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).
How 4chan Radicalizes Youth and Grooms Them Towards Terrorism
The image board was started in 2003 to discuss anime and various other topics but festered into a safe space for hateful rhetoric soon after. In the aftermath of yet another racially motivated mass shooting by a frequent user, its dangers have finally reached the mainstream.
4chan is an extremely unique website. It has been running since 2003, and over the course of almost 20 years, has influenced many internet memes and phenomena. However, in the wake of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015 and the 2016 Presidential Election, it became associated with white supremacy, especially on its /pol/ board. This hateful rhetoric festered, worsening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests. 4chan was sprung into the spotlight once again on May 14th, 2022, when a white supremacists livestreamed his massacre of a supermarket.
This attack, fresh in American’s minds, led many to question why 4chan is still allowed to exist. This comes after 4chan’s rhetoric inspired a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon and its users aided in the organization in the Unite The Right Rally and the January 6th Riots. Clearly 4chan is a hotbed for far-right terrorism. But why is this image board the way it is? The answer lies in its lax moderation of content.
Upon looking at 4chan, you will find it is mostly made up of pornography. However, if you go on the site’s /pol/ board, it does not take long to find the kind of rhetoric that radicalized the Buffalo shooter. One particular post I found featured a racist joke at the expense of Black people. Another was praising fighters in the Ukrainian Azov battalion while joking about killing trans people. Yet another post complained about an “influx of tourists” due to the Buffalo shooter, who they insulted with an anti-gay slur. These memes and jokes seem to appeal to a younger, perhaps teenaged audience. It is clear that they are still trying to recruit youth into their ranks even after the tragedy in Buffalo.
The content is, to say the least, vile. The fact that this stuff is permitted and encouraged by not just the userbase (which numbers in the millions) but also many moderators tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with 4chan. In fact, copies of the livestreamed Buffalo massacre were spread widely on 4chan to the amusement of its userbase.
Many of the users on 4chan are social rejects who feel as if they have nothing to lose. They feel unaccepted and alienated from society, so they turn to 4chan. Many harmful ideologies, such as White supremacy and incel ideologies, seem extremely validating for these dejected youth. Young, socially alienated men, who make up the majority of 4chan’s userbase, are also among the most vulnerable demographics for radicalization.
What can we do to prevent further radicalization of youth and deradicalize those already affected by harmful rhetoric? First of all, we need to either heavily regulate 4chan or have it shut down. There is no space on the internet for this kind of hatred or incitement to commit horrific acts like what happened in Buffalo. For those already radicalized, we need to perform a campaign of deradicalization among those affected by this rhetoric. But how can this be done?
4chan prides itself on anonymity, so it is difficult to figure out who uses it. Thus, education on radicalization and identification of propaganda is vital. This education should focus on adolescents mostly due to their predisposition towards radicalization when exposed to hateful rhetoric. While White supremacy must be emphasized, other forms of radicalization should be mentioned as well such as Jihadism and other forms of ethnic supremacy. Finally, tolerance must be fostered among all people, not just those at risk of becoming groomed into terrorism.
The age of 4chan has spawned many humorous memes, but it has since become a hotbed for hatred and terrorism. Since memes are able to convey dangerous ideas, websites like Reddit and Facebook need to be heavily regulated to prevent the dissemination of dangerous misinformation. It is unlikely that 4chan will ever moderate itself, as lack of strict moderation is its defining feature. Thus, it has overstayed its welcome and no longer has a place in today’s information-driven society.
New ISIS Strategy and the Resurgence of Islamic State Khorasan
Unlike Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the second late leader of ISIS, who was derided as a “secluded paper caliph” and “an unknown nobody” for his relative anonymity and non-publicity, the new caliph of the Islamic State, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, has apparently launched a new strategy to strengthen linkages to regional wilayahs (provinces) and boost the group’s global presence.
Indeed, during his short time leading the group (31 October 2019 – 3 February 2022), Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi never publicly addressed his followers, which negatively affected the coordination of the activities of Islamic State-Central (ISC) and its regional branch of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP). Although his killing during a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria in early February was a major blow to the global jihadi organization, the change in leadership nevertheless provided it with new opportunities to update its command-and-control, recruitment and propaganda campaign.
Predictably, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new ISIS overall leader, sees his historical role not only in ensuring the Caliphate’s continuity and avoiding its potential fragmentation but also in establishing a more direct and consistent command line between its core in Iraq and Sham and its Central and South Asian affiliates.
The new strategy of the Islamic Caliphate not only gave a new impetus to its Khorasan offshoot waging a holy jihad in post-American Afghanistan against the Taliban but also opened a new front line against the post-Soviet Central Asian regimes. Indeed, the analysis of ISKP activities revealed that the proclamation of Abu al-Hassan al-Quraishi as the new Caliph and the launch of a new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” increased the combat capability of IS Uzbek and Tajik fighters, as well as strengthened the coordination of local language and IS-Central propaganda machines.
Notoriously, on April 17, ISIS launched the new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, and his official spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who were killed in a US raid in February in the northwest Syrian town of Atmeh. In his recent audio address, Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu-Omar al-Muhajir called on the Caliphate warriors to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leaders by “painfully striking” the enemies of “al-mujahideen” and saying that if they kill, they should “kill by many.” This call was made to the group’s followers worldwide and asked them to remain patient, but also be ready when the “war” begins. Al-Muhajir called to expand the campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to the territory of US, Europe and Central Asia, urging Muslims living there to follow the lead of past “lone wolves” who conducted operations that “filled with horror.” He asked them to repeat “lone wolf” operations by stabbing, attacking, and ramming, and drawing inspiration from recent attacks in Israel.
ISKP Threat to Central Asia
Among the first to support the Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’ campaign were ISKP Uzbek and Tajik jihadists challenging the new Taliban government and dreaming of overthrowing the ‘Taghut (idolaters) regimes’ in Central Asia. Thus, inspired by the new Caliph’s new strategy, for the first time in the history of the Islamic State, they managed to conduct a transnational jihadi operation from Afghanistan to the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Initially, on April 18, 2022, the ISKP fired ten rocket salvos into the territory of Uzbekistan, which was successfully exploited by the Uzbek-speaking regional jihadi media and IS-Central’s propaganda resources as evidence of the opening of a “second front” in the Central Asian direction. Expert assessments clearly observed the good coordination between the IS-Central’s media and ISKP’s local jihadi mouthpieces, both in terms of Islamic ideological content and hierarchical sequences.
The Islamic State-Central’s Amaq News Agency reported that “Mujahedeen of the Caliphate have fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a murtad (apostasy) Uzbekistan’s military base in the border town of Termez.” The ISIS central media wing also released a photo and video of the projectiles to back its claims. Another IS-Central’s weekly al-Naba newsletter also widely covered the topic of rocket attacks by detailing how the projectiles were fired from Afghan territory on the Central Asian nation.
Following IS-Central official news agencies reports, IS-Khurasan Willayah’s local media outlets, such as Al-Azaim Foundation and Khurasan Radio, the Uzbek-language Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan), Tavhid Habar (Tawhid News), Tajik-language Telegram channels Mujahideen of the Caliphate and The Army of the Victorious Nation published a series of audio, video and text messages in Uzbek and Tajik detailing the goals, causes, and consequences of the rocket attack. In particular, Al-Azaim Foundation glorified the rocket attack as “the heroism of the brave lions of Allah Almighty punishing the corrupt army of the murtad Uzbek government.”
The ISKP media outlets were extremely outraged by the Uzbek government’s denial of the rocket attack, claiming that nothing had landed on their territory. In response, pro-ISKP Uzbek, Tajik and Russian Language Telegram channels re-posted IS-Central’s statement, photos, videos of the attacker and a map marked with the possible rocket impact location in Termez.
Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi experts’ attention was drawn to a 24-minute audio address of Khuroson Mujahid, the leader of ISKP Uzbek group, whose speech style and ideological views strongly resembled the late ISIS chief strategist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. His speech revealed that the ideological vision of ISKP Central Asian jihadists, staunch followers of Takfiri Salafism, is in line with the Islamic State’s global agenda. He considers democracy to be the religion of “murtad states” of Central Asia, the Taliban government and Pakistan. He believes that due to committing shirk (idolatry), deviating Allah and doubting Tawheed (God’s Oneness), the leaders of taghut countries should be killed.
Considering Khuroson’s oratorical skills, Takfiri persuasion and ideological savvy, it is quite possible that the ISKP recruitment and incitement campaign will intensify in Central Asia in the near future. Obviously, the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP in the military, media and ideological directions reached a new level in the more permissive operating environment of post-American Afghanistan.
On May 7, the ISKP carried out a second rocket attack, this time into Tajikistan. According to the Central Media Office (Diwan al-I’lam al-Markazi) of ISIS, “Caliphate’s fighters fired seven rockets from the Khawaja Ghar district of Afghanistan’s Takhar Province towards the Tajik military base near the city of Kulob.” The rocket attacks on the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for three weeks nevertheless mark a clear escalation by ISKP Central Asian foreign fighters from just hostile anti-five post-Soviet “murtad governments” rhetoric to direct militant action.
Notably, the methods of media coverage of both attacks and the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP’s local media resources were clearly similar. The algorithm of their actions was in line with the new ISIS strategy. Thus, IS-Central posted a brief information about the rocket attacks with video and photos, then the Tajik, Uzbek and Pashto-language local media resources of ISKP glorified the “warriors of Allah”. The Uzbek-language pro-Islamic State Telegram channels Islomiy Maruza Davat Guruh, Khuroson Ovozi, Tawheed news, the Tajik-language Telegram channel of Ulamoi Rabboni (إنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَنَا) actively propagated ISKR rocket attacks, undermining the image and credibility of the military potential of Tajikistan and the Taliban.
These Central Asian pro-IS media resources, supported by IS-Central propaganda bodies and comprised of a constellation of official branch outlets, regional pro-ISKP groups, and grassroots supporters have become a prominent voice aggressively impugning the Taliban’s reputation in the global jihadi world. Such method makes it possible to preserve the hierarchical structure and maintain a uniform media strategy of the global jihadi group. This reflects that after the fall of the Caliphate and a series of dramatic losses of its leaders, ISIS has learned a bitter lesson and is now moving from centralizing power to strengthening its wilayahs.
Apparently, the ISKP seeks to broaden its appeal in Central Asia both through increasing cross-border attacks against Afghanistan’s neighbors and ramping up the production, translation, and dissemination of propaganda directed at Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz communities in the region. These rocket attacks and ISKP’s propaganda campaigns targeting Central Asians for recruitment are any indicators, the group has become a serious jihadi power challenging not only the Taliban government, but also the post-Soviet authoritarian regimes. Through its Uzbek, Tajik and Pashto-language Telegram channels, the ISKP is conducted an unprecedented activity to recruit Central Asian jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as new radical Islamists from the Fergana Valley.
Future of ISKP Central Asian Jihadists
Obviously, the ISKP is exploiting the US military withdrawal from the region and the Afghan Taliban’s deviation from the hardline jihadi concept by successfully portraying their government as a Pashtun ethno-nationalist organization rather than a bona fide Islamic movement.
In conclusion, it is to be expected that the ISKP will actively capitalize external operations to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban government, which assured the US and Central Asian neighbors not to allow Afghan soil to be used to attack Afghanistan’s neighbors. Strengthening cross-border rocket attacks has already raised the morale of ISKP fighters and consolidated its support base.
Thus, the new Islamic State’s strategy to strengthen its offshoots in its provinces is quite capable to reestablish its positioning in the broader global jihadi movement, which we see in the example of IS-Khorasan Province.
How Memes Can Spread Dangerous Ideas
Internet memes are an excellent way to send powerful messages to millions of people. But what happens when they are used for malicious purposes?
Memes have been a means of transmitting messages for centuries, proliferating immensely in recent decades due to their mass proliferation through the internet and their ability to broadcast messages to a massive audience. They have quite a bit of cultural significance and can be based on almost anything, provided they achieve viral status. However, memes have been subject to abuse by malicious groups and actors.
From the Blue Whale Challenge, an internet challenge that resulted in multiple suicides worldwide, to terrorist organizations like ISIS, which use internet memes to recruit young people, memes can be used for malicious purposes. Even toxic subcultures like MGTOW serve as a pipeline towards the incel movement. Indeed, such male supremacist organizations are not strangers to using memes and viral media to propagate their ideas and recruit young men and boys to their cause. In fact, one influencer, who goes by Sandman MGTOW, often posts such misogynistic memes and videos on his Twitter and YouTube channel.
These kinds of memes are easily identifiable by their bias towards a specific issue and their often-political message. One great example of a meme that has been subject to abuse by malicious actors is Pepe the frog. Based on a character by Matt Furie, this meme was abused by the alt right, being depicted as controversial figures such as Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The meme was so badly abused by these far-right actors that it was listed as a hate symbol by the ADL.
Memes have also influenced major world events like the 2016 election in the United States and the Arab Spring revolutions in the early 2010’s, which garnered immense media attention through the use of internet memes and viral media. This shows that memes can have the power to influence elections (albeit slightly) and topple oppressive regimes. Being a powerful tool for spreading information, there is also the use of memes for spreading misinformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic mediated a sizeable but modest anti-vaccine movement in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. These anti-vaxx groups used social media like Facebook and Reddit to spread memes full of misinformation and pseudo-science It can also be argued that memes were effective tools in spreading misinformation around the elections of 2016 and 2020 in the United States. Memes, while powerful, can be used by malicious actors such as far-right groups and anti-vaxx groups to peddle false information. This has contributed to the US having a COVID death toll of over one million, higher than most other countries worldwide.
The world has progressed quite a bit in the information age. People are able to communicate ideas with millions of people worldwide in seconds. The proliferation if information has never been more efficient in history. That is why the threats that arise from the mass proliferation of memes and viral media are so dire. As was seen during the 2016 and 2020 US elections, COVID, and Arab Spring, memes can be spread to convey messages that can change nations, affect millions (perhaps even billions) of people, and topple dictators. It has become possible for people to change the course of history with a single tweet or a single meme on Reddit or Instagram going viral.
What can we do to stem the massive proliferation of memes that serve to recruit people into dangerous organizations and fill their minds with misinformation? The answer lies in how we confront our biases and how we detect misinformation. People need to be informed about how they can detect bias and propaganda, in addition to using independent fact-checking services. By identifying propaganda from malicious actors and misinformation from online groups, we can stop the spread of dangerous memes before they proliferate.
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