Authors: Asaad H. Almohammad, Ph.D. & Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.
This week U.S. Colonel Joseph E. Scrocca, a coalition public affairs officer and spokesman for the American-led command, declared from Baghdad that the Tabqa Dam (a.k.a., al-Thawra or Euphrates Dam) and the areas in close vicinity were “critical for the isolation of Raqqa and the next step toward an annihilation of ISIS in Syria.
” Similarly, many were taken by surprise when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed and supported by American forces, began a major offensive to retake the Tabqa Dam. Meanwhile ISIS claimed on its social media channels that the Tabqa Dam, located about 40 km north of Raqqa, was damaged by coalition airstrikes amidst dangerously high water levels creating a danger of collapse and imminent flooding—a claim the U.S. military flatly refutes.[i] On March 30th, 2017 the SDF managed to send engineers in to open floodgates on the dam to release pressure although they did so while being shelled from ISIS.[ii]
For the last month we’ve been conducting investigative research on ISIS security forces. During the course of our investigation we have come across chatter and vetted some information from trusted sources on the ground in Syria about the Tabqa Dam. After news on the offensive broke, we asked our sources to gather and report more information on the operational significance of the dam. After a month-long investigation, a number of justifications for the selection of the dam to be the first target of the SDF and American forces were identified.
Electricity and Finance
Our research uncovered that during the first half of 2016 the dam supplied the governorate of Raqqah with 4 hours of electricity per day. During that period the lion’s share of power generated from the dam was sold to areas controlled by the Syrian regime, thus making the Syrian government the main purchaser of electricity generated by the dam. It is noteworthy that fees were collected in USD from agents of the Syrian regime by ISIS agents for the supplied electric power. This is not the first time that ISIS has been engaged in devil’s deals with the Syrian regime which it voraciously claims as it’s sworn enemy—yet ISIS has also sold oil to the Syrian regime and Syrian engineers have appeared in ISIS territory to repair oil pipelines and technology.[iii]
With around 20 hours per day of electricity shortages, ISIS agreed to allow local civilians to run generators. That decision lined up with ISIS’s financial risk aversion strategy, which can be observed in areas such as oil and gas. During the first half of 2016, just over 60 generators were operational inside the city of Raqqah. The generators are type 113, which indicates their strong operational capacity. During that period, local civilians had to rely on these generators for electricity. There were two packages: 1 and 10 Ampere. The package most frequently purchased by poorer civilians, 1 Ampere, was the minimum required for basic lighting. Those who could afford it bought 10 Ampere.
The aforementioned generators were allowed by ISIS to be owned and managed by local civilians on the condition that they buy their fuel from ISIS. The generators operate on mazut, a law quality fuel oil (a precursor of diesel fuel), and each generator consumes a barrel of mazut per day. ISIS charges USD $75 per barrel of mazut, enabling ISIS’s fuel directorate to generate at least USD $135,000 per month. On top of that ISIS charged those selling this electricity 11 % of their net profit. It is noteworthy that the previous calculation only taps the value of fuel that is sold to owners of generators operating within the city of Raqqah. At the time, it was estimated that the number of generators operating within ISIS-held territories to be at least three times higher. That means at least 180 generators.
By the second half of the year 2016, the electricity situation changed. The power supply to Raqqah governorate increased to an average of 15 to 20 hours per day. The aforementioned figures suggest that during the second half of 2016, the power supply to the governorate of Raqqah was the best it had been since 2006. Sources reported that ISIS shifted the electric power supply to Raqqah governorate because the Syrian regime didn’t pay their bills to compensate for their supplied electricity so they were cut off. However, during the early months of the first half 2016, the Syrian regime paid the salaries of the dam employees, again indicating the complicity that has existed when necessary between these sworn enemies.
The increased supply of electricity in the second half of 2016 directly corresponded to ISIS’s assigning the directorate of public services the task of collecting utility fees. Moreover, ISIS started compensating experts and technicians working at the dam. Sources added that shortly before March 2017 ISIS had purchased replacement parts required to repair damage to the power grid in Raqqah governorate. It is noteworthy that during the second half of 2016, ISIS increasingly enforced a fiscal policy that made their issued currency the only accepted currency to pay fines and taxes. To that effect, it is observed that ISIS’s policy moved from risk-averse to high-risk regarding power supply.
Data obtained from sources in Raqqah suggest that ISIS’s shift towards a more risky form of investment in public infrastructure payed off. Our investigation uncovered around 482,700 households registered as electricity subscribers in the governorate of Raqqah during a time when ISIS only accepted fees in the form of its self-issued ‘Islamic dinar.’ ISIS sets the value of its currency. 1 ‘Islamic dinar’ equated to around 1,320 (Syrian Pound) SYP. In the months prior to the offensive to retake the Tabqa Dam from ISIS, the average fees for power per household were between 9,500 and 10,500 SYP. These numbers indicate that ISIS collects between USD $21,395,278 and $23,647,412 on average per month from utility subscribers. These figures alone make the dam a strategic target in the fight against ISIS, to cut smash them on the financial front.
Furthermore, a number of sources reported other financial activities that took a place within the facilities of the Tabqa Dam. A key player of ISIS’s financial directorate operated from the dam during the first half of 2016. During that time al-Habari Oil Field, close to Resafa, Raqqah, was operational. Around 3,200 barrels of crude oil were extracted from the field every 2 days. It is noteworthy that ISIS sold the oil prior to its extraction. Payment from those buying crude oil from ISIS was made at the administrative facilities of the dam. Within Resafa, Raqqah, oil extracted from al-Habari Oil field was shipped to an oil refinery. Refineries are commonly owned and managed by locals who have obtained permission to operate from ISIS. Buyers of the oil sell it to the refinery, pay for the refining services, or sell to other traders. In any case, those owning the refinery have to pay a tax to ISIS, around 12 %, of their monthly revenue. This and related taxes are paid to the agent of ISIS’s directorate of finance in the administrative facilities of the Tabqa Dam. On the same day the taxes are collected, representatives of ISIS directorate of finance move the money to Raqqah city.
Other evidence hints to financial activities that take place within the administrative facilities of the Tabqa Dam. During late June, ISIS ordered the arrest of a security operative known by the alias Abu Hajir for embezzling USD $150,000. He worked at the dam facilities.
These two financial activities are evidence of the financial significance of the Tabqa Dam. The dam, in part, served as a taxation department. Foremost however, it generated massive revenue for the group. Those two key functions might have played a major role in justifying the operation to retake the dam from ISIS.
Military Hot Targets
Notwithstanding the financial aspects, which may have impelled the U.S. and its Syrian allies to cooperate on an unprecedented level in the effort to retake the dam, our investigation showed other potential justifications for the operation. We managed to obtain data that uncovered a key player in ISIS (see our forthcoming investigative piece on ISIS security forces and its leadership) who has used the dam as his operational base. From his office within the administrative facilities of the Tabqa Dam, this ISIS leader came to establish ISIS’s security forces (a.k.a., Al-Amnyah, Nukta 11 [Point 11 in English]), raid/death squads, the Caucasian squads, the Islamic police, the military police, and ISIS’s Special Operations office. Within a year of joining the ranks of ISIS, he also became the Wali of Raqqah. Under the umbrella of the security forces, ISIS leadership oversees all attacks within its controlled territories and abroad.
Moreover, the raid/death squads’ central command was within Raqqa governorate. Raid/death squads are unique in the sense that they don’t need to get the permission of the Shariah judge, a typical requirement, to conduct operations, carry out arrests, or eliminate targets, be they what ISIS has labelled as “enemy fighters”, “civilians”, or “ISIS members”. For a long period the whereabouts of their bases were unknown. As of mid-March 2017, one of their bases was uncovered. This base was located at the administrative facilities of the Tabqa Dam.
Additionally, data obtained from multiple sources revealed that within Tabqa Dam, ISIS’s security forces managed a detention center. That detention center was designated to imprison those accused of threating the security of ISIS. High profile figures were detained at this centre. Sources confirmed the presence of foreign detainees. ISIS defectors also told us of training camps near the Tabqa Dam and that prisoners from the dam area were brought for graduates of ISIS shariah training to execute as they made their bayats to ISIS.[iv]
To that effect, it has been demonstrated that the factors described above present overwhelming justification to label the dam as a significant military target for the U.S. and its Syrian Allies. Based on our research, the dam has hosted intelligence, militant, and detention centers, making it an extremely hot military target. However, it also functions as a type of shield; if it is attacked, then many civilians could be harmed by immediate flooding, thus providing a deterrent to targeting the centers located within.
After the offensive on the dam, some of our sources were contacted to gather data of potential importance. Multiple sources confirmed that, during January 2017, ISIS withdrew its forces from a number of locations around Tabqa and in its immediate vicinity. The data also uncovered that ISIS’s security forces led an operation to publically humiliate tribal leaders within the aforementioned region. Those tribal leaders were detained at the dam and blackmailed into giving a public pledge of allegiance to ISIS and its self-declared Caliph. The purpose of that operation was to enroll the members of these tribes into the fighting forces on the front lines. It is clear that ISIS fears the advancement of Kurdish-led forces in that region.
Moreover, the Tabqa dam and city present an opportunity for the Syrian regime, backed by Hezbollah and Russian forces, to gain more ground. The dam itself is Russian made and could be symbolic in this context. It has been a common practice of the Syrian regime to carry out offensives against forces in areas liberated from ISIS and other extremists (e.g., Al-Nusra Front [a.k.a., Jabhat al-Nusra or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham]).
Lastly, the SDF is largely made of People’s Protection Units (YPG). Amnesty International accused the group of human rights violations in February 2015 and the group is very unpopular in the majority Arab governorate. The YPG has ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organisation by the U.S. and EU, making Turkey very uncomfortable. Local and Turkish reaction to the YPG growing influence would be damaging if the SDF and U.S. forces manage to move against the dam and ultimately retake Raqqa. Nothing in this conflict is simple or straightforward, nor are there any easy answers on how to proceed.
Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne (March 29, 2017) Why Taking the Tabqa Dam is Important in the Fight against ISIS and Retaking of Raqqa. ICSVE Brief Reports
[i] NBC News. (March 27, 2017). ISIS, U.S.-Backed Forces Battle Over Syria’s Tabqa Dam. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-u-s-backed-forces-battle-over-syria-s-tabqa-n738816 Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/isis-u-s-backed-forces-battle-over-syria-s-tabqa-n738816
[ii] Rudaw. (March 30, 2017). Engineers open Tabqa dam spillway, come under ISIS mortar fire. Rudaw. Retrieved from http://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/290320171
[iii] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC. And Speckhard, A. (April 27, 2016). ISIS revenues include sales of oil to the al-Assad regime. ICSVE Brief Reports. Retrieved from http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/isiss-revenues-include-sales-of-oil-to-the-al-assad-regime/
[iv] Speckhard, A., & Yayla, A. S. (2016). ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate: Advances Press, LLC.
The means to manage cyberspace and the duty of security
Over and above the ethical concepts regarding the near future, it is also good to focus on the present. Governments are required to protect their national resources and infrastructure against foreign and domestic threats, to safeguard the stability and centrality of human beings and political systems and to ensure modern services for civilians. Suffice it to recall the chaos that arose some time ago in the Lazio region for the well-known health issues.
Governments must play a key role in developing and leading the local ecosystems, but this national effort must involve many other stakeholders: local businesses, entrepreneurs, multinational companies, local and foreign investors, State agencies, Ministries and academics, people in education, professional institutions and the public at large.
Furthermore, cybersecurity is a national opportunity for developing the local economy and for positioning any country in the international arena as a safe place to establish and develop economic relations between States and companies. It is also important as a regional cyber hub.
Cyber strategy therefore consists in prioritising operational cyber activities with a view to optimising and monitoring the overdevelopment of cyber intelligence that could one day take such turns as to be ungovernable.
This is the reason why investment in technology, local capacity building and resource allocation and concentration are required. This means providing strategic advisory services to government agencies that are seeking to advance cyber security at a strategic and operational level.
It is therefore necessary to work with governments to develop their strategic and operational capabilities in cybersecurity, either at the national or sectoral level, as well as providing comprehensive cyber projects that combine cyber defence and the development of a local cyber ecosystem, based on the models tried and tested by various countries around the world, such as the People’s Republic of China, Israel, the United States of America, etc.
There is a need to specialise in setting up Cyber Units and Cyber Centres (SOC & Fusion Centres) and in developing Cyber Eco-Systems and Cyber Strategies. This means providing various cyber solutions, services and know-how to companies in various sectors, such as financial, industrial, energy, health, technology and many other sectors.
Stable OT (operational technology) security services and strategic advice to companies in the fields of energy, manufacturing, security, medicine, transport, critical infrastructure and many others create the prerequisites for defending cyberspace. As well as helping OT-based organisations integrate cybersecurity into their processes and products. Design, develop and deliver advanced technologies and solutions to protect critical assets in OT environments, such as ICS, SCADA, IIoT, PLC, etc.
In this regard there is a basic need for creating professional IT schools around the world that teach the meaning of cyberspace, and not just how to use Word and other simple Office programs.
The expansion and creation of universities and institutes of cyber knowledge is a starting point from which partnerships are launched with organisations seeking to create their own cyber schools or with academic or educational organisations offering cyber training to their students.
Providing comprehensive solutions for IT schools, enables the training of IT professionals and new recruits in all IT roles, so that hackers do not remain the sole repository of digital truth. Advanced training is a solid starting point for organisations seeking to train their IT professionals. Professionals who can manage and master schemes such as Cyber Defender, Cyber Warrior, Cyber Manager, SOC Analyst, Digital Forensics, Basic Training and many others, including through the use of simulation.
Leading the creation and development of the high-level cybersecurity ecosystem is a duty of States towards the citizens who elect their leaders. The same holds true for seeking and employing highly experienced experts in the various security subject matters, including strategic cyber defence, cyber warfare, cyber intelligence, cyber research and development and cyber strategy, as well as defining training policies for these branches of operation.
Having examined the prerequisites for protecting cyberspace, it is worth addressing the structure of some of the risks faced by institutional network systems.
One of the most typical operations made by hackers relates to the use of client/server technology to combine several computers as a platform to launch DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks against one or more targets, thus exponentially increasing damage.
A malicious user normally uses a stolen account to install the DDoS master programme on a computer. The master programme will communicate with a large number of agents at any given time and the agent programmes have been installed on many computers in the network. The agent launches an attack when it receives an instruction. Using client/server technology, the master control programme can activate hundreds of agent programmes in a matter of seconds.
A DDoS uses a group of controlled machines to launch an attack on a computer, be it server or client. It is so fast and hard to prevent that is therefore more destructive. If we consider that in the past network administrators could adopt the method of filtering IP addresses against DDoS, it becomes more difficult to prevent such actions today. How can measures be taken to respond effectively?
If the user is under attack, defence will be very limited. If there is a catastrophic attack with a large amount of traffic pouring onto the unprepared user, it will very likely that the network will be paralysed before the user can recover. Users, however, can still take the opportunity to seek defence.
Hackers usually launch attacks through many fake IP addresses. At that juncture, if users can distinguish which IPs are real and which are fake – and hence understand from which network segments these IPs come – they can ask the network administrator to change them. Firstly, the PCs should be turned off to try to eliminate the attack. If it is found that these IP addresses are coming from outside rather than from the company’s internal IP, a temporary investigation method can be used to filter these IP addresses on the server or router.
The solution would be to discover the route through which the attackers pass and block them. If hackers launch attacks from certain ports, users can block these ports to prevent intrusion. After the exit port is closed, all computers cannot access the Internet.
A more complex method consists in filtering the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), a service protocol for packet networks transmitting information regarding malfunctioning, monitoring and control information or messages between the various components of a computer network. Although it cannot completely eliminate the intrusion during the attack, filtering the ICMP can effectively prevent the escalation of the aggression and can also reduce the level of constant damage to a certain extent.
The DDoS attack is the most common attack method used by hackers. Some conventional methods of dealing with it are listed below.
1. Filter all RFC1918 IP addresses. The RFC1918 IP address is the address of the internal network, such as 10.0.0.0, 192.168.0.0, 172.16.0.0, etc. These are not fixed IP addresses of a particular network segment, but confidential local IP addresses within the Internet, which should be filtered out. This method serves to filter out a large number of fake internal IPs during an attack, and can also mitigate DDoS attacks.
2. Use many PCs to resist hacker attacks. This is an ideal response phase, if the user has sufficient ability and resources to enable a defence against hackers who attack and continue to access and take over resources. Before the user is fatally attacked, the hacker has little means to control many PCs. This method requires considerable investment and most of the equipment is usually idle, which does not correspond to the actual functioning of the current network of small and medium-sized enterprises.
3. Make full use of network equipment to protect resources. The so-called network equipment refers to load balancing hardware and software such as routers and firewalls, which can effectively protect the network. When the network is attacked, the router is the first to fail, but the other devices have not yet collapsed. The failed router will return to normalcy after being restarted and will restart quickly without any loss. If other servers collapse, their data will be lost and restarting them is a lengthy process. In particular, a company uses load balancing equipment so that when a router is attacked and crashes, the other will work immediately. This minimizes DDoS attacks.
4. Configure the firewall. The firewall itself can resist DDoS and other attacks. When an attack is discovered, it may be directed to certain sacrificial hosts, which are able to protect the actual host from the attack. The sacrificial hosts may obviously choose to redirect to unimportant hosts or to those having systems with fewer vulnerabilities than some operating systems and with excellent protection against attacks.
5. Filter unnecessary services and ports. Many tools can be used to filter out unnecessary services and ports, i.e. filter out fake IPs on the router. For example, Cisco’s CEF (Cisco Express Forwarding) can compare and filter out Source IP and Routing Table packets. Opening only service ports has become a common practice for many servers. For example, WWW servers open only 80 ports and close all the others or use a blocking strategy on the firewall.
6. Limit SYN/ICMP traffic. The user must configure the maximum SYN/ICMP traffic on the router to limit the maximum bandwidth that SYN/ICMP packets can occupy. Therefore, when there is a large amount of SYN/ICMP traffic exceeding the limit, this means it is not normal network access, but hacking. In the beginning, limiting SYN/ICMP traffic was the best way to prevent DDoS. Although the effect of this method on DDoS is currently not widely used, it can still play a certain role.
7. Scan regularly. Existing network master nodes should be scanned regularly, checked for security vulnerabilities and new vulnerabilities cleaned up promptly. Computers on backbone nodes are the best locations for hackers to use because they have higher bandwidth. It is therefore very important to strengthen the security of these hosts. Furthermore, all computers connected to the major nodes of the network are server-level computers. Hence regular scanning for vulnerabilities becomes even more important.
8. Check the source of the visitor. Use suitable software to check whether the visitor’s IP address is true. This should be done by reverse-searching the router: if it is fake, it will be blocked. As said above, many hacker attacks often use fake IP addresses to confuse users and it is hard to find out from where they come. Therefore, for example, the use of Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding can reduce the occurrence of fake IP addresses and help improve network security.
As seen above, we need experts who know more than hackers, and this is the duty that States and governments have towards their institutions, but primarily towards their citizens.
The visit of the head of Israeli Mossad intelligence to Bahrain
The visit of the UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to Damascus on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 and the meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, sparked a great controversy that began from the moment it was announced, which was highlighted by Western analyzes mainly from outside the region, that it comes for a (comprehensive Arab reassessment of the reality of the relationship with Syria and its importance in combating terrorism in the region, and the importance of the current Syrian reality in the calculations of Arab and Gulf national security, primarily towards Iran, and breaking the American “Caesar Law” towards imposing an economic blockade on Syria), and various analyzes and speculations about the future of these have increased. The Emirati step, its implications and dimensions in the Arab and Gulf relations towards the Syrian regime, and whether it represents one of the indicators of the transition to another new phase of political action towards opening up to Damascus, and the return of Syria to its regional and international role. Especially with the clarification of the “Emirati-Syrian coordination” some time before that visit to arrange the rapprochement between the two sides, which became clear by the announcement of the contact between the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and President Bashar Al-Assad), as well as an official invitation to Syria to participate in the “International Expo Exhibition In Dubai” and then my meeting with the Syrian and Emirates oil ministers in Moscow.
But what stopped me in that Emirates visit, was perhaps other events that were not addressed during those analyzes, which caught my attention analytically and academically, and the most different of them was (I was alerted by a foreign researcher during my commentary on the same analysis, that the Emirates move is mainly in the interest of Tehran the Iranian regime, not to stifle and besiege Iran in its areas of influence and its known role in Syria). Despite the strangeness of this analysis, I occupied my mind with another matter to respond to it, regarding: (the significance of the visit of the head of the Israeli Mossad to Bahrain, and the visit of Emirates officials to Tel Aviv, and what is even clearer to the public is the organization of joint naval exercises in the Red Sea with the joint Israeli naval forces with Bahrain and the UAE), at the same time as the aforementioned visit.
Accordingly, my analysis mainly focuses on whether that visit took place through (arranging and coordinating with Tel Aviv to curb Iran in Syria and the region, by attracting Syria to the Arab League and collective Arab action again), and the Gulf rejectionist and Arab reservations towards the step of rapprochement. The Syrian-Iranian, or did I aim for a clearer Gulf rapprochement with Iran through rapprochement with Syria, as I went to a number of mainly Western analyzes, which I received. From here, the Egyptian researcher will analyze all the following elements:
Analyzing the implications of the visit of the UAE Foreign Minister (Bin Zayed) to Syria on November 9, 2021.
And its relationship to the “joint naval maneuvers” between (Israel, the UAE and Bahrain) in the Red Sea on November 10, 2021 on the Iranian existence at Syria
The visit of (the head of the Israeli Mossad intelligence service to Bahrain) at the time of the naval joint maneuvers with Israel in the Red Sea, with (the visit of the UAE Air Force commander to Israel).
Then, finally, analyzing the impacts of the Israeli Mossad intelligence moves in the Red Sea on its rapprochement with the USA in the face of (China, Russia and Iran).
To answer those questions, it is necessary to verify and respond to number of inquires and some other different analyses, such as:
The UAE’s motives for taking such a step of rapprochement with Syria, through the visit of the UAE Foreign Minister “Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed” to Damascus on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, and the meeting with Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad”.
Rather, will this Emirates step (encourage the rest of the Arab countries to follow the Emirates footsteps) and open up to the Syrian regime?
What is the fate of the “Syrian opposition to the Emirati-Syrian rapprochement”, and is this Emirates move aimed at weakening the Syrian opposition track, especially the Syrians opposing the regime of President “Bashar Al-Assad” abroad?
Then, it will remain to analyze (the Syrian opposition’s options if more Arab countries open up to the Al-Assad’s regime).
Will there be a (Syrian-Emirati consensus) towards the step of solving the (return of Syrian refugees from abroad and the settlement of their situation with the current Syrian regime)?
Finally, the question arises, regarding: (the impact of the intensity of American and international criticism of the UAE’s step of rapprochement with the Syrian regime and President “Bashar Al-Assad” on the completion of the remaining Arab steps seeking to integrate and return Syria once more to its membership in the League of Arab States)?
In fact, the most dangerous and important analysis for me remains completely analytical, namely: (What was raised about the fact that the UAE obtained the green light from the United States of America itself and from the Israeli side before the visit of the UAE Foreign Minister “Bin Zayed” to the Emirates, in pursuit of forming (Gulf-UAE-Israeli alliance against Iran), and seeking to neutralize the Syrian regime in the face of these Iranian moves as a closely related ally of the Iranians?) Accordingly, we can analyze that, as follows:
Perhaps what reinforces and supports my recent view regarding the “Israeli Gulf mobilization with the help of the UAE and Washington’s support to confront Iran through Syria” is (the joint security coordination between Israel and the Emirati and Bahraini naval forces to conduct joint naval maneuvers in the Red Sea, which lasted for five full days), which began on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, which comes at the same time as the UAE rapprochement with Syria, meaning:
(There are joint security arrangements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain in the face of Iran through the move of rapprochement with Syria as an ally of Iran)
As I mentioned, the joint naval maneuvers between Israel and the UAE at the same time as the UAE visit confirms (the continuation of joint security coordination between Israel and the UAE), especially to curb and limit Iranian influence. Knowing that the step of joint security coordination between the Emirates and Israel began three years ago, when the naval forces of the Gulf states, mainly the “UAE and Bahrain”, began conducting joint naval maneuvers with the Israeli side, which were the first for them ever with their Israeli counterpart, in cooperation with the forces of the United States of America’s Navy.
We find that the current joint naval maneuvers in the Red Sea with the participation of the UAE and Israel, with the participation of (warships from the Emirates, Bahrain and Israel), in addition to the United States of America, is a “joint Israeli-Gulf assertion” to send a message to the Iranian side, that these naval maneuvers with Israel, aims to:
“Securing the maritime traffic in the face of Iran, and seeking to secure the movement of the straits and maritime navigation in the Red Sea with the help of Israeli security, especially that these joint maritime training operations included training on encirclement and raid tactics”
This was confirmed by the US Naval Forces Central Command, in an official statement, to confirm that:
“The Israeli, Emirates, and Bahraini training aims to enhance the ability to work collectively among the forces participating in the maneuvers”
From here, we understand that the step of joint Israeli-Emirati security coordination, and the consequent step of the joint naval maneuvers, came after the signing of the “Abraham Accords” in September 2020, and the normalization of their relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain. Since then, it has strengthened the (diplomatic, military, and intelligence relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, as the two most important Gulf countries that share Tel Aviv’s concerns about Iran’s activities in the Red Sea and the region).
The most prominent here, is (the visit of the head of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad in a public visit to Bahrain at the time of the joint naval maneuvers with Israel in the Red Sea, with the commander of the UAE Air Force heading at the same time also on a first-of-its-kind visit to Israel in October 2021).
In general, the (re-opening of the Emirati and Bahraini embassies in Damascus) in December 2018, was considered at that time as (a major change in the Gulf policy towards Syria, and it was among the first indications of a more comprehensive normalization). There is no doubt that these steps came after consulting Saudi Arabia. However, it seems that Saudi Arabia, as usual, is taking a cautious and secretive attitude towards the move of rapprochement with Syria due to its fear of the “Al-Assad regime’s relations with Tehran”.
At the time, the UAE and Bahrain talked about (the geopolitical benefits of rehabilitating the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad). The State of Bahrain confirmed that “the step of integrating Bashar Al-Assad aims to strengthen the Arab role and prevent regional interference in Syrian affairs”.
The most important analytical question for me is whether Abu Dhabi has completely severed its relations with Damascus at all, given (the continued presence of prominent Syrian figures loyal to Damascus living and working in the Emirates).
In general, this (continuous stream of signals emanating from Damascus and other Arab capitals, led by the Emirates for rapprochement with Syria), indicates that the former opponents of the Syrian government have come close to reaching mutually beneficial arrangements with the Syrian government, some of which pledged a few years ago to drop it.
The most important gains for the Syrian regime from that rapprochement with the UAE and the rest of the Arab countries will be (reconstruction contracts for Syria and energy deals), in addition to the markets that will be opened to it if they reconcile with the Arab countries, which may later pave the way for “inclusion of Damascus again and returning its membership in the League of Arab States”, which is of course the most important strategic step for the UAE and the Gulf states, to help Syria to return back to the “Arab House”, and consequently put pressure on it not to rapprochement with Iran, as it is a rival opponent for the UAE and the Gulf states.
In this context, the Syrian capital, Damascus is now hoping for (influential Arab voices to exert international pressure in order to lift the severe sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime), which aims to (punish Syrian officials and Syrian organizations for their alleged involvement in human rights violations).
Features of ISIS’ Information Warfare
The most significant feature of our modern world is the large-scale popularization and application of the Internet, which has transformed our society and formed a substantial information society. Initially, the information society was only a theoretical projection, but it has now become a reality. When the world transforms into an information society, the great impact of such a transformation will be felt. The governance structures of the world have not prepared for such changes, and thus are unable to deal with these transformations effectively, resulting in massive risks and social disorder.
In the field of information and anti-terrorism, a major concern is the impact of the Internet. The Internet has accelerated the flow of information, and the boundary of truth and falsehood are at times, indistinguishable. At the same time, social conditions can be exaggerated online. Combined with the psychological activities and circumstances of the masses, it is extremely easy to create a larger scale of dissatisfaction which will, to a certain extent, lead to the collapse of the original social ideological and belief systems. The United States and Western countries ignoring the social and stage of countries and regions in the Mediterranean region, Africa, and the Middle East and Central Asian countries, blindly export their ideology, and driven by the amplification effect of the Internet, this process of collapse has been accelerated.
A terrorist organization such as ISIS has harnessed the great potentials offered by the Internet, and as such, it laid the foundation for the large-scale development of ISIS’s information warfare. First of all, the Islamic State has established a professional public relations organization, responsible for producing and disseminating content. ISIS has its homepage and accounts on major social networking sites, and even has multi-layered sub-accounts, thereby evading censorship. They launched DABIQ, an attractively designed online magazine with extremely provocative content, and developed a smartphone app called Dawn of Glad Tidings, focusing on the Western “high-end customer base” as their target group to inform them of the latest “news of jihad in real-time”. In addition, the Islamic State has also launched the online game, which creates scenarios for players to attack the U.S. military, police, and civilians, and rewards criminal acts and even terrorist attacks in the game.
Today, ISIS can be seen almost on all social media platforms and is accessible in Western countries. It has thousands of accounts on Twitter alone, including both organized public accounts and terrorist personal accounts. ISIS is proficient in the so-called “viral marketing” model in information warfare. Through the user’s network, the information spreads like a virus and spreads to thousands of audiences using rapid replication. The organizer clearly achieves the word-of-mouth “relationship marketing” by providing a certain product or service, allowing others to become “marketing and communication levers” inadvertently.
ISIS is often far more professional and sensitive than the government departments of various countries that hold the power of national governance. It has long been keenly aware of the evolution of political discourse from propaganda to information dissemination in contemporary society, and this trend is one of the keys that is enabling it to lead public opinion. Traditional propaganda methods such as sermons and speeches, obviously, lack interaction with the target audience. Therefore, ISIS encourages followers to use various websites as platforms to establish various forms of “self-media”. ISIS also cultivate Internet influencers to encourage netizens to create audio messages, videos and even websites. As ISIS cleverly hides its ambitions behind high-level productions and attractive propaganda, more and more people in the West, especially young people, have been successfully brainwashed, are actively participating in the dissemination of ISIS-related information, even going to the Middle East to become jihadists on the battlefield and gain the satisfaction of realizing their supposed self-worth.
This kind of information warfare was so successful that in 2016, the official website of Tsinghua University in China was hacked by ISIS hackers where ISIS recruitment advertisements were posted. In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has found cases where teenagers as young as 15 years old were recruited by ISIS, and in some cases in the United States, parents even encouraged their children to participate in terrorist organizations. In fact, the information warfare of ISIS is very active and successful not only in Western countries but also in Turkey and Syria. As a result, ISIS has obtained the human resources of thousands of sacrificial young people.
The information society and the Internet have created a huge imbalance for the future world, making this world an unbalanced world and a world in transition. The formation of various transnational virtual organizations is now possible using simple network tools. This also means that terrorist organizations like ISIS cannot theoretically be eliminated at all. They can easily evolve into virtualized organizations that exist everywhere and can be found by search engines at any time due to the ubiquity of the information society and the Internet.
They will continue to grow, gain popularity, and evolve into a new type of network-based anti-government organization. Terrorist organizations of various types have shifted their focus from the real world to the virtual world, and then back again. This is the enormous governance challenge that the information society will undoubtedly face in the future.
Final analysis conclusion:
Although ISIS faces restrictions as it is a terrorist organization, it has used the information society and the Internet to launch successful information warfare and has achieved remarkable results worldwide. In an age of information asymmetry, simple and easy network tools have made it possible to establish a variety of transnational virtual organizations. This will pose a huge governance challenge to the future information society.
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