The year 2019 witnessed the rout of the Islamic Caliphate – the pseudo-state entity created on the territories of Iraq and Syria by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a.k.a. the Islamic State or IG, ISIL, Daesh (Arabic), a terrorist group outlawed in the Russian Federation.
On March 1, 2019, just three or four years after the Islamic Caliphate terrorized the entire world, Kurdish units of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria launched an offensive to flush out 500 jihadist fighters holed up in the city of Baguz, ISIL’s last stronghold in the country.
Does this mean that Islamist terrorism is now done for?
During the first decade of the 21st century, ISIL emerged as the biggest threat to international security and world order. On June 29, 2014 ISIL terrorists announced the creation of an Islamic Caliphate with claims to global domination.
As seen on the map , the Islamic Caliphate, comprising numerous provinces, was to extend from China to the Atlantic Ocean, and from Central Europe and Siberia all the way down to equatorial Africa. The Caliphate encompasses all Muslim states without exception, including Iran and non-Muslim Israel, the territories “occupied by infidels,” as well as the whole of the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, the Caliphate lays claims to Western Asia and Europe, including Spain, the Balkans, Romania and Austria.
The Islamic Caliphate went on to make the Syrian city of Raqqa its de-facto capital in 2014.
Although still far from achieving global dominion, the jihadists started building the basis of their future Islamic Caliphate by enslaving between 8 million and 10 million people in the occupied territories of Iraq and Syria, and virtually annihilating Syrian and Iraqi Christians, Yezidis, Shiites and Kurds.
In addition to Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State and its affiliates controlled parts of Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
ISIL also used its substantial financial resources to increase the number of “sleeper” terrorist cells in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Indonesia, the Philippines, the North Caucasus and various European countries.
During its criminal heyday in 2014-2017, ISIL was one of the most numerous and well-armed terrorist groups in the Middle East, boasting over 100,000 fighters active mainly in Syria and Iraq.
Add to these 27,000 to 31,000 mercenaries from 86 countries who, according to the Soufan Group analytical center, fought in the ranks of this terrorist organization.
Equally noteworthy is the distribution of foreign ISIL militants by region and country (2016 – 2017):
|Former Soviet republics||8,717|
|Near and Middle East||7,054|
|Maghreb countries (North Africa)||5,356|
|South and Southeast Asia||1,568|
Countries –main suppliers of fighters for ISIL:
Equally noteworthy is data pertaining to the number of ISIL mercenaries from former Soviet republics (2015)
ISIL owes its temporary success in Iraq and Syria to these countries’ weak militaries, the seizure of their arsenals of advanced US-supplied weapons, and to the considerable financial resources looted from Iraqi banks.
And also to its militants’ religious fanaticism, the professional skills of former Iraqi and Syrian military officers who joined ISIL, to foreign mercenaries, the cruel and fear-instilling daily activities of this quasi-state, the ideological brainwashing of jihadist fighters and to professionally organized advocacy work.
ISIL’s bloody and ruthless way of dealing with opponents and the medieval laws it imposed on its subjects shocked the world. Even the ill-famed al-Qaeda that ISIL spun off from has come out against its “daughter,” with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri officially announcing in February 2014 that he did not recognize ISIL as a member of his group.
In their effort to secure the locals’ support, ISIL members tried, within the framework of their quasi-state, to restore the cities’ economic life by rebuilding their war-ravaged infrastructure. Imitating state authority, they paid salaries and benefits to the unemployed, collected taxes and paid monthly salaries of $700 to their militants. At the same time, in their brutal imposition of Islamist medieval order, they surpassed even the Afghan Taliban.
Propaganda and PR feature prominently in the ISIL leaders’ activity.
ISIL has “revolutionized” the field of online promotion of jihadist ideology by creating a powerful social movement and recruiting thousands of fighters from around the world, Russia included, through a web of social networks alone.
According to Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, director of the Center for Analysis and Conflict Prevention, a leading expert on the North Caucasus, ISIL created a highly professional and ramified propaganda machine for recruiting online, consisting of “central” media organizations, such as Al-Furqan and al-Hayat, and “regional” ones. In addition, the AMAQ News agency provides coverage for the Caliphate’s military operations and its everyday life even without having the status of its “official” media outlet.
Propagandists enjoy a privileged status in ISIL. According to the propaganda researcher IG Charles Winter, during the organization’s halcyon days (2014–2015), spin doctors were paid seven times as much as regular fighters.
Since its outset, ISIL has put out over 41,000 media releases, with an additional 2.3 billion releases made by its supporters (The New York Times).
“The loss of territory, resources, the retreat and evacuation of fighters, compounded by problems with the Internet has significantly reduced the flow of jihadist propaganda,” Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya writes.
“Daesh will not be able to maintain the previous level and quality of its propaganda materials any time soon. Realizing that with the loss of its ideological machine the whole project of the Islamic Caliphate will eventually be doomed, the ISIL leadership is adapting to new realities with affected references to a high mission now making way for more down-to-earth calls for one-off attacks with knives and axes on unarmed people. This change of tactic began in late-2015, after security agencies of various countries had seriously complicated the process of bringing in new fighters to Syria. ISIL initially advised its supporters to look for workarounds, and later – to move to other “provinces” of the Caliphate. Finally, last year, ISIL said that those who could not reach the Caliphate proper should stage attacks back at home,” she continues.
This is an extremely important trend. Just as the Caliphate ceases to exist as a quasi-state, its subjects, who have survived the antiterrorist battles, remain. Islamist terrorism is taking a new shape.
The Islamic Caliphate created by ISIL is perhaps the highest organizational quasi-state form of modern-day Islamist terrorism. Terror (“Fear,” “horror” in Latin) was used by ISIL as a primary method of warfare. Therefore, it could be compared (in function, if not in scale) with Nazi Germany or militaristic Japan, where international terrorism was part of official state policy.
Even though chances of a complete reincarnation of either ISIL or the Islamic Caliphate are pretty slim, dangerous options thereof can’t be ruled out.
That terrorism is often used by non-state actors – whether left-wing, right-wing or nationalist – and religious groups, is well known. In the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of political parties and groups were known to have used terror in their work.Their activities covered virtually the whole world: from small settlements and countries to continents, and were often supervised and financed by individual states to achieve geostrategic ends.
It is highly probable that the routed ISIL will still be trying to preserve its remaining terrorist groups, rebrand old ones, and recruit new fighters. Moreover, what has remained of the Daesh forces will spread throughout the world.
As BBC columnist Frank Gardner writes, “At the recent Munich Security Conference, Alex Younger, the chief of Britain’s secret intelligence service (MI6) said this: “The military defeat of the ‘caliphate’ does not represent the end of the terrorist threat. We see it therefore morphing, spreading out… within Syria but also externally… This is the traditional shape of a terrorist organization.”
Speaking at the same event, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that ISIL was going deeper underground and building networks with other terrorist groups.
General Joseph Votel, who runs US Central Command, also said that even though the ISIL network is dispersed, pressure must be maintained or its components will have “the capability of coming back together if we don’t.”
Indeed, much of the ISIL militant force has not been destroyed and is now breaking up into small terrorist groups, which is only natural since ISIL is a plethora of jihadist groups fully capable of acting autonomously. .
With the rout of the Caliphate now a hard fact, ISIL is desperately looking for a way out of the situation. There are several such “exists” to speak of.
The first is the dispersal of jihadist fighters among the local population in Syria and Iraq, and the creation of “sleeper cells” waiting for an order to resume the fight.
A second option would be to redeploy militants to remote areas of Syria and Iraq, and the formation of guerilla units there.
Thirdly, this could be gradual infiltration into other countries where ISIL already has a base, or at least has supporters necessary for the organization to function further, perhaps under a different name, but with similar ideology and military-political doctrine. Primarily into Libya, where ISIL controls the cities of Derna, Nofalia, Sirt, and the Al-Mabrouk oil field. Moreover, in Libya, ISIL could become a third party in the ongoing confrontation between Tripoli and Tobruk.
In Afghanistan, ISIL has already become a third party in the long-running standoff between Kabul and the Taliban. However, the ongoing negotiations between the international community, primarily Russia and the US, with the Afghan Taliban (though in a separate format) could eventually ease tensions in that country which, in turn, would seriously undercut ISIL’s ability to influence the situation there.
In Egypt, local jihadists, taking orders from ISIL, control parts of the Sinai Peninsula.
Also, the Boko Haram group, which controls the north-east of Nigeria and is making inroads into neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has recently subordinated itself to ISIL.
There are certain opportunities now opening for ISIL also in Yemen, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another “exit” option could be the return of the remaining jihadist fighters to their home countries, either individually or as part of small but closely-knit groups.
In the wake of the Islamic Caliphate’s downfall, many militants have recently returned home. About 30 percent of the 5,000 ISIL fighters (1,500) happen to be EU citizens. Of these, 300 have returned to France, about 900 people – to the former Soviet republics (including 400 to Russia), 800 – to Tunisia, 760 – to Saudi Arabia, and 250 – to Jordan.
This process is characteristic of all 86 countries Islamist volunteers once set out from to defend the ideas of radical Islam.
Clearly, the presence of experienced and battle-hardened ISIL terrorists, sometimes even armed, in the countries of their current residence is dangerous, even disastrous for these and other countries’ security. Small wonder, therefore, that the world is getting increasingly aware of the real threat posed by this jihadist-terrorist contagion.
Religious leaders are united in their denunciation of Islamist terror.
Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Mufti Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh has branded the al-Qaeda and Islamic State jihadists the main enemies of Islam. He also quoted a verse from the Koran, which calls to kill the perpetrators of acts that “have a disastrous effect on Islam.” Any compromises with bloodthirsty fanatics are simply out of the question. They must be eliminated once and for all.
Pope Francis has approved the use of force against Islamist radicals. The Pontiff believes that coercive methods should be used to protect religious minorities from militants.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) has urged the entire world community to stand together against the “disgusting wave of violence” against Christians in the Middle East.
In Iraq, the Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has reiterated his call for the Iraqi people to resist ISIL militants.
Important as religious leaders’ rejection of terrorism and its perpetrators is, however, the same can hardly be said about the world community. Indeed, even in the midst of the fight against ISIL in Syria, the antiterrorist forces failed to present a shared understanding of the danger posed by their common enemy.
It is really unforgivable that a universally accepted definition of international terrorism has not yet been worked out. The term is often used as an instrument of political struggle, because each country actually decides for itself whether a certain group is “terrorists” or “freedom fighters.” In Russia, 21 Islamist organizations are recognized as terrorist, and 33 in the United States . Moreover, actual definitions of “terrorism” often vary.
Coordinated fight is the only possible and effective way of ridding the planet of the scourge of terrorism. Unfortunately, there is no international legal basis for a collective solution of the problem. The experience of the past few years shows that a slow-moving and bureaucratic UN is not capable of providing quick and effective response to the threat posed by international terrorism. The world needs a fundamentally new and mobile international mechanism, structured to counter the terrorists’ extensive and diverse criminal activities.
The proposed idea of creating a supranational system uniting antiterrorist forces that would include administrative, information, analytical, intelligence, financial, counter-propaganda and power structures – well-equipped counter-terrorist units ready for quick deployment to troubled regions looks pretty viable. However, this international antiterrorist system must be established under the auspices of the United Nations, with its blessing, and rest on a solid legal foundation.
First published in our partner International Affairs
The Nuclear Dimension of Cyber Threats
The subject of the interrelation of threats in the fields of information and communication technologies and nuclear weapons is gradually becoming one of the dominant topics in current international security issues. In early summer 2019, a group of researchers working under the auspices of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) presented the Russian version of the “Nuclear Weapons in the New Cyber Age” report prepared by the Cyber-Nuclear Weapons Study Group (hereinafter referred to as the NTI Report). Russian assessments of the proposals put forward by American experts may contribute to finding constructive solutions that may be ultimately transferred to international communication platforms.
Understanding the Threats
The NTI Report is structured very logically and succinctly. The authors give specific examples using formalized scenarios and demonstrate the practical dimension of specific threats and their consequences. This is followed by concrete proposals. On the whole, this approach is conducive to understanding the essence of certain phenomena and is useful both for experts in the area under consideration and for the general public. Moreover, one would like to think that decision-makers in various countries will be interested in the problems considered.
The authors considered four “illustrative scenarios”:
Scenario 1: Warning systems provide false indications of a nuclear attack during a crisis.
Scenario 2: A cyberattack disrupts communications between officials, operators and nuclear systems, and/or international counterparts in a potential crisis.
Scenario 3: An adversary introduces a flaw or malevolent code into nuclear weapons through the supply chain or otherwise in a way that could compromise the effectiveness of those weapons
Scenario 4: An adversary is able to achieve unauthorized control of a nuclear weapon through cyber-assisted theft and/or defeating of security devices.
These scenarios look quite realistic. We will not go into detailed descriptions (or, more precisely, retellings) of them. A brief summary is given in Figure 1.
At the same time, we will note that each scenario has an element of simplification, which is generally justified from the point of view of the research objectives. An important clarification should be made, at least for the first scenario. An early warning system comprises many elements, and it is highly improbable that the decision to deliver a retaliatory strike will be made on the basis of a single sub-system. The probability of the “entire set” malfunctioning or being hacked and providing the exact same information appears to be very low. At the same time, when nuclear powers are in a crisis that has an obvious military aspect to it, the threat of a hastily made decision will also increase.
A Search for Solutions
The authors of the NTI Report propose the following three guiding principles that should be taken into account when developing approaches to minimizing the risk of cyber threats against nuclear weapons:
- The United States will continue to require a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons remain a central element of its security strategy.
- Technical measures alone are unable to completely eliminate the cyber threat to nuclear weapons.
- The cyber challenge is global, and a unilateral approach is not sufficient.
These principles appear to be quite sound and constructive. Item 1 is certainly reasonable for Russia and for other nuclear powers.
Maybe such statements should be also reflected in bilateral (or even multilateral) declarations on international security issues and strategic stability. Naturally, conditions should emerge first for such declarations.
The experts make several very specific proposals, which are grouped as follows:
reducing the risk of launch as a result of miscalculation;
reducing risks to the nuclear deterrent;
reducing the risk of unauthorized use;
taking a global approach to the cyber threat to nuclear weapons systems.
On the whole, this approach seems logical, but the feasibility of these proposals is questionable.
Certainly, the key task shared by all nuclear powers is to guarantee the impossibility of accidentally interfering with nuclear weapons and related infrastructure through information and communication technologies. What is problematic is the attitude of various states to interference that is deliberate, i.e. intentionally carried out by government services against probable adversaries. This contradiction sharply limits the room for joint action to minimize threats.
In particular, the recommendation contained in the NTI Report on bilateral and multilateral steps towards developing certain new rules of behaviour in cyberspace are unlikely to be fully implemented. This is primarily due to one of the key features of cyber weapons: the impossibility of reliably ascertaining the adversary’s target, even if the malware itself has been detected. Identical cyber weapons can be used to collect information and interfere with the systems into which the malware has been introduced.
Unilateral and Multilateral Approaches
At the same time, much can be done in the context of unilateral measures to minimize cyber threats.
It would seem that the most important task in this area is the training of qualified military personnel for the nuclear forces. Excellent knowledge of relevant weapons and military equipment, as well as the rules of operation in any situation and basic “digital hygiene” will evidently contribute to the overall reduction of threats.
Comprehensive rules and regulations for protecting equipment from external interference already exist. However, given that individual components are purchased from foreign manufacturers (this problem is relevant for both Russia and the United States), there is still danger of hardware implants. Let us hope that personnel of the relevant departments in the military and the special services have the necessary qualifications to detect such threats.
At the same time, certain national measures for enhancing the cyber protection of the nuclear weapons infrastructure should be compiled into some sort of “best practices” collection. Perhaps P5 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) could prepare some handbooks to be distributed, for instance, as part of a Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. This would to some extent demonstrate the responsible approach of recognized nuclear powers to current issues related to nuclear weapons.
As we have mentioned before, developing a relevant section in the Glossary of the Key Nuclear Terms could be a useful step, as fine-tuning the Glossary is supposedly still on the agenda. A dialogue based on a uniform conceptual and categorial framework leads to negotiations being more effective. At the same time, forming a uniform terminology should not be viewed as a trivial task. The solution of this task requires both political will and a deep understanding of the subject of negotiations. And still, even if such procedures do not have a positive outcome, such communications promote an improved understanding of assessments, approaches and paradigms among partners.
We should remember the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on strengthening global strategic stability today, which envisages, among other things, a joint “analysis of the regulation of new strategic security dimensions” related to the “possible impact of achievements in science and technology.” Moreover, Russia and China consider it appropriate to conduct a multilateral study of the relevant problems and their legal regulation on the basis of the United Nations.
Expanding the Context
As we have already mentioned, the crucial feature of cyber weapons (that kind of links it with “kinetic” weapons, primarily strategic weapons) is that the delivery vehicle and the payload are two different things: the same product can be used to introduce malware intended for monitoring and spying, as well as for control hacking and disabling.
Maybe classifying cyber weapons by hostile impact type can create conditions for searching for points of contact between various countries and international organizations. In general, the task of formalizing and coordinating definitions is one of the most complicated stages of any negotiation process, and a key stage that determines the success of the negotiations and the prospects for adapting the agreements to the rapidly changing reality against the backdrop of the scientific and technological progress.
As for deliberate cyberattacks that may be of interest to states that have the requisite capabilities, we should take note of the opinion of the UK-based Chatham House, which draws attention to the complex dynamics of military-political relations in the event of a further escalation in rhetoric concerning cyberattacks preventing combat missile launches as part of the so-called “left of launch” concept, which the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation calls “pre-start intercept.” The problem is that the hypothetical “Party A,” fearing an attack of such kindby “Party B,” may decide to use weapons at the early stages of a conflict. And if “Party B” is bluffing, then calling its bluff may result in the “failure” of the deterrent tactic. If “Party B” is confident in its supreme cyber capabilities, then its actions can easily become overconfident and result in a “hot” conflict.
Strictly speaking, the problem of the “rules of the game” in cyberspace is important in and of itself, without being tied to nuclear weapons. For instance, attempts can be made to train “cyber soldiers” to follow the rules of international humanitarian law, as, for instance, Professor Götz Neuneck from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) suggests. And the specific content of such concepts as “proportionality” and “military necessity” when applied to cyberspace requires additional research. Joint international exercises, including those related to nuclear systems, ideally with the participation of “probable adversaries,” could be a useful event in this area. Thus, states could gain some experience of acting in a simulated combat situation and gain experience of interaction through emergency communication channels, which is of crucial importance.
Safe Communication Lines
For decades, information and communication technologies have been developing at breakneck speed, and the militarization of cyberspace accompanies these processes. In general, any technological changes result in new threats, and “Neo-Luddism” will hardly be a suitable cure for such threats. “Nuclear abolitionists” are unlikely to achieve their goals in the foreseeable future either: we are seeing a return to the international rivalry of great powers, and nuclear weapons are one of the principal elements confining death and destruction in the course of this rivalry within relatively moderate bounds.
The only way to preserve strategic stability and prevent catastrophic consequences from the incorrect use of nuclear weapons is to perform an in-depth analysis of the impact that new technologies have on the relevant systems. This analysis should be as open as possible and involve an element of international dialogue at both the state and expert levels. At the same time, it is necessary to “increase literacy” in information and communication technologies and nuclear weapons (and their control systems) both among military personnel and among civilian specialists and decision-makers. The NTI Report and the subsequent communication activities of its authors are a step in the right direction, especially since representatives of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation attended the presentation of the report at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
From our partner RIAC
Omani national security and the kind of political and military cooperation with the United States
Historical documentary evidence suggests that the United States has always had a strategic partner in the region. Oman is undoubtedly the closest Iranian southern neighbor to the Persian Gulf, with its common cultural and religious roots with the land of Iran. But it should be noted that the effects of convergence between the United States and Oman have an impact on Iran’s national security. Also, after the US Secretary of State Visits Oman and his visit to Sultan Qaboos and the Pompeo positions in Amman, the question is: How much is Oman to do with US sanctions against Iran?
Oman has a geographical isolation in the Arabian Peninsula. The country has only a frontier from its western region, and the three UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are neighbors. On the other hand, the majority of the Abbasid religion of this country has led to its religious isolation in the Islamic world, and Wahhabism has entered into conflict with the followers of this religion several times since its inception, and still considers the abbots from the divergent difference of the Islamic world, And excuses.
Oman is relatively weak in the economic field, dependent on oil and the outside world. However, the Omani dealings with the United States are not high, and most of it is in the military arms sector. The demographic structure of this country, in particular the population of about 5% Shiite, who has a lot of strength and wealth, with the Baluchis, who have traveled to Oman many years before Iran, actually created a situation and the Omani government will not be in a relationship with Iran. If this issue is analyzed along with the influence of Wahhabism on the Omani population, it will be more important if it is to be analyzed.
It should be borne in mind that the Sunnis in Amman claim that they are the majority of the citizens of this country. Oman considers the Gulf Cooperation Council to be important in the framework of this cooperation, in addition to external problems, to prevent Arab aggression, the Omani are well aware of the history of Saudi Arabia’s deployment to its neighboring countries, and therefore the balance Power will not be pleasing to Saudi Arabia. Oman, which seeks to reduce dependence on oil and economic diversification in its 2020 and 2040 prospects, avoids any kind of conflict and conflict in the region, because the arrival of capital, tourists and goods, and services and manpower require security in this country. And stability in the region. They are working to strengthen Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council and are working with the United States to provide their own resources in the region, and because strengthening Qatar and removing Saudi and Qatari hostilities are in the interest of the country and necessary to curb Saudi Arabia. Greetings from the United States.
But the question is whether Oman can adopt an independent policy at the level of engagement with global powers such as the United States?
In August 2010, Oman and Iran signed a security agreement; of course, it cannot be said that the relations between Tehran and Muscat are generally without problems and is a full-fledged relationship; for example, the Oman navy does not participate in Iranian military maneuvers while Which is in the military maneuvers of the Gulf states, the United States, India and Pakistan. Oman has given America’s military partner its ports and bases. It has shown its willingness to participate in the US missile defense shield, which is aimed at creating security against Iran’s threat to the countries of the region.
From the point of view of Oman, the military conflict between the United States and Iran has a huge geopolitical and economic risk. To reduce this danger, the Omani government has acted as a bridge between Tehran and the West; that is why the Oman kingdom, unlike Saudi Arabia and some countries of the Cooperation Council, Which wants Iran to lose its position in the region, does not want Iran to be attacked by the military and tries to increase the capacity of Iran in the region by means of a synergy.
The geographic proximity of Iran and Oman in the Strait of Hormuz, Oman’s geographical remoteness from the Arab world, and the geopolitical and geopolitical importance of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran and Oman, have required good relations. Accordingly, and despite the fact that Oman has always had close ties with the United States, this has not had any effect on Iran’s friendly relations with the country. In fact, the different Muscat approach to the Tehran Cooperation Council has had a dramatic impact and has effectively reduced the influence of Riyadh on the smaller member states of the Council for the purpose of convergence, and undermined West’s efforts to isolate Tehran.
It should now be seen that in spite of important approaching variables such as geographic continuity, geopolitical situation in the region, oil, the need for stability in the region, and … the main causes of the security scene in the region.
In the past, in the context of security-related security with national power, there was a belief that with increasing military power security would increase, and with the number of military forces and equipment representing the power and security of each country, but now beliefs have changed and should be noted. National security is not a unilateral process that can only be increased by increasing its military power, but has a broad and comprehensive concept.
It is possible to maintain the national security of each political unit by increasing national power and balancing its constituent elements, and increasing one of these factors, if not accompanied by an increase in other factors, could threaten national security. In this regard, today, national security has taken a cross-border dimension; in other words, it is not just inside the border. Of course, security is not military power, so sometimes increased military strength reduces security and insecurity.
The Omanian kingdom has a different look at the position of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the issue of convergence; on the one hand, it contributes to economic issues within the framework of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, but on the other hand, in foreign policy and disputes between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council Persian countries has not entered and has been trying to play a role in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council by assuming the role of the Hammer of Equilibrium. However, now it seems that, despite the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is not very willing to remain in the Gulf Cooperation Council. This approach may lead to a gap in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and will split countries into two different blocks. In this regard, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality in the internal conflicts of this council as well as the differences between Iran and Arab countries, while playing a positive role.
Now the kingdom of Oman is not willing to pay for the rest of the world; therefore, in view of Muscat, Egypt’s entry into the Gulf Cooperation Union is very dangerous. On the other hand, the Omani kingdom does not differ much with other countries, but it is not pleasing to Saudi policies (which are trying to dictate their policies to other Gulf States). The country has repeatedly objected to Saudi apparent interference in foreign policy of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and if the situation continues, it is foreseeable that the Gulf Cooperation Council will collapse in the future, and even Qatar, along with the Oman kingdom, will cooperate with the Co-operation Council Gulf exits and form an alliance with Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In contrast, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are on the other.
In the future, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality and, in its relations with the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and …, continues its policies and tries to play a positive role in resolving regional crises, as The meetings of Iran and the Western countries over the past years with Oman’s administration show that the king wants to mediate Iran’s relations with the West.
Tension in the Gulf: Not just maritime powder kegs
A recent interview in which Baloch National Movement chairman Khalil Baloch legitimized recent militant attacks on Iranian, Chinese and Pakistani targets is remarkable less for what he said and more for the fact that his remarks were published by a Saudi newspaper.
Speaking to Riyadh Daily, the English language sister of one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost newspapers, Al Riyadh, Mr. Baloch’s legitimization in the kingdom’s tightly controlled media constituted one more suggestion that Saudi Arabia may be tacitly supporting militants in Balochistan, a troubled Pakistani province that borders on Iran and is a crown jewel of China’s infrastructure and energy-driven Belt and Road initiative.
Riyadh Daily interviewed Mr. Baloch against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran that many fear could escalate into military conflict, past indications of Saudi support for religious militants in Balochistan, and suggestions that countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are united in their opposition to Iran but differ on what outcome they want maximum pressure on the Islamic republic to produce.
The interview followed publication in 2017 by a Riyadh-based think tank with ties to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of a call by a Baloch nationalist for support for an insurgency in the Baloch-populated Iranian province that borders Pakistan and is home to the crucial Indian-backed port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea.
It also juxtaposes with Pakistani anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian militants who operate madrassahs along the Iranian-Pakistani border reporting stepped up Saudi funding. The monies are believed to come in part from Saudi nationals of Baloch descent, but the militants suggest the funding has at least tacit government approval.
Balochistan has witnessed multiple attacks on its Hazara Shiite minority as well as in May on a highly secured luxury hotel frequented by Chinese nationals in the Chinese-backed Baloch port city of Gwadar and a convoy of Chinese engineers as well as the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Militants killed 14 people in April in an assault on an Iranian revolutionary guards convoy and exploded in December a car bomb in Chabahar.
Saudi Arabia is also suspected of supporting the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group that seeks the fall of the Iranian regime and enjoys support of senior Western politicians and former officials as well as US national security advisor John Bolton prior to his appointment and ex-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal.
For now, tacit Saudi support for Baloch militants is likely to be more about putting potential building blocks in place rather than the result of a firm decision to wage a low-intensity proxy war.
“The recent escalation in militant attacks is a direct reaction to Pakistan army’s growing atrocities in Balochistan and China’s relentless plunder of Baloch resources,” Mr. Baloch said.
Asserting that the Pakistani part of Balochistan has been occupied by Pakistan since 1948, Mr. Baloch insisted that the “Baloch nation is resisting against this forced accession. This insurgency is the continuation of that.”
The alleged Saudi support coupled with plans for a US$10 billion Saudi investment in a refinery in Gwadar and a Baloch mine has sparked discussion in Beijing about the viability of China’s US$45 billion plus stake in the region’s security and stability.
Iranian officials see a pattern of foreign support for insurgents not only in Balochistan but also among Iran’s Kurdish, Arab and Azeri minorities. Their suspicions are fuelled by statements by Mr. Bolton prior to his appointment calling for support of insurgencies and Prince Mohammed’s vow that any battle between the Middle East’s two major rivals would be fought in Iran rather than Saudi Arabia.
Complicating the situation along Iran’s borders is the fact that like in the waters of the Gulf where naval assets are eyeing one another, it doesn’t take much for the situation to escalate out of control. That is particularly the case with Iran having shifted tactics from strategic patience to responding to perceived escalation with an escalation of its own.
Iran moreover has been preparing for a potential covert war waged by Saudi Arabia and possibly US-backed ethnic insurgent groups as well as the possibility of a direct military confrontation with the United States by building a network of underground military facilities along its borders with Pakistan and Iraq, according to Seyed Mohammad Marandi, an Iranian academic who frequently argues the Tehran government’s position in international media.
Iran recently released a video showcasing an underground bunker that houses its missile arsenal.
In a further heightening of tension, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards attacked on Friday Iranian armed opposition groups in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with drones and missiles. Iranian artillery separately shelled villages in a region populated not only by armed anti-Iranian and anti-Turkish Kurdish groups but also smugglers.
The strikes followed the killing of three Iranian revolutionary guards. A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) denied responsibility for their deaths.
The risk of escalation is enhanced by the fact that while the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel agree on the principle of maximum pressure, they do not necessarily see eye to eye on what the end goal is.
While US President Donald J. Trump appears to want to force Iran back to the negotiating table, Israel and Mr. Bolton are believed to advocate gunning for regime change ignoring the risk that the effort could produce a government that is even less palatable to them.
That outcome would suit Saudi Arabia that does not want to see a regime emerge that would be embraced by Western nations and allowed to return to the international fold unfettered by sanctions.
A palatable government would turn Iran into a Middle Eastern powerhouse with a competitive edge vis a vis Saudi Arabia and complicate the kingdom’s ambition to become a major natural gas player and sustain its regional leadership role.
Writing in the Pakistan Security Report 2018, journalist Muhammad Akbar Notezai warned: “The more Pakistan slips into the Saudi orbit, the more its relations with Iran will worsen… If their borders remain troubled, anyone can fish in the troubled water.”
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