Ticking the Boxes: Tehran’s Road to “Implementation Day”

By Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi

(Re-published from RUSI.org, Jan. 17, 2016) The implementation day of the Iranian nuclear agreement comes after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Tehran had, in effect, complied with its key obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Since October, Iran has been rapidly working towards meeting its obligations, curbing its most sensitive nuclear activities and co-operating closely with the IAEA.

“Implementation day is not the end of the matter—the process which lies ahead will be no less technical and arguably even more procedural.”

Iran’s greatest challenge was implementing the ‘Road-map for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues’, agreed with the IAEA in order to provide a framework for resolving international concerns about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear programme. Following the implementation of the roadmap, the IAEA closed its file on the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme in mid-December. In accordance with the steps specified in the JCPOA, in the meantime, Iran has:

  • Removed two-thirds of its 19,000 centrifuges, limiting the total number of operational centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities to 6,104
  • Removed the core from its Arak heavy-water reactor to prevent the facility from producing any weapons-grade plutonium; it has also agreed an outline for the redesign of the reactor with the P5+1
  • Removed 98 per cent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, shipping the majority to Russia, leaving it with a remaining stockpile of 300 kg, less than a quarter of the amount required to produce one nuclear weapon if further enriched
  • Capped its level of uranium enrichment to 3.67 per cent U-235, substantially below what would be needed for nuclear-weapons production.

Despite opposition within Iran, President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has kept its commitment to proceed smoothly with the implementation of the deal and has reiterated this pledge to gain domestic support. The president has invested two years of political capital into the resolution of the nuclear standoff. After concluding the historic agreement, he had the challenging task of showcasing its benefits at home, especially in light of the parliamentary election to be held next month. Given that hardliners in the country could make electoral gains, Rouhani had to demonstrate that the deal would result in major economic improvements. This meant complying with its requirements and getting to implementation day quickly.

The Next Phase

Implementation day is not the end of the matter—the process which lies ahead will be no less technical and arguably even more procedural. During the next stages of the agreement, Tehran must allow the IAEA to conduct enhanced levels of monitoring; it will also have to adhere to new legal frameworks governing the Agency’s access to the country’s nuclear sites. The IAEA will be able to request information and inspections to verify that the country is not building undeclared nuclear facilities or engaging in weapons-related work. Iran will also need to prove that its research and development activities at the Natanz site are conducted ‘in a manner that does not accumulate enriched uranium’, and that no enrichment is taking place at the Fordow facility, converted into a nuclear, physics and technology research centre.

Furthermore, Iran will be required to seek approval for all nuclear-related procurement from a designated procurement channel which will require Iran to submit appropriate documentation and end-use declarations. Each purchase will proceed through national licensing agencies around the world and parties to the JCPOA will have twenty days (extendable to thirty) to consider the proposed export …

To read the entire article, click here.

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi (MAIR ’10)—a former Fulbright Scholar who holds a MA in International Relations from SU Maxwell School—is a Research Analyst at RUSI. Her research is concerned with security in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iran’s foreign and domestic politics. She is also a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London.

Five Lessons from the Iran, Saudi Arabia Blowup

By Miriam Elman

(Re-published from Legal Insurrection, Jan. 5, 2016) The fallout from the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia on Saturday will roil the Middle East region for some time to come. Below, I review the recent developments since our last posts (see here and here) and discuss some of the lessons to be learned from this latest episode in the unraveling of the Muslim Middle East

1. The International Community Rewards the Region’s Abusive Regimes

Over the last 24 hours, considerable disagreement over Nimr’s status as a dissident has emerged:

In the Arab world as well as the West, the discussion of [the] execution of Saudi Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr has been strident: Sunni Gulf states applaud the action as a step forward in the struggle against terrorism, Iran and Arab Shi’ites condemn it as part of a war on their sect, and in the West, Nimr has mostly been cast as a nonviolent opposition leader, unjustly imprisoned and wrongfully killed.

So basically, from the standpoint of the Iranians (and many Western governments and human rights groups), Sheikh Nimr was a political dissident, convicted on “trumped up terrorism charges” merely for encouraging largely non-violent protests in Saudi Arabia’s long repressed Eastern Province.

But for the Saudis, according to an analyst writing for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “Nimr [was] the Shi’ite equivalent of Sunni members of ISIS and al-Qaeda whom they believe to have blood on their hands.” To them, he was an unrepentant insurgent who continued to openly advocate for the use of force to topple the Saudi regime.

To be sure, who Nimr was and what he did will continue to be debated for some time although, given all the evidence, it’s a stretch to view him as a “peaceful preacher of reform.” But the controversy over Nimr sidesteps the larger issue: Saudi Arabia’s ongoing authoritarian repression, its marginalization of a disaffected Shiite citizenry, and the international community’s shameful tolerance of it.

Even if Nimr’s execution is considered within the context of the Kingdom’s legitimate effort to combat terrorism by groups like al-Qaeda and Iran and its proxies, Saturday’s mass execution was the largest in Saudi Arabia since 1980 and follows last year’s “two-decade high in capital punishment.” It’s a miserably poor record. Still, it hasn’t stopped the Saudis from serving on human rights committees at the UN.

Writing on Sunday for Commentary, Michael Rubin puts the point well:

Nimr’s execution—and the bloodshed which will inevitably flow from it—should be cause for reflection by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. After all, it was on his watch—and after Nimr’s arrest and death sentence—that the United Nations not only allowed Saudi Arabia to take a seat on the Orwellian 47-member UN Human Rights Council but also appointed Saudi Arabia to chair the Consultative Group, an elite UN human rights panel which selects applicants to several dozen UN human rights posts. Ki-Moon and other UN cheerleaders can cite procedure and explain the moral and cultural equivalence which has done so much to drive a wedge between the vision of the UN’s founders and the reality of the organization today, but the simple fact is that allowing Saudi Arabia to use UN positions to launder its human rights credentials has convinced senior Saudi leaders that they literally can get away with murder. It’s time for some serious introspection at the UN and among those in the White House and Congress who, with rhetorical support and funding, pumped new life into a corrupt and venal body that, rather than protect human rights, instead has become a club for abusers.

2. The Region’s Human Rights Abusers Always Point Fingers at Others, Never at Themselves

Over the last few days one notorious human rights violator in the Middle East has attacked another for being a repressive regime. It proves that in this region of the planet the pots are always calling the kettles black. Iran condemned Saudi Arabia for being just like ISIS on Twitter and official websites; meanwhile, “Iran executes three Iranians every day”, imprisons whoever disagrees with the regime, severely represses religious minorities, and hangs gays from cranes.

According to Amnesty International, Iran is the most prolific executioner in the world after China. It also tops the global list statistically for executions of juvenile offenders. Since the election of so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, the number of executions has gone markedly up. According to Amnesty, Iranian authorities executed nearly 700 people in the first half of last year alone.

3. The US Needs to Stop Apologizing for the Region’s Challenges

As noted this weekend by Aaron David Miller, Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “it would be irrational to conclude that US actions and inactions hadn’t contributed to the messes in the Middle East.” Put simply, the disastrous Iran Deal has deepened the rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region. As Josh Rogin and Eli Lake wrote yesterday in a thoughtful op-ed:

At the root of the problem for Sunni Arab states is the nuclear deal reached last summer by Iran and Western nations. When the White House sold the pact to Congress and Middle Eastern allies, its message was clear: Nothing in the deal would prevent the US from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear issues. Yet that has not been the case.

Basically, the Saudis are now convinced that they can no longer rely on the US security umbrella and must “compensate” for the perceived US disengagement from the region with a new assertive foreign policy to counter Teheran. It puts Nimr’s execution in a whole different light.

Writing for Reuters, Angus McDowall remarks that the execution …

… seemed to be an attempt by the government to reassure conservative Sunnis that Saturday’s executions [of mostly Sunni ‘inciters of violence and terrorism’] did not mean Riyadh would stop championing their sect against what it portrays as Shi’ite aggression across the Middle East.

Still, Nimr’s execution and the region’s stormy reactions to it can’t all be pinned on to the Obama administration’s lack of leadership. The rivalry between the Al Saud ruling family and Iran’s mullahs has been ongoing for decades, while the Sunni-Shi’ite schism is ancientMiller rightly points out that:

the region’s challenges are rooted in internal, religious, and sectarian problems that are not amenable or conductive to US military power or political persuasion; and they are spread among allies who have their own needs and agendas … whatever responsibility US action or inaction bears for the state of the Middle East, it pales next to that of a region that lacks leadership, representative institutions, moderate ideologies, a commitment to functional governance, and a willingness to face its problems.

4. The Middle East’s Muslims Will Remain Silent Over the Genocide of its Christians

In numerous recent posts (see, for example, here and here) we’ve highlighted the world’s shocking indifference to the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and President Obama’s inaction on the issue. Tragically, the fierce responses to Nimr’s execution suggest that the region’s beleaguered Christians shouldn’t expect too much in the way of support and assistance from their Muslim neighbors—even those not directly responsible for the killing and persecution. Christopher D. Burton’s withering critique in yesterday’s Breitbart rams home this heartbreakingly sad truth:

… on January 2, 2016, an epic war of words broke out between leaders of nations. Violent protests, riots, Molotov Cocktails, threats, and now fire at the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The Arab world has come undone over the death of one Muslim Cleric. No life, or any unjust death, is insignificant, and the details of Arab Spring proponent Sheikh Nimr’s life and the accusations against him are, and will be debated around the world, yet the scale of silence, neglect, indifference, and hypocrisy regarding the death of many others in their midst, once again, is staggering. Think about that, the scale of silence. Can pitch black be any blacker? Can a back turned be any broader? Deafening.

5. No Matter What Goes Wrong in the Middle East, Israel is Blamed

Ever since Nimr was sentenced to death, pro-Iranian Shiite groups in Bahrain and Iraq have blamed America for his imprisonment and threatened attacks if his death sentence was carried out. Yesterday, for good measure, an Iranian commander threw the British and the “Zionists” into the mix of guilty parties. Speaking at a conference in Iran, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, reportedly declared that:

Sunni and Muslims alike will avenge Nimr’s blood and in particular take revenge against the main factors responsible for his death: the UK, the US and the Zionist entity.


Read the full article at http://legalinsurrection.com/2016/01/five-lessons-from-the-iran-saudi-blowup/

INSCT Faculty Member Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics in the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel & the EU Battle Over Settlement Labelling Guidelines

By Lauren Mellinger (JD/MAIR ’10)

(Re-published from Strife, Dec. 9, 2015) On Nov. 11, 2015 the European Commission adopted the ‘Interpretative Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.’ The announcement of the new guidelines for labelling products produced in Israeli settlements, which drew immediate condemnation from the Israeli government—notably uniting many lawmakers on both the left and right of the political spectrum—follows a robust multi-year diplomatic effort on the part of the Israeli government to lobby the European Union to bar their implementation. Though the EU is likely to remain Israel’s biggest trading partner, the diplomatic repercussions of this decision represent a greater concern for both Israel and the EU.

“Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that the decision is indicative of Europe’s ‘double standard’—singling out Israel for treatment while refraining from implementing similar labelling schemes for a host of other territorial disputes.”

The new guidelines, which will be applied to agricultural products and cosmetics, though will exclude pre-packaged food items and industrial products, call for “products of Palestine,” which the EU regards as products not produced in Israeli settlements, to henceforth be labelled as “products from the West Bank (Palestinian product)” or “product of Gaza” or “product of Palestine.” In accordance with the new guidelines, qualifying products produced either in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, or products that originate in the settlements are not prohibited from entering the European market, but must now include the term “Israeli settlement”, as according to the Commission, the “omission of the additional geographic information that the product comes from Israeli settlements would mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product.”

Last month’s announcement was not a surprise. Indeed, the guidelines had been under discussion for several years, having initially been proposed in 2012. Since then, they were not implemented due to pressure from the United States and Israel in light of the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and to avoid the appearance of attempting to influence the Israeli elections last spring. In the interim however, while the EU repeatedly cautioned the Israeli government not to proceed with further actions in the territories that would complicate the prospects for establishing an independent Palestinian state, the peace negotiations collapsed, and Israel’s Housing Ministry continued to make routine announcements regarding construction projects in the settlements. Then last March, as the EU grew increasingly frustrated with the deadlocked peace process, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to his fourth-term and subsequently installed a narrow right-wing coalition, and a cabinet which includes several ministers who are staunchly opposed to a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s election followed a series of statements he made during the campaign which called into question his commitment to working towards a two-state solution. This prompted renewed calls by 16 EU foreign ministers for the implementation of the uniform labelling system, in an effort to apply pressure to Israel by reaffirming a long-standing EU policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty over territories it occupied in June 1967, irrespective of their status under Israeli domestic law.

Israeli condemnation of the new EU guidelines was swift. While the government is currently conducting a reviewof the guidelines to determine its response, Netanyahu and other lawmakers have accused the EU of hypocrisy and have even alleged anti-Semitism, going so far as to draw comparisons between the new guidelines and the policies that distinguished between Jewish and non-Jewish products implemented in the days of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Immediately following the EU’s announcement, Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that the decision is indicative of Europe’s “double standard”—singling out Israel for treatment while refraining from implementing similar labelling schemes for a host of other territorial disputes, and expressing disappointment in the measure, claiming such steps actually harden negotiating positions and hinder the parties’ ability to broker an accord—a sentiment echoed by both left and right-wing Israeli politicians in the weeks preceding and following the announcement. Though an unfortunate coincidence, the fact that the adoption of the new guidelines was announced the same week that the UN marked the 40th anniversary of the adoption of General Assembly Resolution 3379 declaring “Zionism as a form of racism” did little to assuage Israeli concerns as to their growing isolation in the international community …

To read the full blog, click here.

INSCT alumna Lauren Mellinger (JD/MAIR ’10) is a doctoral candidate in War Studies at King’s College, London, and a senior editor of Strife’s blog and journal. Her research specializes in Israeli counterterrorism and foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can follow her on Twitter @Lauren_M04

The British Decision to Engage in an Aerial Campaign Against the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria

By Isaac Kfir

On Dec. 3, 2015, after a long debate, 397 British Members of Parliament voted in support of an aerial campaign against the group known Islamic State in Syria (the British are already taking part in aerial bombing operations against the Islamic State in Iraq).[1] The decision—which came as a reaction to the horrific terror attacks that took place in Paris in November 2015—is lamentable and unlikely to provide any real security from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Moreover, it is unlikely to bring an end to ISIS, as this is diverse, powerful, unique force that despite being around for years we are only now beginning to understand.[2] In fact, there is a strong probability that the airstrikes could furnish extra support for ISIS.[3]

“[T]he key limitation of the air strikes is that they will not stem ISIS’s recruitment nor its wealth, and this is really where the group’s strength lies.”

There are three principle reasons why airstrikes will not limit ISIS. First, the strikes do not address why ISIS emerged, nor will they limit ISIS’s ability to operate. Second, the location of the airstrikes is wrong—the group’s main base is Northern Iraq not Syria—and by fighting ISIS one is only empowering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces, which in turn continues the brutal Syrian civil conflict, as ISIS is unlikely to cease its campaign against the Assad regime. Third, one cannot defeat ISIS from the air.

Nouri al-Maliki & the Creation of ISIS

One of the reasons for the rise of ISIS is the US’s empowerment of Nouri al-Maliki, a relatively obscure Iraqi parliamentarian, prone to conspiracy theories, possibly because for decades he was hunted by Saddam Hussein’s security services. Maliki—a Shi’a Muslim—who had no substantive power base in Iraq was elevated by the US to the post of Prime Minister in 2006. Once in office, Maliki used power and wealth to buy allies, often by disempowering Sunnis. This was a byproduct of the US-led reconstruction process that associated many Sunnis with the Saddam regime. Ultimately, in his eight years in office, Maliki accentuated sectarian divisions in Iraq, often excluding Sunnis from positions of power and authority and inculcating a culture of nepotism that has made Iraq one of the most corrupt states in the world.[4] Ali Khedery—a former close ally of Maliki who had known him for more than a decade—noted that by 2010, it was becoming apparent that if Maliki remained in office, “he would create a divisive, despotic, and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.”[5]

In 2010, militants who were being released from Camp Bucca—a US detention facility established in Anbar Province, which processed around 100,000 militants during its existence, including nine top members ISIS[6]—discovered a very different Iraq, one rife with marauding death squads bent on killing members of opposite sects and “cleansing” neighborhoods.[7] Fawaz Gerges points out that when American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, al-Qaeda had a few hundred fighters in the country, yet within three years, thousands of Sunnis flocked to the al-Qaeda banner arguably because al-Qaeda was operating as a Sunni entity determined to check Shi’a dominance. In other words, sectarianism was pushing young Sunnis to join al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadi organizations. Gerges further adds that from his conversions with many Sunnis, the solution to the militancy problem revolves “around power and distribution of resources—and could be resolved if the ruling elite have the will and wisdom to compromise, both of which have been in short supply.”[8]

With US forces out of Iraq, and Maliki still in power, the country disintegrated. Maliki continued with his divisive policies, alienating more Sunnis and, interestingly, also Shi’ites, leading Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite spiritual authority, to declare in 2014 that he opposed Maliki’s quest for a third term.[9] However, by this point it was too late to undo the damage. The few hundred al-Qaeda militants that existed in the country had now become a substantial force of several thousand, operating under a nebulous entity that became ISIS, many of whom had been radicalized even further at Camp Bucca.[10] However, it was the fall of Mosul in June 2014 that underlined the extent of the damage to Iraq and Iraqi security caused by the Maliki administration. Not only did a small ISIS force of 800 fighters sweep aside the Iraq Army (a force of 30,000 men) in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, but ISIS turned the city into a base from which it launched attacks on other cities. ISIS also captured a substantial arsenal—including more than 2,000 Humvees—it freed over a thousand prisoners,[11] and it showed how limited a force the Iraqi Army is: the city was defended by two Iraqi army divisions that simply fled the ISIS fighters.[12]

In 2014, Maliki was replaced by Haider al-Abadi, another Iraqi exile who returned to Iraq in 2003, becoming Minister of Communications. Al-Abadi had served as an MP since 2006, heading several Iraqi parliamentary committees, including those for finance and economics. It remains unclear why he was chosen to replace Maliki.[13] Since assuming the position of Prime Minister, al-Abadi has sought to counter the ISIS threat with a more robust military campaign and a commitment to address corruption. These actions have only served to highlight al-Abadi’s weakness; in order to fight ISIS, al-Abadi has been relying on Iran and the US, who provide military support and equipment. When it comes to domestic reform, al-Abadi has been treading gingerly so as not to offend allies and make new enemies, which means that much of the reforms are meaningless and cosmetic at best. Simply put, it seems impossible for the Iraqi political system to counter the threat of ISIS because there are too many endogenous and exogenous actors, each with their own distinct interests.

Attacking ISIS in Syria & the Limits of an Aerial Campaign

The British parliament’s decision to support an air campaign against ISIS was limited to the group’s operation in Syria—British planes have been striking at ISIS in Iraq since 2014—with David Cameron claiming that ISIS has already launched attacks against Britain and that Raqqa is ISIS’s headquarters from which it launches attacks on Europe.[14] However, it is worthwhile to pay heed to what the former Director General of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Mike Flynn, said a few weeks ago: “[w]e won’t succeed against this enemy with air strikes alone.”[15] Flynn and other experts emphasis that ISIS is entrenched within the communities that it controls, which means that air strikes do not undermine their infrastructure. Flynn, for example, is unsure whether removing al-Baghdadi would end ISIS. In fact, he argues that it would appear that each jihadi leader is more of a threat than his predecessor (i.e., al-Baghdadi is a better leader than Zarqawi; Zarqawi was a better leader than bin Laden; etc.) Moreover, killing leaders only makes them martyrs.[16]

Furthermore, Cameron seems to forget that Raqqa is a city of convenience. When ISIS came under attack in Raqqa in early December 2015, ISIS fighters simply relocated to other cities, such as Sirte in Libya.[17] In other words, it would almost appear as if the aerial campaign is helping ISIS spread because the group can move to new locations and because aerial bombardments alone are unlikely to nudge it completely out of Raqqa. Aerial bombing feeds into ISIS’s simple defense agenda: don’t lose.[18] Moreover, as long as ISIS continues to control Mosul and the surrounding areas and as long as the only viable counterforces to ISIS are the Kurdish Peshmerga or the Badr Organization—a Shi’a militia group with strong ties to Iran—ISIS will remain a major threat, a daily reminder of how limited the Iraqi Army is, and, for many Sunnis, how it is the only real alternative to Shi’a dominance.

But the key limitation of the air strikes is that they will not stem ISIS’s recruitment nor its wealth, and this is really where the group’s strength lies. It is well known that tens of thousands of men and women have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS. J.M. Berger explains ISIS’s sophisticated recruitment policy, which begins with first contact, during which ISIS seeks out potential recruits online (concomitantly, ISIS also has the capability to respond to those who seek to join its ranks). ISIS also creates a micro-community through which it maintains constant contact with real and potential recruits. A key goal is to keep the individuals isolated from the community-at-large and committed to the ISIS ideology. Once it has a recruit, ISIS engages in private communication with the individual, with the aim of either encouraging him or her to travel to join ISIS or to commit an atrocity within his or her homeland.[19]

The interesting thing about ISIS recruitment is that the foreign fighters are often more radical than local ones. Put differently, whereas initially many of those who joined ISIS did so as a reaction to what was perceived as the Shi’a dominance of Iraq’s political and economic system, over the last few years, thousands of non-Iraqis have joined ISIS, intensifying its radicalism and militancy. Thomas Hegghammer points that that the effect of the foreign fighters is felt beyond the battleground; terrorist plots carried out by foreigners are deadlier and more successful.[20]

What plays a key role in ISIS’s recruitment and military success is its wealth. In 2014, it was believed that the group had a net-worth of more than $1 billion—some even suggest that it is closer to $2 billion—thanks to robbed banks in Mosul, looted antiques, and other lucre.[21] Once it controls an area, ISIS’s economic policy is relatively straightforward: create such insecurity that individuals have to join ISIS in order to have basic security.[22] For example, in Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS controls every facet of the economy. Hamoud al-Moussa a member of the Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently group, says, “ISIS used every means to strangle people on the economic level, hoping this will push them to join it.” Abu Mutassem, from the town of Al Raie, points out that many people join ISIS “because this is the only way to get an income.”[23]

What has become clear is that policymakers are simply out of touch with the realities on the ground regarding ISIS, the Syrian civil war, Iraq’s political and ethnic scene, and many other issues relating to the Middle East. Britain and others are engaging in an aerial bombardment with neither a proper understanding of the enemy nor a clear strategy. Cameron claims that his government has a seven-point plan for its involvement;[25] however, what emerges is a hodgepodge approach that sows many seeds of destruction because we are not addressing the root of the problem. It is therefore important for western policymakers to stop the bombing campaign, take a breath, and recognize the size of the problem. They should appreciate that ISIS is a product of the US-led war in Iraq and, more significantly, its ill-conceived and ill-executed reconstruction program. Second, it is impossible to solve the ISIS problem without addressing the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Sunni/Shi’a divide, and the (often absurd) black economy the conflict has created for ISIS and those fighting it.[26]

Ultimately, it is simply impossible to bomb this problem away.


[1] “Syria air strikes: MPs authorise UK action against Islamic State,” BBC News, Dec. 3, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-34989302

[2] The Guardian recently released a document issued by the Islamic State detailing its plan to become a fully-fledge state offering social services, civil administration and more. Shiv Malik, “The Isis papers: leaked documents show how Isis is building its state,” Guardian, Dec. 7, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/07/leaked-isis-document-reveals-plan-building-state-syria

[3] On December 6, 2015, there was a stabbing incident at Leytonstone underground station, with the assailant shouting “blood will be spilled”. Another witness said that the attacker screamed “This is all for the Syrian people.” Robert Booth, Vikram Dodd and Lin Jenkins, “London tube attacker shouted ‘This is for Syria’ during stabbing,” Guardian, Dec. 6, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/dec/05/suspect-custody-after-stabbing-leytonstone-london-underground-station

[4] “Iraq: Overview of corruption and anti-corruption,” Transparency International. March 20, 2015, http://www.transparency.org/files/content/corruptionqas/Country_profile_Iraq_2015.pdf

[5] Ali Khedery, “Why we stuck with Maliki – and lost Iraq,” Washington Post, July 3, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-we-stuck-with-maliki–and-lost-iraq/2014/07/03/0dd6a8a4-f7ec-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html

[6] Terence McCoy, “Camp Bucca: The US prison that became the birthplace of Isis,” The Independent, Nov. 5, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/camp-bucca-the-us-prison-that-became-the-birthplace-of-isis-9838905.html

[7] Martin Chulov, “Isis: The Inside Story,” Guardian, Dec. 11, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story

[8] Fawaz Gerges, “Al-Maliki’s divisive leadership has opened a window for al-Qaida in Iraq,” Guardian, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/08/almaliki-divisive-leadership-window-alqaida-iraq

[9] Nour Malas, “Iraqi Leader Maliki Loses Backing of Shiite Figure and Iran for New Term,” Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/iraqi-leader-maliki-loses-backing-of-shiite-figure-and-iran-for-new-term-1406061526

[10] James Skylar Gerrond, a former US Air Force security forces officer and a compound commander at Camp Bucca between 2006 and 2007, has said that to his mind, Baghdadi’s stay at Bucca either contributed to his radicalization or bolstered his extremism. Soon after Baghdadi’s declare the establishment of the Islamic State, Gerrond tweeted, “Many of us at Camp Bucca were concerned that instead of just holding detainees, we had created a pressure cooker for extremism.” Jenna McLaughlin, “Was Iraq’s Top Terrorist Radicalized at a US-Run Prison?,” MotherJones, Jul. 11, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/07/was-camp-bucca-pressure-cooker-extremism

[11] Martin Chulov, “Isis insurgents seize control of Iraqi city of Mosul,” The Guardian, June 10, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/10/iraq-sunni-insurgents-islamic-militants-seize-control-mosul

[12] Martin Chulov, Fazel Hawramy, and Spencer Ackerman, “Iraq army capitulates to Isis militants in four cities,” The Guardian, Jun 12, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/mosul-isis-gunmen-middle-east-states

[13] Mohamed Madi, “Haider al-Abadi: A new era for Iraq?” BBC Newsonline, Sept. 9, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28748366

[14] Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt, “David Cameron: it is Britain’s duty to attack Isis in Syria,” Guardian, Dec. 2, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/02/david-cameron-syria-debate-isis-britains-duty

[15] Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark, “Ex-US Intelligence Chief on Islamic State’s Rise: ‘We Were Too Dumb’,” Der Spiegel, Nov. 29, 2015, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/former-us-intelligence-chief-discusses-development-of-is-a-1065131.html

[16] Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark, “Ex-US Intelligence Chief on Islamic State’s Rise: ‘We Were Too Dumb’,” Der Spiegel, Nov. 29, 2015, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/former-us-intelligence-chief-discusses-development-of-is-a-1065131.html

[17] Jake Burman, “Desperate ISIS moves headquarters to Libya after Raqqa stronghold is BLITZED by airstrikes,” Express, Dec. 2, 2015, http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/623563/Islamic-State-ISIS-Libya-Sirte-Syria-Iraq-British-American-Airstrikes-Stronghold-Raqqa

[18] Jessica Lewis McFate, “The Islamic State Digs In,” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 10, No. 8 (2015), pp. 1-9.

[19] J.M Berger, “Tailored Online Interventions: The Islamic State’s Recruitment Strategy,” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 10, No. 8 (2015), pp. 19-23.

[20] Joshua Holland, “Why Have a Record Number of Westerners Joined the Islamic State?,” billmoyes.com, Oct. 10, 2014, http://billmoyers.com/2014/10/10/record-number-westerners-joined-islamic-state-great-threat/

[21] Martin Chulov, “How an arrest in Iraq revealed Isis’s $2bn jihadist network,” Guardian, June 15, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/15/iraq-isis-arrest-jihadists-wealth-power

[22] Isaac Kfir, “Social Identity Group and Human (In) Security: The Case of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 38, No. 4 (2015), pp. 233-252.

[23] Joanna Paraszczuk, “The ISIS Economy: Crushing Taxes and High Unemployment,” The Atlantic, Sept. 2, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/isis-territory-taxes-recruitment-syria/403426/

[25] The aim of the seven-point plan in respect to Syria is: Protect the UK through a robust counter-terrorism program; generate negotiations on a political settlement, while support the moderate opposition; help deliver, a government that credibly represent all of the Syrian people; degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS; continue to humanitarian support and forestall further people movement; support stabilization already underway in Iraq and plan for post-conflict reconstruction in Syria; and work in close partnership with Britain allies across the Middle East, to mitigate the impact of ISIs and other violent extremist groups on the stability of the region. Memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Prime Minister’s Response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Second Report of Session 2015-16: The Extension of Offensive British Military Operations to Syria, November 2015. http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/foreign-affairs/PM-Response-to-FAC-Report-Extension-of-Offensive-British-Military-Operations-to-Syria.pdf

[26] The absurdity of this conflict is best typified by the fact that ISIS sells oil through Kurdish middlemen to the Assad regime, which in turn sells weapons to the group. Michael Stephens, “Islamic State: Where does jihadist group get its support?” BBC Online, September 2015

What the Academy Doesn’t Know About the Vet: Exploring the Top Five Oversights

By Corri Zoli, Rosy Maury, Danny Fay, & Nick Armstrong

(Re-published from Thomas Ricks’ Best Defense blog, Foreign Policy, Nov. 23, 2015) Tom recently asked us to address this question: “What the academy doesn’t know about the vet?” The bad news and simple answer is “a lot.” The good news — albeit almost 15 years after the Post-9/11 wars began — is that it’s getting better. We will try to explain why.

“[T]oday we’re in a different national moment and mood — with a minority all-volunteer force whose experiences and perspectives are MIA.”

At the core of the problem is servicemembers’ “missing perspectives” on college campuses and in public discourse. This “finding” might seem odd, given overwhelming public support for the military since the 1980s — outpacing the church (see graph below). In the post-9/11 period, such support is now both pervasive and individualized: ordinary Americans give up seats, buy drinks, and incessantly “thank” veterans for their service.

But scratch the surface and one finds less deep public interest in understanding veterans’ actual experiences in the Post-9/11 wars — what it meant to be fighting them, how they changed the trajectory of a life, families, whole communities, or what these experiences mean for larger national discussions of service and security. As Sebastian Bae has written in these pages, “‘thank you for your service’ represents the banality of society’s understanding of the nation’s wars and the men and women who fought them.” Phil Klay calls this civilian-military distance a failure of imagination — too often vets as stoic warriors “fetishize their trauma as incommunicable,” remaining “forever” separated “from the rest of mankind,” and civilians play along, despite the consequences we all pay when “civilians are excused or excluded from discussion of war.”

Ideally, the academy should be a space for such discussions.  But we academics have too followed suit: we’ve lagged behind our colleagues from the past who used to know a lot about World War II, Korean, Vietnam, even Civil War vets. Aside from health and wellness studies, Gulf War I and Post-9/11 veterans — a cohort facing some of the most complex battlefields, unprecedented multiple deployments, and some of the highest service-related disability rates — have received less attention by social scientists, in education data efforts, or in programing on college campuses (with some emergent key exceptions). Neither the VA, nor the Departments of Education, Defense, and Labor — federal agencies responsible for collecting this data — have fully modernized their collection efforts to be compatible and to show how veterans are doing in military-to-civilian transition (school, careers, their families). Most telling, we do not have an executive-level study of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, like the seminal post-World War II Veterans’ Benefits in the United States: Findings and Recommendations, undertaken by Executive Order (No. 10588) in 1955. We do not even have a formal “after action review” of the Post-9/11 wars and their implications for servicemembers and the all-volunteer service — a normal institutional and policy-level learning process undertaken after war, even Vietnam. A lack of in-depth and data-driven inquiry on servicemembers has thus become common — despite robust traditions of interdisciplinary social science research on veterans from previous wars.

Yet, veterans pour onto campuses: the new Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped increase servicemembers in school — nearly 800,000 students took advantage of the benefit in 2014. The Bill itself was designed to replicate the rich benefits and success of the original GI Bill of 1944, that policy mechanism, to use social science terms, that helped create the famously “civic” greatest generation, the American middle class, U.S. global economic advantage, and the democratized university. Syracuse University, where we work, embraced the academically-untested World War II veteran. Chancellor Tolley opened the school’s doors wide — more than doubling the population — intuitively “getting” what student-veterans could mean for the school, New York, and the nation. Historical research, as mentioned, later backed him up.

But today we’re in a different national moment and mood — with a minority all-volunteer force whose experiences and perspectives are MIA. Without their input, stubborn myths — some new, some holdovers from past wars — persist (i.e., veterans are undereducated, maladjusted, a homogenous group, etc.). Despite the nuanced picture emerging from veterans-authored writing, the idea of veterans as “broken heroes” persists. Too little academic research has challenged such myths with facts, matched media narratives with data-driven analyses, or asked universities to explore what veterans offer to college campuses. Part of the ‘good news’ is that campuses, including our own are working hard to change that.

Here are five “take-aways” from our research for the academy:

  1. Post-9/11 veterans (from our nonrandom sample of 8,400 servicemembers) feel their decision to join the armed services was a good one (70 percent), their military experiences were mostly positive (58 percent), and they learned valuable, durable skills in service useful for university and life — despite personal costs and war outcomes. There is, furthermore, a correlation between positive military experience and the pursuit of higher education — that means somehow service is encouraging, selecting, or preparing veterans to go to school. One respondent summed this up by saying: “higher education is on the frontline of a successful transition process” …

To read the complete blog, click here.

Corri Zoli is INSCT Director of Research/Research Assistant Professor; Rosy Maury is Director of Applied Research and Analytics, SU Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF); Daniel Fay is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Mississippi State University; and Nick Armstrong is IVMF Senior Director of Research and Policy.

ISIS Terrorism: A Q&A with Faculty Experts

(Re-published from SU News, Nov. 20, 2015) Last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, along with earlier ones in Beirut and other places, have shaken the world. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, claimed credit for those attacks, and subsequently threatened to attack other targets, such as Washington, D.C., and New York City. Four Syracuse University professors who are experts in terrorism gave their views on the attacks and how the world should respond. Mehrzad Boroujerdi is chair of the political science department in the Maxwell School and the Provost Fellow for Internationalization. Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at Maxwell and a research director for the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC). Isaac Kfir is a visiting assistant professor of law at the College of Law and a research associate at the Institute for National Security and Counterrorism (INSCT) and assistant director of the Global Black Spots project in the Moynihan Institute of the Maxwell School. Corri Zoli is a director of research/research assistant professor at INSCT and a courtesy member of the political science faculty in the Maxwell School.

Q. What seems to be ISIS’ goal in the attacks on Paris?

Mehrzad Boroujerdi
Mehrzad Boroujerdi

Boroujerdi: With the use of a bomb to bring down a Russian plane and the attacks on Paris, ISIS seems to have entered a new phase in its atrocious operations. It is retaliating against states that are fighting it in Iraq and Syria, and is showcasing its ability to inflict pain. A secondary goal behind these operations may be to recruit new members from the ranks of the marginalized and disgruntled communities in Europe and elsewhere.

Elman: As with the attacks of Sept. 11, it may be some time before we are fully able to determine the Islamic State’s goals in the Paris attacks. That said, we can hazard several motivations for why the Islamic State is now adopting the methods used by al-Qaida—complex, multi-pronged and meticulously planned attacks carried out by well-trained cells. First, successful mass casualty attacks are a useful way to market the Islamic State’s brand and score propaganda victories. These acts of terror advertise to its fighters, rivals and would-be recruits that the organization remains a powerful force to be reckoned with, despite recent setbacks and territorial losses. Second, the Paris terror attacks, along with the Oct. 31 downing of a Russian jetliner after its takeoff from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, can be seen as retribution for France and Russia’s expanded military intervention against the Islamic State. Lastly, it’s important not to discount the Islamic State’s barbaric and apocalyptic jihadist ideology. Paris and other European cities are attractive targets not only because they are easy to reach from the Middle East. They are also symbols of the reviled and “infidel” West.

Kfir: The stated goal was to retaliate for the French decision to participate in the aerial campaign against ISIS. There is, however, a different way to look at the attack. First, to manage a five-target operation, across Paris, carried out by seven or eight (possibly more) terrorists, shows sophistication. Such an operation underlies the presence of an effective network, especially if these guys are spread out across the continent—contrary to popular belief it is not easy to smuggle people into Europe and even harder to smuggle weapons and explosives. Indeed, it is important to note that those that committed the atrocity did not enter Europe with the recent deluge of refugees. The Abdeslam brothers, for instance, were born in Belgium. Second, some of the targets were “soft” ones such as the restaurants, but an attack outside the French national stadium at a time when the French president was in attendance is hard to carry out. The message, however, that the terrorists wanted to send is that nowhere is safe, even a stadium where the national team was playing. Third, the operation suggests that ISIS is expanding its base of operations, i.e., it is taking the fight to what bin Laden would have called the “Far Enemy.” In other words, ISIS could be seeking to increase its presence beyond its initial base of operation, Northern Iraq and Northern Syria. Notably, three days before Paris, ISIS carried out an operation in a predominantly Shi’a area in Beirut that left 43 people dead and injured more than 200 people. In October, it carried out a bombing in Ankara that left 10 people dead and it seems that it was responsible for the bringing down of a Russian plane in the Sinai. When looking at Beirut, Ankara and Paris one could argue that ISIS is determined to fight on two fronts, near and far, and also engage in a campaign against Christians and Shi’a. An alternative explanation, however, is that the Paris bombing is a campaign of desperation, i.e., that ISIS is trying to take the fight to Europe and thus get European public opinion against further Western intervention. It is important to remember that terrorism is designed to elicit fear among the public in the hope of changing government policy.

Miriam F. Elman
Miriam F. Elman

Zoli: Scholars—not to mention policymakers and intelligence analysts—are divided on this issue. The responses often fall into two broad categories:minimalist and maximalist interpretations. Some, including President Obama, see ISIS as limited, confined regionally, a JV team, not a real existential threat—especially to core U.S. national interests. Others see this group and the conflict trends it represents as global. The civilian attack in Paris seems to point toward a broader, more offensive strategy. In any case, there is no question that ISIS’ goal is to use terrorism to destabilize state authorities by showing they can’t protect their people, maintain security and govern, or by sowing such internal division that societies collapse—obviously that’s easier to do when governments are weak, brittle, repressive or illegitimate, as in Iraq and Syria. But it is also important to take ISIS at their word on their goals: they intend to spill the blood of all nonbelievers, mostly Muslims who reject their theocratic views, re-establish a global caliphate and advance an ISIS army to defeat crusader nations from the inside, especially those who have attacked their territory. All of this entails exerting power in its most raw and brutal form—targeting the most vulnerable populations and flaunting all traditional rules and norms associated with any form of governance, Islamic traditions, human rights and international law.

Q. What should the response be, not only by France, but by other Western countries, such as Britain and the U.S.?

Boroujerdi: I expect many more sorties against ISIS positions by France and other Western powers in the coming weeks and better information sharing between these states to deal with this fringe cult. However, this will not be enough. If we want to address the root causes of the ISIS phenomenon, we have to try to end the war in Syria, we have to put pressure on some of our “allies” like Turkey and Saudi Arabia to make the fight against ISIS a priority, we have to beef up support for Kurdish forces and others who are fighting them on the ground. But we should also realize that you won’t be able to defeat an ideology with sheer use of force. The survival of the Taliban should have taught us that lesson.

Elman: France and other European countries will need to undertake both short- and long-term measures in response. While there is no 100 percent defense against Paris-type terror attacks, in the coming weeks and months European governments will need to address ways of reducing the continent’s vulnerability to them. As more information about the attacks on Paris emerges, it’s becoming increasingly clear that what transpired was a colossal failure of French intelligence, stemming in large part from the continued lack of adequate cross-border coordination. This enabled the Islamic State to use Belgium as a staging ground for the attack. So in the short term, French and European authorities will need to quickly improve law enforcement’s surveillance capabilities and cross-national intelligence gathering. Efforts to work with local communities will also need to be stepped up in order to disrupt the ability of Islamic State terror cells to communicate, travel, and raise and move money. In the long term, France and other Western countries will need to launch an aggressive military campaign with local partners to destroy the Islamic State’s center of operations in Syria and Iraq and end its hold on territory there. In the Middle East, the West will also need to find ways of addressing the Sunni Arab sense of persecution, which helped give rise to the Islamic State as a defender of Sunni interests. In Europe, the growing radicalization of Muslim youth in places like Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood will also need to take center stage. Alienation, discontent and grievances over Europe’s failed multicultural project should never be used as an excuse or justification for terrorism. But it’s important to better appreciate how Islamic State recruiters feed off of, and exploit, disaffected populations.

Isaac Kfir
Isaac Kfir

Kfir: We need to address the crisis in Iraq and Syria. This requires recognizing that Syria is also a battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is a proxy war happening within the Muslim world that the West simply does not understand, appreciate or recognize. We see this conflict in Yemen, Nigeria, East Africa, etc. Consequently, without a resolution to the Sunni-Shi’a divide, any resolution to the ISIS problem is unlikely to occur. Syria and Iraq are quintessentially Arab World problems; groups fighting in Syria are supported either officially or unofficially by the Gulf States or people in the Gulf States who furnish weapons and money. Therefore, until the flow of financial support is closed, we are unlikely to see a resolution. From the Western perspective, the worst thing we can do is send ground troops. This is not a fight that the West can win because the laws of war do not seem to apply to such entities as ISIS, which means that we either throw the rule book out the window (which is not possible nor desirable) or continue with contained warfare, which has not been effective.

Zoli: A holistic, international response is necessary—and sorely overdue—one that robustly involves civil society. France, of course, has the inherent right of self-defense in the face of these attacks, codified (Article 51) for all nations in the Charter of the United Nations. But insofar as these attacks are part of broader jihadist violence trends across Europe, the Mideast, Central and South Asia and Africa, the exclusive use of military force to defeat extremist movements and ideologies will not succeed. We know both from recent history in the post-9/11 wars and social science research on conflict and political violence that transnational nonstate violent actors and nontraditional wars are on the rise. Even if some analysts are right that the Paris attacks signify a weakened and desperate ISIS, its fall will not shake this transnational ideology, its many geographic prongs, offshoots and groups that align with ISIS or other jihadist organizations, many now entrenched in transnational criminal networks involving corruption, political organizations and trafficking. The durable appeal of this violent ideology is apparent in the 30,000+ foreign fighters—many from Western nations with comfortable upbringings—who have voluntarily joined ISIS. In this case, it is essential for impacted states and communities to push back against the root causes and drivers of these conflict dynamics.

Q. How seriously should we be taking ISIS’ stated threats against American targets, such as Washington, D.C., and New York City?

Boroujerdi: I think America is less vulnerable to Paris-type attacks thanks to its geographical distance, prowess of its intelligence/security establishment and the like. However, this is not to say that the chances are non-existent. One can expect a lone wolf attack somewhere in the U.S. to instill a sense of insecurity among the public. Targeting American embassies or cultural offices in vulnerable settings may be another way in which ISIS will try to punish the U.S. Let us not lose sight of the fact that a media/propaganda war is going on here as well. The fact that the three questions posed here all revolve around attacks and threats is an affirmation of the agenda-setting ability of ISIS.

Corinne Zoli
Corri Zoli

Elman: While this threat to the U.S. homeland shouldn’t be minimized, large-scale Paris-like terrorist attacks are less likely to be successfully orchestrated in the U.S. For one, unlike Europe, which doesn’t yet have a continent-wide investigative agency, America has the surveillance capacity of the FBI, which makes it much more difficult for any terrorist organization to pull off a sophisticated multi-location, high-casualty assault. For another, security personnel in Europe are currently overwhelmed trying to handle the huge influx of refugees and migrants, making it difficult to weed out potential terrorists. In addition, compared to the roughly 1,550 French who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, there are only 200 Americans believed to have traveled there, meaning far fewer returning foreign fighters that U.S. authorities need to monitor. To be sure, the threat presented by these foreign fighters who have now returned home is real, as are the security challenges that will be posed by an anticipated mass refugee and migration resettlement program. Still, for the time being the risk here in the U.S. is likely to continue to come from the independent initiatives of Islamic State-inspired “lone wolves.”

Kfir: It is always important to take threats seriously. The security and intelligence establishment has enormous skill and capabilities to assess threats; what is often needed is corporation. The U.S. intelligence community is vast, with a huge budget and very capable people. However, it is also important not to overreact. One of the key things that we as a society must embrace is resilience, recognizing that our greatest strength lies in not falling prey to prejudice, bias, and xenophobia, which only divides us as a nation and a people.

Zoli: There is no question the motivation and political will to strike U.S. targets—by ISIS and other jihadist organizations—is real. What is harder for law enforcement and federal defense agencies to assess is capability. This is one reason why foreign fighters are such a concern because, as recent reports show, few of the Western fighters who traveled to Syria or Iraq are in government custody. In this case, it will take a coordinated response—on the part of our domestic law enforcement and judicial systems, in our foreign policy that emphasizes supporting international coalitions, addressing protracted conflicts, power vacuums and failing states in the Middle East, and by ordinary citizens who reject religious and other forms of discrimination at the same time that we insist upon robust traditions of civil inclusivity and pluralism.



ISIS in the West: The New Faces of Extremism

By Courtney Schuster (L ’13), David Sterman, & Peter Bergen

“An unprecedented number of the militant recruits are female, young (with an average age of 24), and active in online jihadist circles.”

Who exactly are the estimated 4,500 Westerners drawn to join ISIS and other militant groups in Syria, and how great of a threat do they pose?

In the wake of Friday’s harrowing terrorist attacks in Paris, New America’s Peter Bergen, INSCT alumna Courtney Schuster (L ’13), and David Sterman have published “ISIS in the West: The New Faces of Extremism,” a new report reviewing what is known about the Westerners drawn to Jihadist groups.

New America has collected information about 475 individuals from 25 Western countries who have been reported by credible news sources as having left their home countries to join ISIS or other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq.

The report finds:

  • Western fighters in Syria and Iraq represent a new demographic profile. An unprecedented number of the militant recruits are female, young (with an average age of 24), and active in online jihadist circles. This is quite different from Western militants who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s or Bosnia in the 1990s.
  • Many have familial ties to jihadism. One-third of Western fighters have a familial connection to jihad, whether through relatives currently fighting in Syria or Iraq, marriage, or some other link to jihadists from prior conflicts or terrorist attacks.
  • The likeliest threat to the US comes from ISIS-inspired violence. Returning fighters from Syria pose a limited threat to the US, while the threat from returning fighters to other Western countries is greater.
  • Few of the Western fighters who have traveled to Syria or Iraq are in government custody. Only one-sixth of Western fighters in New America’s dataset are in custody and more than two-fifths of the individuals are still at large.
  • The wars in Syria and Iraq have proven deadly for Western militants. Almost two-fifths of Western fighters in New America’s dataset have been reported as dead in Syria or Iraq. Almost half of the male foreign fighters and six percent of female militants have been killed.
  • The majority of Western fighters have joined ISIS. Only one-tenth have joined Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, and only six percent have joined other smaller groups.
  • The most popular route to Syria is through Turkey. Forty-two percent of the Western foreign fighters made their way to Syria or Iraq via Turkey.

To read the full report from New America, click here.

INSCT alumna Courtney Schuster (L ’13) is a program associate for the International Security Program at New America. David Sterman is a senior program associate at New America and holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. Peter Bergen is Vice President; Director of Studies; and Director of the International Security, Future of War, and Fellows programs at New America and a frequent contributor to CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.

What Can Be Learned from Paris’s Black Friday the 13th

By Boaz Ganor

(Re-published from The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 15, 2015) On Friday, France, Europe and the whole world experienced a significant escalation in the international terror campaign being waged by the Islamic State organization. The biggest terrorist attack to hit Europe in years, which caused a terrible bloodbath during the course of which hundreds of innocent people were killed and wounded, requires a precise investigation of the series of events before and during the attack; the policies of France, Europe and the rest of the world; as well as a probe of the current doctrine for countering terror in the West.

“The terrorists who executed the attacks Friday night might have been part of a sleeper cell of European Islamist ‘foreign fighters’ who returned from Syria and Iraq and maintained contact with ISIS as its operators in France.”
From this perspective, it appears that France marks the misconception and Western failure when it comes to the way many European and Western countries deal with terrorism.

It is interesting to note that most of the terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic-jihadist militants in Europe recently focused on France or have some connection with France. Take, for example, the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices, the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris, and even the one on the Belgium Jewish Museum in Brussels, carried out by the terrorist Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who crossed the border to Brussels and then returned to France.

All signs point to ISIS terrorists carrying out the simultaneous attacks on Friday night, even though they reflect a change in the modus operandi usually adopted by the organization and an adoption of the methods used in the past by al-Qaida in complex, multi-faceted, meticulously planned attacks carried out by well-coordinated cells.

Contrary to past attacks carried out by ISIS in Europe and France, which were for the most part executed by lone wolves or a small group of relatives or friends inspired by Islamic State but without receiving operational aid from the organization, this time the attacks probably were carried out by a cell that was enlisted, trained and given support and operational instructions from the organization.

The terrorists who executed the attacks Friday night might have been part of a sleeper cell of European Islamist “foreign fighters” who returned from Syria and Iraq and maintained contact with ISIS as its operators in France. According to French security sources, there are many dozens of such ISIS operators in France who fit this description.

Another possibility is that the attacks were carried out by a cell that infiltrated into France from outside with the express purpose of executing them (on the model of the 9/11 attacks in the United States). In this case, it is possible that the terrorists came from Syria, Iraq or other countries under the guise of the recent mass wave of migration to Europe.

The attacks in Paris indicate a very high level of planning, preparation and execution capabilities. They involved coordination of massive attacks in a simultaneous or gradual fashion at six different locations, during which separate cells carried out attacks at around the same time at different areas of Paris.

In this case, the terrorist cells integrated shooting attacks, mass killings, suicide bombings and hostage-taking, while on the face of it, the terrorists all planned suicides rather than negotiating over hostages.

The very fact that the terrorists included in their series of dramatic plans “the classical suicide attack,” signals that this was an organizational terrorist attack and not an independent initiative of a lone wolf. (In this context, it is worth noting that all the suicide attacks carried out in different parts of the world in which terrorists carried bombs and detonated them to kill as many people as possible were dispatched by organizations and not lone wolves …

To read the full article, click here.

Dr. Boaz Ganor is Founder and Executive Director of INSCT Partner Institution the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and Ronald Lauder Chair for Counter-Terrorism and Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel.

Constructive Conflict Applications in Obama’s Foreign Policies

By Louis Kriesberg

(Re-published from Foreign Policy in Focus, Nov. 11, 2016) President Barack Obama’s foreign policies have had important successes that demonstrate creative applications of the increasingly recognized constructive conflict approach. However, Obama is widely attacked as if he were responsible for the many ongoing terribly destructive foreign conflicts. Criticisms of Obama’s administration have usually come from the political right in the United States and others committed to opposing Obama. They attack him for being naïve and insufficiently tough. Even analysts sympathetic to Obama’s foreign policies are sometimes critical of his failure to rely more on coercion and military force.

“Obama has had notable foreign policy successes by acting in accord with the constructive conflict approach.”
Indeed, Obama appears to minimize US resort to violence, while narrowing the targets and drawing upon multilateral support. In addition, he has used diplomacy to restructure conflicts and taken into account how adversaries view a conflict so as to maximize the effectiveness of non-coercive inducements. These qualities are central in the constructive conflict approach, which synthesizes conflict resolution and peace studies, fields contributing empirically grounded knowledge about ways to reduce destructive conflicts. Indeed, Obama has had notable foreign policy successes by acting in accord with the constructive conflict approach. Furthermore, some seeming failures might well have been averted, not by more militancy, but by more prompt and consistent use of constructive conflict strategies.

Importantly, in accord with the constructive conflict approach, Obama recognizes that conflicts are rarely zero-sum, such that what one side wins is at the expense of the opposing sides. In constructively transforming conflicts, it is useful to recognize that both sides can make some gains, even if not equal ones. Furthermore, Obama understands the usefulness of considering the interests and concerns of opponents and their supporters in a conflict.

These and other considerations are applicable in Obama’s fresh break from the harsh US policy toward Cuba. Certainly, with the end of the Cold War, Cuba posed no direct threats to US interests. The US policy of a trade embargo did not isolate Cuba from good relations with other countries and allowed Cuban officials to blame economic sanctions for their own failures. The new policy enhances American soft power, expanding the appeal of its values and practices. This can be expected to increase US influence in the world and to be more effective in changing Cuba.

China’s growing economy and military power increases its competition with the US, but not necessarily the likelihood of military conflict. Obama’s trade and investment policies enhance economic interdependence, a barrier to hostilities. The US administration recognizes the great complexity of interlocked conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region, which generates tensions; but it also recognizes the opportunities that complexity provides for diplomatic tension reduction. Furthermore, the many confidence-building security measures and joint military exercises and exchanges can help prevent misunderstandings and accidents. Even cooperative and shared actions with mutual benefits have been achieved, as in the case of reaching agreements on countering global warming …

Read the entire article here.

Louis Kriesberg is professor emeritus of sociology and Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies at Syracuse University. He is the founding director of the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts and past president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. He is the author of Realizing Peace: A Constructive Conflict Approach and other books.

US Cyber Command Moves Towards “Lethal Cyber Weapons”

By Christoper Folk (J.D./M.A. in Forensic Science Candidate, ’17)

US Cyber Command $460 million Cyber Project

In a follow-up to a recent cyber round-up, according to NextGov an upcoming $460 million project at US Cyber Command will outsource a number of offensive cyber capabilities to the private sector.  NextGov reports that these new weapons that will be developed will give the US military the ability to launch logic bombs which would be capable of causing critical infrastructure to essentially self-destruct.  The article quotes the head of Raytheon’s Government Cyber Solutions Division, Ret. Adm. Bill Leigher “When I use ‘cyberwar’, I’m thinking of it, in a sense of war …  [s]o yes, war is violence.”

In June, the DoD released the “Law of War Manual.” NextGov reports that the chapter entitled “Cyber Operations” provides three potential actions that the Pentagon deems to be legal in cyberspace:

  1. Triggering a nuclear plant meltdown
  2. Opening a dam upstream from a population center
  3. Disabling air traffic control services

“[T]hese new weapons that will be developed will give the US military the ability to launch logic bombs which would be capable of causing critical infrastructure to essentially self-destruct.”
Furthermore, NextGov indicates that the stated role of the Pentagon in the context of Cyberspace is: (1) Prevent or block foreign hackers from targeting domestic systems, (2) providing assistance to U.S. combat operations overseas, and (3) the defense of military networks.  Accomplishing those mission objectives is no different from standard military operations in a conventional warfare setting, according to Ret. Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, the executive director of Duke University’s Center of Law, Ethics, and National Security.  

In the article, Dunlap goes on to say that this essentially comes down to a balancing test with reasonable collateral damage on one side and the military objectives on the other; so long as the collateral damage isn’t disproportionately greater than the probability of military success, lethal impacts to civilians are acceptable in a cyber strike situation.

Analyzing the Uncertainty of the Scope and Duration of Cyber Weapons

CYBERCOM spokeswoman Kara Soules indicated to NextGov that it is vitally important to understand the success rate of any cyber weapons.  The concept of cyber joint munitions effectiveness indicates that a cyber weapon has been carefully evaluated such that there is an understanding of the rate of effectiveness against a given target, according to the article.  NextGov reports that Tim Maurer, a cyber policy researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stated that outside the U.S., governments are also hiring private organizations to develop cyber munitions which include zero-day exploits.  

One issue which then arises is the fact that malware is not designed to self-neutralize and consequently the impacts can be far-reaching and of an unknown duration, reports NextGov.  For instance, in the case of the Stuxnet virus, which was first revealed back in 2010,  Microsoft was still dealing with the after-effects of this virus and issued yet another patch, (latest patch released March 2015), according to NextGov.  Consequently, statements that NextGov attributes to Cedric Leighton, a retired Air Force Intelligence and National Security Agency Director, are particularly vexing when Leighton states that the use of cyber munitions is like the strategic bombing campaigns of World War II, where we really didn’t fully understand the consequences of using nuclear weapons.

My Opinion

As our ability to wage war has continued to expand and our use of technology becomes pervasive we seem to be removing some of the human elements from the battlefield.  With weapons such as smart bombs and drones, we have enabled military actors to engage targets from locations far removed from the actual theater of operations.  While this likely has resulted in saving countless U.S. lives, the psychological impacts are vastly different from those engaged in direct line-of-sight hostilities with enemy combatants …

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