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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
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IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

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The New Strategic Environment

If the world does not wake up in time to see the danger, Syria will be only the first domino to fall.
assad dominos

The way it looks now, it seems that the regime of al-Assad will not last more than a number of days or weeks. A coalition of Sunni jihad organizations will succeed in toppling the government of an Arab state despite the state having used every weapon in its arsenal – including scud missiles – in order to survive.

During the past two years all of the red lines have been crossed in Syria , and both sides are sunk deep in this dirty, ugly struggle, which is fought with no moral or legal constraints.  Tens of thousands of citizens, women, children and elderly, have been brutally murdered , hundreds of thousands of houses and apartments have been rendered uninhabitable; infrastructures of the country are collapsing; the economy is paralyzed and the organizational framework of the state is falling apart.

The success of the Sunni coalition (Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) in eliminating the heretical Alawite regime, which is supported by a Shi’ite coalition (Iran, Iraq and Hizb’Allah) might trigger a wave of terror in Arab countries, especially in Iraq and Turkey, because oppressed groups in these countries – such as Sunnis in Iraq and the Kurds in Turkey – will be encouraged by the success of the jihad organizations that are fighting in Syria and by the methods that they used in their battle against the regime.

This filthy war taking place in Syria is not a battle of good versus evil, because the regime and the rebels have both used inhumane, illegal and immoral practices. Both sides have committed crimes against humanity by eliminating groups of citizens indiscriminately and both sides have resorted to repressive measures and degrading treatment of helpless citizens.

As soon as the violence began, for example, the rebels understood that every time they show up in an open area, the forces of the regime could easily destroy them with merciless determination, so they transferred their activity to the crowded urban and settled areas. As a result, they turned citizens into human shields, without their having any say in the matter, dragging the cities and the settled neighborhoods into a rebellion that they were not at all interested in.

THE MOST SIGNIFICANT feature of the rebellion in Syria is that it has become a magnet for jihadists from all over the Arab and Muslim world who poured into Syria to take part in the jihad against the heretical ‘Alawites and their tyrannical regime. As of today there are hundreds of combat groups in Syria, and a few tens of them speak non-Syrian Arabic dialects such as Iraqi, Saudi and Moroccan. The linguistic diversity is even more complex because some of the jihadists speak non-Arabic Muslim languages – Turkish, Bosnian, Chechen, Pashtu (Afghanistan), Urdu (Pakistan) and languages from the Caucasus. The problem with having to deal with a multitude of dialects and languages is that the intelligence organizations get a significant amount of information by listening to various means of communication, but their work may have no value, because it is especially the most dangerous groups that speak dialects and languages not understood by the listeners of other countries that exist in the area.

Conventional forces too will have a great problem in dealing with jihadi communication methods. The jihadist organizations – contrary to a regular army- use the internet as a means of passing messages, reports and commands, and it is not easy to detect the communications channels they are using in the civilian network. There are organizations that pass coded messages via the internet, and it is difficult to identify, locate and decode them. Also the way the jihadist organizations use other civilian networks such as cellular telephones, makes it difficult to locate their communications and to keep track of their operatives.

The intelligence problem becomes even more complicated regarding visual intelligence, where the information is collected from observation points on the ground and in the air. Military intelligence gatherers undergo training on the various types of tanks, cannon, and the rest tools of destruction that a regular army has. But how are they supposed to identify jihadists? According to the type of jeans or T-shirt he’s wearing? According to the type of hiarcut or beard? The problem of identification becomes more difficult regarding vehicles in the service of jihadists, which are ordinary vehicles,indistinguishable from many others. How is a drone or someone who sees the material photographed by the drone supposed to identify the vehicle of a jihadist?

A regular army has bases and camps that can be identified and attacked. A jihad organization – in contrast – can live and operate in an ordinary neighborhood, among the people, the elderly and the children. How can the jihadists be identified? How is it possible to attack them without harming others who are not involved in the action?

Jihad organizations change their structure frequently: some groups join, others break off and form new organizations, while the objectives are only partly shared. The great structural fluidity of the organizations also poses a challenge to intelligence organizations, because information that was collected last month with great difficulty, may no longer be relevant today because of the splitting or joining of other groups to the organization.

Another aspect of the character of jihad organizations is the importance of the leader, the commander. In a military unit, if the enemy succeeds in eliminating the commander and the level of officers that surrounds him, the unit will usually continue to function, albeit partly and not with total effectiveness. In jihad organizations, the leader is very important for the functionality of the organization, but from the operational point of view almost any member of the group can replace him. Therefore the elimination of the head of a jihad organization does not usually cause paralysis and elimination of the organization. The best example of this is the al-Qaeda organization: bin Laden was forced into hiding since the end of 2001 and was ultimately eliminated. Did the organization cease to function when Osama bin Laden – and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri – went underground?

But the greatest advantage that a jihad organization has over a regular army is that a jihad organization does not impose upon itself the legal and moral constraints that international law and conventions require from a regular army. Jihadi propaganda enlists the Almighty as a reinforcing player,  while a regular army musters its soldiers by means of a human message – be it national, patriotic or civil.

These properties of jihad organizations give them a great advantage over state military organizations, which explains why it is jihad organizations,contrary to what one might expect, that have succeeded in toppling the Syrian police state and bringing down the bloody, cruel and totalitarian regime, which describes the regime of Assad ever since Hafez Assad rose to power in November 1970. All of the tanks, aircraft, missiles, and even chemical weapons, did not avail the regime against the hundreds of militias that were armed with much simpler weapons but imbued with religious belief, that their comrades are willing to die at any moment and therefore the threat of death is ineffectual. On the contrary: the more cruelty that the regime exhibited , the greater the motivation of the jihadists to topple it, even at the cost of their lives.

The army of a state fighting jihadist groups must match itself to the situation in the field. When the laws of conventional warfare are not observed by one side, the other side cannot be expected to limit itself to the accepted laws of warfare according to the Geneva Convention. A military that restricts itself to international law and tries to fight against a militia that does not limit itself to this law has lost the battle before it has begun.

A state that wants to survive within a jihadist environment must suit its intelligence gathering means  to the conduct of jihad organizations, whether by the internet or civil communications networks. Intelligence gatherers must be flexible regarding dialects and languages that serve the jihad organizations, otherwise they will be deaf and will not be able to track the operatives.

A state that wants to survive in the jihadist area must find a way to plant its agents inside the organizations or enlist agents who are already inside. Sometimes it is not possible to obtain true information by any other means, especially regarding information about the intention to carry out terror attacks.

In summary, it can be said that the collapse of Syria proves that guerrilla war can be more effective than conventional war, and uncompromising jihad that does not constrain itself to international law can bring down even a cruel and dark regime such as the Syrian regime,  which also does not constrain itself to observe human rights. How can a state that constrains itself to the laws of warfare and the principles of human rights survive against jihad organizations that do not limit themselves in any way?

TODAY, THE JIHAD organizations that are fighting in Syria openly declare that “The road from Damascus to Jerusalem is through Beirut.” Meaning that after the elimination of Assad in Damascus they will come to Beirut to send the body of Hasan Nasrallah to the garbage heap of history, and then they will continue their way to Israel in order to eliminate it from the face of the earth as well. Hasan Nasrallah should take them very seriously and Israel also must prepare for a kind of war in the not-too-distant future that it is unfamiliar with.

But Israel is not the center of the matter: jihad organizations – some of which are funded with oil monies from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates or Iran – operate openly not only in Syria but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, and other states. Additional jihad organizations operate clandestinely in almost all other states of the world. No place is immune to jihad organizations, which operate in every arena possible, either overtly or covertly. If the world does not wake up in time to see the danger, Syria will be only the first domino to fall as a a result of the operations of jihad organizations funded by Sunni money from the Gulf or Shi’ite money from Iran.

Originally published at Middle East and Terrorism.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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One Response to “The New Strategic Environment”

  1. Samuel Ramos says:

    Unfortunately, we are moving into a period of greater instability in the Middle East..yet again! If Egypt falls back into extremist conservatism, then all bets are off……

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