-Ottoman nostalgia, and Islamist-jihadist impulses has pushed Ankara away from a pro-Western foreign orientation toward an aggressive posture on several regional issues. Turkey is interested in gaining control over the maritime gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, which would limit its energy dependence on Russia and Iran and help fulfill its ambitions to serve as an energy bridge to the West. This puts Ankara at loggerheads with Nicosia and Jerusalem, which share an interest in developing the hydrocarbon fields in their exclusive economic zones and exporting gas to energy-thirsty Europe. Indeed, Ankara also flexed its naval muscles by threatening to escort flotillas trying to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

West of Turkey is Greece, a democratic, Western state with a stake in the protection of the Greek Cypriots from Muslim domination. However, it has limited military ability to parry the Turkish challenge alone and is wracked by economic problems. Many East Mediterranean states also would likely favor the return of Cyprus to Turkish (and Muslim) rule. This preference introduces a civilizational aspect to the emerging balance of power.

A New Strategic Equation
There is now a power vacuum in the East Mediterranean and an uncertain future. Several developments are noteworthy: a resurgence of Russian influence, the potential for Turkish aggression, the emergence of an Israeli-Greek-Cypriot axis, an enhanced terrorist threat, greater Iranian ability to project power in the region, and the potential for wars over gas fields.

Russia: The power vacuum makes it easier for Moscow to recapture some of its lost influence after the end of the Cold War. While U.S. and European navies in the region have steadily declined for years as this theater has been considered of diminishing importance, Russia has retained its Tartus naval base on the Syrian coast and has gradually improved its fleet size and stepped up patrols in the East Mediterranean, roughly coinciding with the escalation of the Syrian civil war.[16] Moscow’s new military footprint in the East Mediterranean has been underscored by multiple Russian naval exercises. During his visit to the Black Sea Fleet in February 2013, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stressed that the “Mediterranean region was the core of all essential dangers to Russia’s national interests” and that continued fallout from the Arab upheavals increased the importance of the region. Shortly after, he announced the establishment of a naval task force in the Mediterranean “on a permanent basis.”[17]

Moscow also gained full access to a Cypriot port.[18] A member of the European Union but not NATO, and painfully aware that the West is not likely to offer a credible guarantee against potential Turkish aggression, Nicosia has come to consider Moscow a power able to provide a modicum of deterrence against Ankara.[19]

Russian diplomacy and material support have also been crucial to keeping Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in power, making Moscow a tacit ally of Iran.[20] No less important, Russia has increased its leverage in Egypt—the most important Arab state—following the military coup. According to many reports, a large arms deal, to the tune of U.S. $2-3 billion, and naval services at the port of Alexandria, were discussed between the two countries at the beginning of 2014. If these deals do indeed materialize, this would represent an important change in Egyptian policy. It is not clear whether the Western powers fully understand the strategic significance of Egypt moving closer to Russia.

Despite its problems with Muslim radicals at home, Moscow has also maintained good relations with Hamas. In contrast to most of the international community, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, in 2006, the Russian government invited a Hamas delegation to Moscow for talks.[21] In 2010, together with Turkey, Russia even called for bringing Hamas into the diplomatic process attempting to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.[22]

Finally, Russia—an energy producer—has shown interest in the newly

discovered offshore energy fields.[23] In July 2012, Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Israel to discuss the gas fields, among other things. In December 2013, Moscow signed a 25-year energy deal with Syria that opens the way for its eventual move into the gas-rich East Mediterranean.[24]

Turkey: The Russian encroachment has been paralleled by greater Turkish assertiveness. Under certain conditions, Ankara may be tempted to capitalize on its conventional military superiority to force issues by military action in several arenas, including the Aegean, Cyprus, Syria, and, perhaps, Iraq. The potential disintegration of Syria and the possible establishment of an independent Greater Kurdistan could be incentives for Turkish intervention. The collapse of the AKP’s earlier foreign policy, dubbed “zero problems” with Turkey’s neighbors, could push Ankara into open confrontation. Aggressive Russian behavior in Crimea could reinforce such tendencies.

Similarly, Turkey’s appetite for energy and aspiration to become an energy bridge to Europe could lead to aggressive behavior. Turkish warships have harassed vessels prospecting for oil and gas off Cyprus. [25] Cyprus is also the main station for a Turkish desired pipeline taking Levant Basin gas to Turkey for export to Europe. Ankara might even be tempted to complete its conquest of Cyprus, begun when it invaded and occupied the northern part of the island in 1974.

Ankara has embarked on military modernization and has ambitious procurement plans. Turkish naval power is the largest in the East Mediterranean.[26] In March 2012, then-navy commander Admiral Murat Bilgel outlined Turkey’s strategic objective “to operate not only in the littorals but also on the high seas,” with high seas referring to the East Mediterranean. The December 2013 decision to purchase a large 27,500-ton landing dock vessel capable of transporting multiple tanks, helicopters, and more than a thousand troops, reflects its desire to project naval strength in the region.[27]

Israel, Cyprus, and Greece: Turkey’s threats and actions have brought Israel, Cyprus, and Greece closer together. Beyond blocking a revisionist Turkey and common interests in the area of energy security, the three states also share apprehensions about the East Mediterranean becoming an Islamic lake. Athens, Jerusalem, and Nicosia hope to coordinate the work of their lobbies in Washington to sensitize the U.S. administration to their concerns. Battling an economic crisis, Greece wants the new ties with Israel to boost tourism and investment, particularly in the gas industry, while deepening its military partnership with a powerful country in the region.[28] Moreover, the emerging informal Israeli-Greek alliance has the potential to bring Israel closer to Europe and moderate some of the pro-Palestinian bias occasionally displayed by the European Union.

Following Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Greece in August 2010, cooperation between the two countries has been broad and multifaceted, covering culture, tourism, and economics. One area of cooperation discussed was the possibility of creating a gas triangle—Israel-Cyprus-Greece—with Greece the hub of Israeli and Cypriot gas exports to the rest of Europe.[29] Such a development could lessen the continent’s energy dependence on Russia.[30] Another project that can further improve the ties between the countries is a proposed undersea electric power line between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. Currently Israel and Cyprus are isolated in terms of electricity and do not export or import almost any power.

Israeli-Greek military cooperation has already manifested itself in a series of multinational—Greek, Israel, and United States—joint air and sea exercises under the names Noble Dina[31] and Blue Flag (which included an Italian contingent).[32] Greece also cooperated with Israel in July 2011 by preventing the departure of ships set to sail to Gaza.[33]

International terrorism: Developments in the Arab states of the East Mediterranean have increased the threat of international terrorism. As leaders lose their grip over state territory and borders become more porous, armed groups and terrorists gain greater freedom of action. Moreover, security services that dealt with terrorism have been negatively affected by domestic politics and have lost some of their efficiency. Sinai has turned into a transit route for Iranian weapons to Hamas and a base for terrorist attacks against Israel. Hamas has even set up rocket production lines in Sinai in an effort to protect its assets, believing Jerusalem would not strike targets inside Egypt for fear of undermining the bilateral relations.[34] Syria has also become a haven for many Islamist groups as result of the civil war.

Furthermore, as weakened or failed states lose control over their security apparatus, national arsenals of conventional and nonconventional arms have become vulnerable, which may result in the emergence of increasingly well-armed, politically dissatisfied groups seeking to harm Israel. For example, following the fall of Qaddafi, Libyan SA-7 anti-air missiles and anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades reached Hamas in Gaza.[35] Similarly, in the event of a Syrian regime collapse, Damascus’s advanced arsenal, including chemical weapons, shore-to-ship missiles, air defense systems, and ballistic missiles of all types could end up in the hands of Hezbollah or other radical elements.[36]

Finally, terrorist activities could adversely affect the navigation through the Suez Canal, an important choke point. Salafi jihadist groups have attacked the canal several times already.[37]

The Iranian presence: The decline in U.S. power, the timidity of the Europeans, and the turmoil in the Arab world have facilitated Iranian encroachment of the East Mediterranean. Indeed, Tehran’s attempts to boost its naval presence in the Mediterranean are part of an ambitious program to build a navy capable of projecting power far from Iran’s borders.[38] Tehran would like to be able to supply its Mediterranean allies: Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. Entering the Mediterranean also enhances Iran’s access to Muslim Balkan states, namely Albania, Bosnia, and Kosovo, giving Tehran a clear stake in the outcome of the Syrian civil war. Assad’s hold on power is critical for the “Shiite Crescent” from the Persian Gulf to the Levant, which would enhance Iranian influence in the Middle East and the East Mediterranean. Tehran has also been strengthening naval cooperation with Moscow, viewed as a potential partner in efforts to limit and constrain U.S. influence.[39]

Wars over gas fields: The discovery of gas fields in the East Mediterranean could potentially escalate tensions in this increasingly volatile region. Competing claims to the gas fields by Israel’s former ally Turkey as well as by its neighbor Lebanon (still in a de jure state of war) have precipitated a buildup of naval forces in the Levant basin by a number of states, including Russia. Israel’s wells and the naval presence protecting them also offer new targets at sea to its longstanding, non-state enemies, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Conscious of these threats, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, has approved the navy’s plan to add four offshore patrol vessels.[40] Israeli defense circles hope that Israel’s expanding navy, combined with continuous improvement of land and air assets and increasing cooperation with Greece and Cyprus, will give pause to any regional actor that would consider turning the Mediterranean Sea into the next great field of battle. Indeed, the Israeli navy is now preparing to defend the gas field offshore of Israel.[41]

The future role of Russia in these developments is not clear. Some analysts believe that Moscow is interested primarily in marketing the region’s energy riches. Securing gas reserves in the East Mediterranean will also help Moscow safeguard its dominant position as a natural gas supplier to western Europe, which could be challenged by new competitors in the region. Yet, delays and disruptions in moving gas to Europe might further strengthen Russia’s role as a major energy supplier to Europe and keep prices high, which is beneficial for Moscow. Moreover, as the Ukraine crisis indicated, geopolitics still is a dominant factor in Russian decision-making.

Conclusion

Stability in the East Mediterranean can no longer be taken for granted as U.S. forces are retreating. Europe, an impotent international actor, cannot fill the resulting political vacuum. Russia under Putin is beefing up its naval presence. Growing Islamist freedom of action is threatening the region. Turkey, no longer a true ally of the West, has its own Mediterranean agenda and the military capability to project force to attain its goals. So far, the growing Russian assertiveness has not changed the course of Turkish foreign policy. The disruptive potential of failed states, the access of Iran to Mediterranean waters, and interstate competition for energy resources are also destabilizing the region. But it is not clear whether the Western powers, particularly the United States, are aware of the possibility of losing the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea to Russia or radical Islam, or are
preparing in any way to forestall such a scenario. U.S. naiveté and European gullibility could become extremely costly in strategic terms.

The Israeli perspective on the East Mediterranean region is colored by its vital need to maintain the freedom of maritime routes for its foreign trade and to provide security for its newly found gas fields. While its strategic position has generally improved in the Middle East, Jerusalem sees deterioration in the environment in the East Mediterranean. A growing Russian presence and Turkish assertiveness are inimical to Israel’s interests. Developments along the shores of the East Mediterranean also decrease stability and enhance the likelihood of more Islamist challenges.

In civilizational terms, the East Mediterranean has served as a point of contention in the past between Persia and the ancient Greeks and between the Ottomans and Venetians. It is the location where the struggle between East and West takes place. After the Cold War, the borders of the West moved eastward. Now, they could easily move in the other direction.

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a Shilman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

END NOTES
[1] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49.

[2] For more, see Seth Cropsey, Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy (New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2013).

[3] Jon B. Alterman and Haim Malka, “Shifting Eastern Mediterranean Geometry,” The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2012, pp. 111-25.

[4] Efraim Inbar, The Israeli-Turkish Entente (London: King’s College Mediterranean Program, 2001); Ofra Bengio, The Turkish-Israeli Relationship. Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders (New York: Palgrave, 2004).

[5] Rajan Menon and S. Enders Wimbush, “The US and Turkey: End of an Alliance?” Survival, Summer 2007, pp. 129-44; Efraim Inbar, “Israeli-Turkish Tensions and Their International Ramifications,” Orbis, Winter 2011, pp. 135-9; Ahmet Davutoğlu, Stratejik Derinlik: Türkiye’nin Uluslararası Konumu (Istanbul: Küre Yayınları, 2001).

[6] Tarik Ozuglu, “Turkey’s Eroding Commitment to NATO: From Identity to Interests,” The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2012, pp. 153-64; Burak Ege Bekdil, “Allies Intensify Pressure on Turkey over China Missile Deal,” The Defense News, Feb. 24, 2014, p. 8.

[7] Liad Porat, “The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt-Israel Peace,” Mideast Security and Policy Studies, no. 102, BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Ramat Gan, Aug. 1, 2013.

[8] Tally Helfont, “Slashed US Aid to Egypt and the Future of the Bilateral Relations,” Institute for National Strategic Studies, Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2013.

[9] Interview with senior Israeli official, Jerusalem, Apr. 7, 2013.

[10] Daniel W. Drezner, “Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy? Why We Need Doctrines in Uncertain Times,” Foreign Affairs, July/Aug. 2011, p. 58.

[11] Eitan Gilboa, “The United States and the Arab Spring,” in Efraim Inbar, ed., The Arab Spring, Democracy and Security: Domestic and Regional Ramifications (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 51-74.

[12] Eyal Zisser, “The Failure of Washington’s Syria Policy,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2013, pp. 59-66.

[13] “Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s ‘Rebalancing’ toward Asia,” Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., Mar. 28, 2012.

[14] Seth Cropsey, “All Options Are Not on the Table: A Briefing on the US Mediterranean Fleet,” World Affairs Journal, Mar. 16, 2011; Steve Cohen, “America’s Incredible Shrinking Navy,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 20, 2014.

[15] Florence Gaub, “A Libyan Recipe for Disaster,” Survival, Feb.-Mar. 2014, pp. 101-20.

[16] Thomas R. Fedyszyn, “The Russian Navy ‘Rebalances’ to the Mediterranean,” U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Dec. 2013.

[17] Ibid.

[18] InCyprus.com, Jan. 11, 2014.

[19] Interviews with senior officials, Nicosia, Oct. 10, 2012.

[20] Zvi Magen, “The Russian Fleet in the Mediterranean: Exercise or Military Operation?” Institute for National Strategic Studies, Washington, D.C., Jan. 29, 2013.

[21] Igor Khrestin and John Elliott, “Russia and the Middle East,” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007, pp. 21-7.

[22] The Jerusalem Post, May 12, 2010.

[23] Thane Gustafson, “Putin’s Petroleum Problem,” Foreign Affairs, Nov./Dec. 2012, pp. 83-96.

[24] United Press International, Jan. 16, 2014.

[25] For example, see, Gary Lakes, “Oil, Gas and Energy Security,” European Rim Policy and Investment Council (ERPIC, Larnaca, Cyprus), Oct. 23, 2009.

[26] “Turkey,” Institute for National Strategic Studies, Washington, D.C., Dec. 24, 2012, pp. 19-25.

[27]The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 4, 2014.

[28] Bloomberg News Service (New York), Aug. 2011.

[29] The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013.

[30] Ibid., Aug. 2, 2011.

[31] The Times of Israel (Jerusalem), Mar. 25, 2014.

[32] Arutz Sheva (Beit El and Petah Tikva), Nov. 25, 2013.

[33]Haaretz (Tel Aviv), July 2, 2011.

[34] The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 11, 2011.

[35] Reuters, Aug. 29, 2011.

[36] Defense News (Springfield, Va.), Dec. 12, 2011.

[37] USA Today, Nov. 4, 2013.

[38] Shaul Shay, “Iran’s New Strategic Horizons at Sea,” Arutz Sheva, July 30, 2012; Agence France-Presse, Jan. 17, 2013.

[39] Michael Eisenstadt and Alon Paz, “Iran’s Evolving Maritime Presence,” Policy Watch, no. 2224, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Mar. 13, 2014.

[40] Israel Hayom (Tel Aviv), July 10, 2012.

[41] Defense News (Springfield, Va.), Feb. 27, 2012.

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Qatar: A key host to US military forces while hedging bets on outcome of Mideast conflicts

STAR TRIBUNE

Just miles from where former Guantanamo Bay terror suspects have resettled, American warplanes take off from Qatar’s al-Udeid air base in the global war on extremism.

The contrast in images illustrates why tiny but rich Qatar is an intriguing player in what President Barack Obama says will be a long battle to stop and eventually destroy the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Qatar plays an outsize role as a U.S. military partner. It gained public praise from Obama for brokering the controversial deal that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity in May in exchange for the release of five senior Taliban officials who had been imprisoned for years at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Qatar promised Obama it would keep the five under watch for one year, although they would then be free to leave. The Obama administration also praised Qatar for its role in securing the release of extremist hostage Peter Theo Curtis.

But Qatar also has a reputation as a supporter of Islamist groups in disfavor in Washington. Some in Congress suspect Qatar of funneling money to Islamic State militants, though the State Department says the U.S. has no evidence of it.

Qatari officials in Doha had no immediate comment for this story, but the government has unequivocally denied that it backs the Islamic State group. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said last month that his country “does not support extremist groups, including ISIS, in any way.”

Western analysts say Qatar is attempting a sometimes awkward balancing act between its desire for good relations with the United States and its efforts to maintain influence closer to home.

“Qatar is always looking for the angle, and that’s really the best way to explain it,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department counterterrorism coordinator who now directs Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. “By having connections that are so broad, so wide ranging, it can put itself at the center of just about every issue.”

Qatar gives a home to Khaled Mashaal, exiled leader of Hamas, a Palestinian militant organization considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist group. But Qatar also has maintained ties to Hamas’ enemy, Israel. And to Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood for which other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia have little tolerance.

“This is a small and wealthy country that is trying to maintain influence 360 degrees,” said Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and now chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security.

“They are hedging their bets and trying to make sure they have influence no matter who comes out on top” in the multifaceted struggle for power in the Middle East, she added. Asked whether she believes Qatar has actually provided money to the Islamic State group, she said there is at least a widespread perception that it has.

On the other hand, Qatar was among 10 Arab nations that last week publicly endorsed Obama’s commitment to diminish and eventually destroy the Islamic State group. The 10 promised to stop the flow of foreign fighters and funding for the militants, repudiate their extremist ideology and provide humanitarian aid. Some have offered to join in airstrikes.

Qatar is a thumb-like desert appendage jutting into the central Persian Gulf from the Arabian peninsula. It began developing closer military relations with the United States during the 1991 Gulf War. Just weeks after American forces toppled Baghdad in April 2003, U.S. Central Command moved its regional air operations center from Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia to al-Udeid, about 20 miles from Doha, the capital.

Qatar also is a major buyer of U.S. advanced weaponry. In July, for example, Qatar closed an $11 billion package deal for the purchase of U.S.-made Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense weapons.

Although it hosts U.S. military bases, it has pressured Washington not to publicly acknowledge that it flies combat missions from al-Udeid air base. Like other Persian Gulf allies, Qatar’s leaders don’t want the Pentagon to publicize that fact, because they are leery of being seen as too cozy with Washington. The U.S. has complied, declining to confirm publicly that B-1 bombers and other U.S. warplanes are operating from Qatar’s al-Udeid. Nonetheless, it’s an open secret that U.S. planes there fly surveillance, refueling and other missions over Iraq.

The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that C-17 and C-130 cargo planes at al-Udeid dropped food and water to displaced Yazidis around Sinjar in northern Iraq in August as the centerpiece of a humanitarian mission.

Even so, Flournoy said Qatar shouldn’t think the U.S. would tolerate any level of Qatari effort to support Islamic extremist groups.

“They shouldn’t overestimate their leverage (in terms of) hosting the U.S. military,” she said. Referring to the air operations center at al-Udeid, she said, “It is a very useful facility to have, but it is not the only place we can put it; it is not impossible to move. So this is a good moment for Qatar to step back and review their strategy.”

A congressional aide said some lawmakers have begun to asking about the feasibility of moving the base. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue, said it’s not something that the administration is actively considering. But some members of Congress are questioning whether the U.S. should have the base there as well as a new arms deal with a country suspected of supporting Hamas and Islamic extremists.

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