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Iran’s and Hezbollah’s missiles against Israel

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The “precision project” of Iranian missiles, especially the Zelzal model (where the word “zelzal” means earthquake in Farsi), currently operating in the Lebanon, has reached a severe critical point.

 The “Party of God” is currently the most important non-State military actor in the world, which is certainly even more powerful than the Lebanese army itself, with at least 30,000 full-time fighters and additional 25,000 reservists.

 All very well trained by the Iranian Pasdaran, who in 1982 founded the Party with a personal decision of Imam Khomeini.

 The Zelzal missiles (and those currently available to Hezbollah are above all the Zelzal 3) are solid propellant surface-to-surface missiles, a model officially created in 2007, with a stable range of over 250 kilometres.

 According to the Iranian and Lebanese governments, these missiles have a range between 180 and 250 kilometres; a length of 9,600 millimetres; a diameter of616 millimetres; a maximum weight of the armed warhead equal to 900 kilograms and an average margin of error at arrival lower than five metres. The propellant is the HTBP, an oligomer of butadiene having the following formula.

They have a maximum weight of 1,980 kilos and operate in a maximum of 20 seconds. Their maximum service cycle is seven years.

 For the time being, the Iranian project in the Lebanon – and only for Hezbollah-entails the turning of over 14,000 Zelzal2 and 3 into high-precision missiles.

 The missile infrastructure project can convert Zelzal-2 into high-precision missiles with a unit cost – over a few hours – of approximately 5,000-10,000 US dollars. An operation that Iran has been doing for some time, also for the Houthi guerrilla warfare in Yemen.

 Obviously, this fast rapid reconversion immediately endangers Israel’s commercial, intelligence and military networks in the Red Sea, but also directly all US bases in the Greater Middle East.

 Initially Iran tried to send these missiles to the Lebanon directly via Syria, along the Iraqi-Lebanese Shiite “corridor”. Israel, however, has long been carrying out many precise air raids, capable of making the old “corridor” from Iraq to the Lebanon – the real target of Iran’s war in Syria – completely unsafe and above all making also the production of Zelzal 2 and 3missiles in Syria ineffective.

 In response, Iran launched its own technical and intelligence operation, with a view to enabling the Zelzal 2 and 3 missiles already present in the Lebanon (which are currently estimated at approximately 14,000 units) to have an autonomous and advanced GPS (and also Russian GLONASS) guidance system.

 The most important parts of these missiles are still transported, obviously disassembled, from Iran and Iraq to the Lebanon, in Hezbollah’s covert factories, both by land – in the parallel network of the Iraqi-Lebanese “corridor” – and by air from Syria, using the private commercial lines owned by the Pasdaran.

 When the missiles arrive in the Lebanese factories in the hands of Hezbollah (and the Iranian Pasdaran) – often located underground – the Zelzal 2 and 3missiles are upgraded in their intermediate control and command sector. A system is installed for GPS guidance or for the Russian satellite system, a new integrated command and control system. All this basically regards the turning of a Zelzal 2 into a new Fateh 110 missile.

 The Fateh 110 is precisely a short-range Iranian missile, usable on land-based mobile launchers, always with solid propellant.

 Probably it also incorporates Chinese-made guidance systems and has, however, a length of 8.86 metres; a diameter of 0.61 metres; a weight at launch of 3,450 kilos and a maximum charge of 500 kilos, as well as a maximum operating range of 300 kilometres.

 It is not yet completely clear how many Zelzal 2missiles turned into Fateh 110 are now available to Hezbollah, but it is thought that the “Party of God” currently has approximately 150 high-precision missiles.

 However, the Lebanese Zelzal 2missiles not yet upgraded are supposed to be 14,000.

 It should be recalled that Hezbollah has already attacked with missiles the refinery in Haifa – fortunately without repeating the 1947 massacre – some Israeli air bases, the areas near the nuclear reactor of Dimona, and the Kirya military base of the Israeli Armed Forces, as well as the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

 Hence, this is the problem: while it is certainly true that Israel has the maximum coverage at missile level, it is equally true that absolute protection is no longer possible.

 It is therefore tragically probable that, in the future, the Israeli Defence may be forced to choose between the protection of critical infrastructure and the protection of the most populated centres.

 The best strategic solution for Israel can be a direct preventive attack into the Lebanon, which would lead to a full outbreak with the Lebanon, but also with Syria, with the Sunni groups operating there, with Iran and with a share of Shiite militants from Iraq already stationing on the Bekaa-Golan border.

One of the current Israeli strategies, however, is to maintain a focus of international attention and intelligence on Hezbollah’s missiles and to disclose, at the same time, much accurate intelligence data, capable of assessing and checking the danger of this new composition of forces on the Israeli borders.

 Incidentally, however, are we really sure that Iran wants to start destroying the Jewish State – just for mere silly anti-Semitic madness – thus setting the region on fire to finally do a favour probably only to its Sunni enemies?

 As well as eventually favour a complete clash with the Iranian interests in the Lebanon and Syria of the Western forces, which would easily enter from a destabilized Israel into Iran?

  If only the Europeans were less foolish, they could also put credible pressure on Hezbollah, thus letting Hariri’s new government – that still appears friendly to Westerners -know that all this is a clear and very severe violation of the UN Resolution n. 1701.

 A pressure capable of forcing also the Russian Federation and China to become milder and more reasonable.

 Certainly, the situation is increasingly complex.

  As already said, Hezbollah owns approximately 140,000 Iranian-made missiles, hidden in private houses on the Lebanese border with Israel. According to the statistics of the last conflict between the “Party of God” and Israel in 2006, at least 14,000 of them, which are certainly Zelzal 2 and 3 missiles, can be launched at a rate between 180 and 1,200 per day.

 Obviously, the saturation of launches from the Lebanon is capable of causing damage against resources or forces, which could jeopardize Israel’s military response and its internal social stability.

 As already said, currently Hezbollah’s “precision project” is organized directly by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

 Considering Israel’s internal structure, it is enough to hit some critical infrastructure (airports, including the civilian ones, factories, inhabited centres) and the more accurate missiles are, the fewer they are needed to achieve seriously destructive effects.

 It should be recalled, however, that Hezbollah has also SCUD 2 missiles available, always deployed in the Lebanon, which are supposed to have an operating range between 200 and 400 kilometres.

 The “Party of God” also bought from Bashar al-Assad’s Syria some M-600 Tishreen missiles, the Syrian version of the already mentioned Fateh 110,with different guidance and control systems.

 The GPS accuracy of missiles, however, is critical for their strategic effects.

 Precision missiles are such especially because they have a low Circular Error Probability (CEP).

 CEPis the radius of the circle that should enclose 50% of the points of arrival of the missiles launched.

 Hence the lower the CEP, the fewer missiles are needed to destroy a target.

 The missiles with GPS and GLONASS systems reach their target through inertial mechanisms.

 The main coordinates of the target are entered into the missile, at the time of launch, via laptop.

 GPS and GLONASS systems use accelerometers and gyroscopes that move wings and external supports on the missile surface. With immediate feedback on the route and the amount of inertia-fuel that is evaluated immediately and automatically by the missile itself.

 The solid propellant engine, however, lasts about 30 seconds and then the missile is driven by inertia.

 Corrections to the route are possible until the time of impact.

 All these Iranian missiles available to Hezbollah, however, are mobile by road.

 The non-negligible size of the missile makes it liable, for a short period, to be hit before the launch, but it is certainly a particularly difficult operation.

 The Zelzal 2 and Fateh 110missiles are similar and hence their refitting with GPS or GLONASS systems is relatively simple and entails small additional parts which are easy to transfer.

 It should be noted once again that Iran uses both the Western GPS and the Russian Glonass as satellite sensor.

 Just 2-3 hours per missile are enough to turn an old Zelzal into a precision missile, i.e. the time needed to replace the guidance system, the new surface fins and the inertial control system.

 Some hundreds of Lebanese militants for the Hezbollah missile system are trained in a special section of the Imam Husseyn University in Tehran, the official university of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but only to upgrade the missiles, and many of the “Party of God” have already returned to the Lebanon.

 Spare parts and materials are sent to Syria and the Lebanon by land or by air, with the formally civilian airlines owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

 The new parts are stored and checked especially in the warehouses of Damascus airport, but the Syrian factories of missile parts have all been placed under the Pasdaran direct control since December 2016.

 Hence the Hezbollah logic is probably that the more missiles – even low-precision ones – are available, less possible will be for Israel to choose a preventive strategy of destruction of the arsenals before they are used.

 How much damage can such a missile -upgraded by Iran for the Lebanese Shiites – do?

 The Fateh 110missile has a 100-metre CEP and can hence destroy a standard target with a 75% probability rate.

 For urban targets in highly populated areas the Fateh 110 CEP decreases further.

 Israel is small and densely populated, with a very high distribution of critical targets between resident population and urban systems.

 Particularly important centres are located very close to each other, in an area that, on average, is about 20 kilometres wide and 100 metres deep.

 Israel has 20 energy production areas, three commercial ports and a large international airport.

 It has also the military bases of Palmahim, Tel Nof, Nevatimand Hatzor, as well as Dimona, the Haifa refinery, and the  IDF headquarters in the centre of Tel Aviv.

 The operational coverage of Hezbollah’s missile factories in the Lebanon is also varied: under a football field, just north of the Beirut airport, near the Uza’i canal and in many private houses, often of individuals not reported as Shiite militants.

 There are also Lebanese missile depots in Latakia – right near the Russian positions and, probably, in such a way as to make them also the target of an Israeli counter-operation –as well as in Safita, Hisya and, as already mentioned, in Damascus.

 It should be recalled, however, that all Israeli air raids against the launch sites, factories and areas for upgrading Hezbollah’s Iranian missiles – starting from the one of November 2017 in Hisya to the one on Jamaraya, in February 2018, until the operation on Latakia of September 2018- were carried out by Israel in full agreement with the Russian Federation.

  Nevertheless, unlike what happened in Syria, Israel has still no intention of carrying out stable preventive actions on the Lebanese territory, in a region that could quickly trigger off a major conflict with Syria, Iran, the Sunni groups and many others.

 In terms of protection and missile response, Israel can still count on the Iron Dome, a network of sensors and early warning missile batteries, with additional advanced mortar batteries – operational since 2012 – but above all operating against the old Qassam or Soviet Katiusce rockets.

 It works optimally for targets around 70-100 kilometres.

 Since 2017 Israel has also been operating David’s Sling, a medium range and medium-high charge missile network, operating up to 300 kilometres, which is useful precisely against the Fateh 110, the Zelzal 2 and 3missiles, as well as against the Syrian M-600 missiles, including those upgraded with the Iranian GPS-GLONASS. Israel also owns the Arrow 2 network, with ballistic missiles having a long range of over 200 kilometres, which has been operating since 2000. Finally, since 2017 Israel has also been operating Arrow 3, a network of sensors and missiles with a range over 200 kilometres and spatial guidance in their final trajectory phase.

 However, there is still a problem.

 The anti-missile networks, even the most specialized and modern such as the Israeli ones, can be quickly saturated by a very high rate of almost simultaneous launches and by missile decoding actions in flight, which can blind or otherwise limit the full anti-missile response.

 While it is true that Israel has no difficulty in selecting missiles targeted to critical areas of its territory, or those targeted to irrelevant areas, it is equally true that the interceptors are extremely expensive to be placed on site, infinitely more expensive than the missiles they have to intercept, especially if they are short-range missiles.

 Hence, in a tragic future, the Jewish State might be forced to choose to defend only the critical infrastructure, thus leaving some populated centres overexposed.

 A politically suicidal choice for any government.

 Obviously,an unavoidable option for Israel will also be to bring the war – probably not just the air one – into the Lebanon, with evident cascading effects for all the forces present in the region.

Therefore it is fully rational that the Israeli government has made the choice of creating a new IDF “missile Corps” to  specifically face this new type of threat, which will come  from the North, but also from the South, from the Gaza Strip and, possibly, from the jihadist networks now controlling the Sinai region.

 Iran’s technology in the field of missile precision guidance, however, comes from the US Paveway IV (CEP 15 metres, 70,000 US dollars per missile), which is a missile incorporating a dual communication system, carrying out anti-jamming activity on the GPS network (but not on GLONASS), and a semi-active laser guidance.

 Currently Great Britain uses the Brimstone, with a CEP lower than one metre and a particularly advanced laser guidance system.

 Great Britain has also the Exactor 2 available, a multirole missile with a 30-kilometre range.

 A system that is almost completely automated.

 All technologies also available to Iran.

 The fast reverse engineering of the allied and Western materials found in Syria worked miracles for Iran.

 According to Israeli sources, the cost of the new Iranian project on precision missiles in the Lebanon should total 17 billion US dollars, all invested in Hezbollah’s networks only.

 Currently the final unit cost per missile is expected to be 10,000 US dollars.

 As disclosed by various intelligence sources, however, the Lebanese program still has only 250 missiles already operational, as demonstrated by the documentary film produced by the Lebanese Shiite group, which shows an IDF border patrol, the 401th armoured brigade, hit in an accident occurred four years ago.

 It is strange: the Israeli patrol had an M4 Windbreaker tank available, which has a significant passive and active anti-missile defence. Hence Hezbollah, however, has correctly inferred that Israel has currently the ability to send units by land to the Lebanese territory to bring the confrontation to  the Lebanese Shiite region.

 Which is exactly what Hezbollah does not want at all.

 Both the Israeli military services and the Israeli Armed Forces, however, have explicitly stated that Hezbollah “has not yet the industrial capacity to turn the missiles supplied by Iran into precision missiles”.

 For the time being, however, the “Party of God” is supposed to have 90-250 missiles available, already prepared for high-precision actions.

 It is not what Iran and Hezbollah need to carry out the missile saturation operation they have in mind.

 It should also be considered that the “Party of God” normally fails at least 10% of launches, while currently the international standard is 4% for small and medium-sized missiles.

 Hence with 50% of the missiles stopped at departure or in flight by Israeli forces – as always happens – finally only 50 of the 250 missiles upgraded by Iran could be currently launched and become really dangerous for Israel.

 The political and strategic effect would remain anyway, considering the population density and the complexity of the Israeli defence and infrastructure system.

 Therefore the problem is not solved anyway by waiting.

 Hence both Iran and Hezbollah have recently decided to confine the upgrade program only to the 14,000 Zelzal 2 missiles already present and operational, without updates, in the Lebanese Shiite group’s arsenal.

 Here again, however, there are many problems.

 New factories are needed, with a piece-by-piece process that turns a Zelzal 2 or 3 into a Fateh 110missile, which has a 300-kilometre range.

  Which is exactly what the Iranian and Lebanese Shiites need in the first missile salvo.

 Nevertheless, while Iran has already produced4,000 new high-precision missiles in the above mentioned university research centres in Tehran, so far only 1,000 have safely reached the Lebanon.

 Another problem for Hezbollah and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the inevitably significant areas needed to upgrade the missiles both in Syria and in the Lebanon.

 All areas already hit by Israeli attacks that, however, are still limited and well-known.

The few factories that have recently been operational in Syria and the Lebanon have already been hit by Israeli air strikes.

 Hence, for the time being, Hezbollah has solved the problem by distributing the missiles to be upgraded to small and widespread factories, located throughout Southern Lebanon, and the few ones still existing in Syria.

 This means that the process for upgrading the missiles becomes slower, more difficult and hence less qualitatively significant.

 Therefore, the previously mentioned costs increase proportionately to the difficulties of technical upgrading. Hence, if the upgraded missiles cost at least 11,000 US dollars each, the total technological upgrade of Hezbollah’s missiles will be worth at least 145 million US dollars.

 Therefore, everything is resolved in the standard time needed for the Iranian upgrade and for Israeli response and certainly for a new possible indirect agreement between Israeli and Syria, not mediated – today, as in the 1990s – by the United States.

 A tacit agreement that is worth, today, in a framework of agreements between Syria itself, which got its grip on the Lebanon and currently cannot hold it any longer, and Israel itself, which could accept – after a credible threat on Hezbollah- a Russian or even US mediation on the current equilibria in the Lebanon.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Conspiracy Theories, Fake News and Disinformation: Why There’s So Much of It and What We Can Do About it

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In March 2019, under the aegis of the United States Department of State, a group of researchers released a report called “Weapons of Mass Distraction: Foreign State-Sponsored Disinformation in the Digital Age.” The report mostly focused on foreign states’ propaganda, disinformation and fake news. Taking into account the upcoming US elections, the report can provide practical recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders.

The report begins with a horrific story broadcasted on the Russian state-owned “Channel One” in 2014. The story covered how Ukrainian soldiers crucified a child in front of its mother’s eyes. Later, this story was proved to be fake, and there was neither a killed child, nor shocked mother. Still, the story went viral. It had reached a much broader audience on social mediathan it did on television.

The authors refer to that story as “an example of Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign.” The authors of the report continued to state that “in subsequent years, similar tactics would again be unleashed by the Kremlin on other foreign adversaries, including the United States during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.”

Undoubtedly, the fake story did a lot of damage to the reputation of Channel One and other state-funded media. It is clear why authors begin with that story — it was poorly done, obviously faked and quickly exposed. However, it showed how effective and powerful social media could be (despite all of the reputation risks). There is also an important point highlighted in the report, particularly that “the use of modern-day disinformation does not start and end with Russia. A growing number of states, in the pursuit of geopolitical ends, are leveraging digital tools and social media networks to spread narratives, distortions, and falsehoods to shape public perceptions and undermine trust in the truth.” We are used to research, dedicated to propaganda and fake news issues, that establishes only Russia is responsible for disinformation and fake news. This report, on the other hand, addresses propaganda and disinformation as a comprehensive problem.

In the introduction, the authors claim that disinformation is a problem that consists of two major factors: technology giants and their impact and the psychological element of how people consume information on the Internet. Technology giants have disrupted disinformation and propaganda, and the proliferation of social media platforms made the information ecosystem vulnerable to foreign, state-sponsored actors. “The intent [of bad foreign actors] is to manipulate popular opinion to sway policy or inhibit action by creating division and blurring the truth among the target population.”

Another important aspect of disinformation highlighted in the report is the abuse of fundamental human biases and behaviour. The report states that “people are not rational consumers of information. They seek swift, reassuring answers and messages that give them a sense of identity and belonging.” The statement is proved by the research showing that, on average, a false story reaches 1 500 people six times more quickly than a factual account. And indeed, conspiracy stories have become something usual these days. We see it has become even more widespread during the current pandemic — 5G towers, Bill Gates and “evil Chinese scientists” who supposedly invented the coronavirus became scapegoats. And there are a lot more paranoid conspiracy stories spreading on the Internet.

What is the solution? Authors do not blame any country, tech giants or the behavior of people. Rather the opposite, they suggest that the solution should be complex: “the problem of disinformation is therefore not one that can be solved through any single solution, whether psychological or technological. An effective response to this challenge requires understanding the converging factors of technology, media, and human behaviours.”

Define the Problem First

What is the difference between fake news and disinformation? How does disinformation differ from misinformation? It is a rather rare occasion that reports give a whole chapter dedicated to terminology. And the report “The Weapons of Mass Distraction” definitely provides readers with a vast theoretical background. Authors admit that there are a lot of definitions, and it is difficult to ascribe the exact parameters to disinformation. However, it states that “misinformation is generally understood as the inadvertent sharing of false information that is not intended to cause harm, just as disinformation is widely defined as the purposeful dissemination of false information.”

Psychological Factors

As it was mentioned in the beginning, authors do not attach labels and do not focus on one side of the problem. A considerable part of the report is dedicated to psychological factors of disinformation. The section helps readers understand behavioural patterns of how humans consume information, why it is easy to fall for a conspiracy theory, and how to use this information to prevent the spread of disinformation.

The findings are surprising. There are several cognitive biases that make disinformation easy to flourish. And the bad news is that there is little we can do about it.

First of all, confirmation bias and selective exposure lead people to prefer information that confirms their preexisting beliefs make information consistent with one’s preexisting beliefs more persuasive. Moreover, confirmation bias and selective exposure work together with other naïve realism that “leads individuals to believe that their perception of reality is the only accurate view and that those who disagree are simply uninformed or irrational.”

In reality, these cognitive biases are widely used by tech giants. That doesn’t mean that there is a conspiracy theory behind it. That means that it is easy for big tech companies to sell their products using so-called “filter bubbles.” Such a bubble is an algorithm that selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behaviour and search history. Filter bubbles work well on such websites like YouTube. A Wall Street Journal investigation found that YouTube’s recommendations often lead users to channels that feature conspiracy theories, partisan viewpoints and misleading videos, even when those users haven’t shown interest in such content.

These days, the most popular way to counter misinformation is fact-checking and debunking the false information. In the report, the researchers presented some evidence that the methods we are used to employing, may not be that effective. “Their analysis determined that users are more active in sharing unverified rumours than they are in later sharing that these rumours were either debunked or verified. The veracity of information, therefore, appears to matter little. A related study found that even after individuals were informed that a story had been misrepresented, more than a third still shared the story.”

The other research finding is that “participants who perceived the media and the word “news” negatively were less likely than others to identify a fake headline and less able to distinguish news from opinion or advertising.” Obviously, there is a reason for that. It’s a lack of trust. The public has low trust towards journalists as a source of information about the coronavirus, says the latest research. Additionally, according to the American Press Institute, only 43 per cent of people said they could easily distinguish factual news from opinion in online-only news or social media. Thus, the majority of people can hardly distinguish news from opinions in a time when trust towards journalism is at its historical minimum. It is therefore no surprise that people perceive news that negatively.

This can have implications for news validation. The report states it can differ from country to country. “Tagging social media posts as “verified” may work well in environments where trust in news media is relatively high (such as Spain or Germany), but this approach may be counterproductive in countries where trust in news media is much lower (like Greece).

A vast research basis also reveals the following essential findings. First, increasing online communities’ exposure to different viewpoints is rather counterproductive. The research presented in the report found that conservative people become more conservative and liberals become more liberal.

Second, the phenomenon called belief perseverance, which is the inability of people to change their minds even after being shown new information, means that facts can matter little in the face of strong social and emotional dynamics.

Third, developing critical thinking skills and increasing media literacy may also be counterproductive or have minimal use. Research shows us that “many consumers of disinformation already perceive themselves as critical thinkers who are challenging the status quo.” Moreover, even debunking false messages cannot be that effective. Showing corrective information did not always reduce the participant’s belief in misinformation. Besides, “consumers of fake news were presented with a fact-check, they almost never read it.”

What can be done here? Authors provide the reader with a roadmap for countering misleading information. Although the roadmap, which is also based on researches, can have very limited use, according to the report.

The main idea is to be proactive. While debunking false messages, developing critical thinking, and other tools have minimal potential, some psychological interventions can help in building resilience against disinformation. Authors compare disinformation and misinformation as a disease, and they propose we need a vaccine that builds resilience to a virus. This strategy means that people should be warned “that they may be exposed to information that challenges their beliefs, before presenting a weakened example of the (mis)information and refuting it.”

Another aspect of the roadmap is showing different perspectives, “which allows people to understand and overcome the cognitive biases that may render them adversarial toward opposing ideas.” According to the authors, this approach should focus less on the content of one’s thoughts and more on their structure. The fact that certain factors can make humans susceptible to disinformation can also be used as part of the solution.

What About the Tech Giants?

The authors admit that social media platforms should be playing a central role to neutralize online disinformation. Despite the fact that tech giants demonstrated their willingness to address disinformation, their incentives are not always prioritized to limit disinformation. Moreover, their incentives are aligned with spreading more of it because of its business model. “Users are more likely to click on or share sensational and inaccurate content; increasing clicks and shares translates into greater advertising revenue. The short-term incentives, therefore, are for the platforms to increase, rather than decrease, the amount of disinformation their users see.”

The technological section of the report is split into three parts dedicated to three tech companies — Facebook, Twitter and Google. While the report focuses on what companies have already done to counter disinformation, we will highlight only the recommendations and challenges that still remain.

Despite all the incentives that have been implemented by Facebook in recent years, the social media platform still remains vulnerable for disinformation. The main vulnerability is behind its messaging apps. WhatsApp has been a great source of disinformation during the Rohingya crisis in 2018 and during the Brazilian presidential elections in the same year. The second vulnerability lies in third-party fact-checking services staffed by human operators. Human operators are struggling to handle the volume of the content: “fake news can easily go viral in the time between its creation and when fact-checkers are able to manually dispute the content and adjust its news feed ranking.”

Despite all the vulnerabilities, including a colossal bot network, Twitter became more influential in countering the threat using such technologies like AI. The question of how proactive the company will be countering the threat still remains. Yet, Twitter now uses best practices, according to the report.

With its video-sharing platform YouTube and ad platform, YouTube might be the most vulnerable platform. The website, with its personalized recommendation algorithm (filter bubbles), has faced strong criticism for reinforcing the viewers’ belief that the conspiracy is, in fact, real. However, YouTube announced in 2019 that it would adjust its algorithms to reduce recommendations of misleading content.

However, it is not just the tech giants who should take responsibility for disinformation. According to the report, it’s countries who should bear the ultimate responsibility for “defending their nations against this kind of disinformation.” Yet, since the situation is still in private hands, what can the government do here?

For example, they could play a more significant role in engaging in regulating social media companies. According to the report, it doesn’t mean total control of social media companies. However, authors admit that this solution may have some implications for possible restriction of freedom of speech and outright censorship, and there is no easy and straightforward way to solve this complex problem.

What can we do about it? According to the report, technology will change, but the problem will not be solved within the next decade. And the fact is, we should learn how to live with the disinformation. At the same time, public policies should focus on mitigating disastrous consequences while maintaining civil liberties, freedom of expression and privacy.

The report provides readers with quite a balanced approach to the problem. While other research projects attach labels on countries or technologies, the authors of the report “Weapons of Mass Distraction” admit the solution will not be easy. It is a complex problem that will require a complex solution.

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Engaging with Local Stakeholders to Improve Maritime Security and Governance

Michael Van Ginkel

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Illicit activity in the maritime domain takes place within a complex cultural, physical, and political environment. When dialogue is initiated with a diverse range of stakeholders, policy recommendations can take into account region-specific limitations and opportunities. As noted in the Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas maritime security report, sectors like fisheries, coastal welfare, and maritime security are intrinsically linked, making engagement with a diverse range of local stakeholders a necessity. This collaborative approach is essential to devising efficient and sustainable solutions to maritime challenges. Engagement with local stakeholders helps policymakers discover where in these self-reinforcing cycles additional legislation or enforcement would have the greatest positive impact. Political restrictions against pursuing foreign fishing trawlers in Bangladesh, for example, have allowed the trawlers to target recovering populations of hilsa while local artisanal fishers suffer. In the context of the Philippines, the Stable Seas program and the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation recently conducted a workshop that highlighted the importance of consistent stakeholder engagement, resulting in a policy brief entitled A Pathway to Policy Change: Improving Philippine Fisheries, Blue Economy, and Maritime Law Enforcement in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Physical Environment

Consistent communication with local stakeholders on regional anomalies allows policymakers to modify initiatives to adjust for the physical, cultural, and political context of a maritime issue. The physical environment affects how, where, and why illicit actors operate in the maritime domain. Knowledge held by local stakeholders about uninhabited coastlines, local currents, and the locations of important coastal communities helps policymakers find recognizable patterns in the locations and frequency of maritime incidents. The 36,289 km of coastline in the Philippine archipelago means that almost 60 percent of the country’s municipalities and cities border the sea. The extensive coastline and high levels of maritime traffic make monitoring coastal waters and achieving maritime domain awareness difficult for maritime law enforcement agencies. A Pathway to Policy Change outlines several recommendations by regional experts on ways to improve maritime domain awareness despite limitations imposed by a complex physical environment. The experts deemed collaboration with local government and land-based authorities an important part of addressing the problem. By engaging with stakeholders working in close proximity to maritime areas, policymakers can take into account their detailed knowledge of local environmental factors when determining the method and motive behind illicit activity.

Cultural Environment

Culture shapes how governments respond to non-traditional maritime threats. Competition and rivalry between maritime law enforcement agencies can occur within government structures. A clearer understanding of cultural pressures exerted on community members can help policymakers develop the correct response. Strong ties have been identified between ethnic groups and insurgency recruiting grounds in Mindanao. The Tausug, for instance, tend to fight for the MNLF while the MILF mostly recruits from the Maguindanaons and the Maranao. Without guidance from local stakeholders familiar with cultural norms, correlations could be left unnoticed or the motivations for joining insurgency movements could be misconstrued as being based solely on extremist or separatist ideology. Local stakeholders can offer alternative explanations for behavioral patterns that policymakers need to make accommodations for.

Political Environment

Local stakeholder engagement allows policymakers to work on initiatives that can accommodate limitations imposed by the political environment. Collaboration with local stakeholders can provide information on what government resources, in terms of manpower, capital, and equipment, are available for use. Stakeholders also provide important insights into complex political frameworks that can make straightforward policy implementation difficult. Understanding where resource competition and overlapping jurisdiction exist enables policymakers to formulate more effective initiatives. Despite strong legislation regulating IUU fishing in the Philippines, local stakeholders have pointed out that overlapping jurisdictions have created exploitable gaps in law enforcement. In A Pathway to Policy Change, local experts suggested that the government should lay down an executive order to unify mandates in the fisheries sector to address the issue. Similarly, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is highlighted as a region that heavily influences maritime security in the Sulu and Celebes seas. Working with government officials to understand how policy initiatives need to adjust for the region’s semi-autonomous status ensures maritime issues are properly addressed. BARMM, for instance, issues fishing permits for its own waters in addition to government permits, which can cause inconsistencies. Working alongside local stakeholders allows policymakers to create initiatives that take into account special circumstances within the political system.

Private Sector Engagement

Extending engagement with local stakeholders to the private sector is particularly important during both the policy research and implementation processes. Encouraging private stakeholders to actively help counter illicit activity can help policymakers create a more sustainable and efficient solution to security threats. As A Pathway to Policy Change highlights, private companies already have a strong incentive from a business perspective to involve themselves in environmental and social issues. Governments can encourage further involvement of private stakeholders like blue economy businesses and fishers by offering tax breaks and financial compensation for using sustainable business practices and for helping law enforcement agencies gather information on illicit activity. Offering financial rewards to members of the Bantay Dagat program in the Philippines, for example, would encourage more fishers to participate. Governments can also double down on educational programs to raise awareness of important issues threatening local economic stability. By communicating consistently with local stakeholders, policymakers can both more accurately identify maritime security needs and more comprehensively address them.

Conclusion

The unique physical, cultural, and political context in which maritime issues take place makes the knowledge of local stakeholders an invaluable asset. While many important types of information can be collected without working closely with stakeholders, there are also innumerable important aspects of any given context which cannot be quantified and analyzed from afar. Engagement with stakeholders provides a nuanced understanding of more localized and ephemerial factors that affect regional maritime security. Engaging with local stakeholders allows policymakers to capitalize on opportunities and circumvent limitations created by the political, cultural, and physical environment surrounding maritime issues in order to create sustainable, long-term solutions.

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Intelligence

Turkey Faced With Revolt Among Its Syrian Proxies Over Libyan Incursion

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Relations between Turkey and Syrian armed groups that used to be considered cordial due to massive support provided by the Turkish authorities to the Syrian opposition are rapidly deteriorating over Turkey’s incursion into the Libyan conflict, according to sources among the Syrian militants fighting in Libya.

Last month, over 2,000 fighters defected from Sultan Murad Division, one of the key armed factions serving the Turkish interests in Syria. The group’s members chose to quit after they were ordered to go to Libya to fight on the side of the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). This marks a drastic shift in the attitude of the Syrian fighters towards participation in the Libyan conflict: just a few months ago there was no shortage of mercenaries willing to fly to Libya via Turkey for a lucrative compensation of $2,000 – 5,000 and a promise of Turkish citizenship offered by Ankara.

Both promises turned out to be an exaggeration, if not a complete lie. The militants who traveled to Libya got neither the money nor the citizenship and other perks that were promised to them, revealed a fighter of Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction Zein Ahmad. Moreover, he pointed out that after the fighters arrived in Libya they were immediately dispatched to Tripoli, an arena of regular clashes between GNA forces and units of the Libyan National Army despite Turkish promises of tasking them with maintaining security at oil facilities.

Data gathered by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights shows that around 9,000 members of Turkey-backed Syrian armed factions are currently fighting in Libya, while another 3,500 men are undergoing training in Syria and Turkey preparing for departure. Among them are former members of terror groups such as Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, as confirmed by reports of capture of a 23-years-old HTS fighter Ibrahim Muhammad Darwish by the LNA forces. Another example is an ISIS terrorist also captured by the LNA who confessed that he was flown in from Syria via Turkey.

By sending the Syrian fighters to Libya Ankara intended to recycle and repurpose these groups for establishing its influence without the risks and consequences of a large-scale military operation involving major expenses and casualties among Turkish military personnel. However, the recent developments on the ground show that this goal was not fully achieved.

The Syrian fighters sustain heavy casualties due to the lack of training and weaponry. Total count of losses among the Turkey-backed groups reached hundreds and continue to grow as GNA and LNA clash with intermittent success. Until Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan curbs his ambition, destructive nature of involvement of the Syrian armed groups in Libya may result in the downfall of Turkey’s influence over the Syrian opposition.

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