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  • Emerging Threats in the Middle East

    HERZLIYA, ISRAEL. Emergence of a nuclear Iran; turmoil in Egypt and destabilization of secular, pro-Western Middle Eastern states; blurring of the lines between unconventional, conventional, and low-intensity conflicts; explosion of information challenges in and around the battlefields—all of these concerns will increasingly challenge U.S. and regional policymakers and military commanders in the Middle East and beyond. These were conclusions at Israel’s flagship national security event, the Herzliya Conference, which ended February 9.

    The prestigious conference, organized by Interdisciplinary College Herzliya, attracted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen; U.K. Defense Minister Liam Fox; U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow; former U.S. National Security Advisor General (Ret.) Jim Jones; foreign and finance ministers from the Netherlands, Italy, and the Czech Republic, and Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the outgoing Israeli Defense Forces Chief of General Staff.

    The rise of Iran and its rush to acquire nuclear weapons shifts the balance of power in the Gulf and beyond, as Tehran gains power to strike European capitals from Athens to Moscow by 2014. U.S. intelligence assessments recognize that Iran could gain intercontinental ballistic missile capacity by 2015. Iran is becoming “the neighborhood bully,” said Tzipi Livni, the leader of the main opposition Kadima party and the former Israeli foreign minister. “Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” Livni said.

    Iran uses proxies in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, to establish a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, defeating its traditional rival Saudi Arabia. Iran undermines the Palestinian Authority through support of Hamas and meddles in Egypt’s revolution by expressing support for Islamist forces. Yet the pragmatic Arab states, Israel, and the West should boost their conventional military capabilities and not be distracted by the ambitious Iranian nuclear/missile program, says General (Ret.) Danny Rothschild, the Herzliya conference organizer and a former commanding officer of the Israeli Military Intelligence.

    Due to international concerns and pressures (a lesson learned from the lengthy 2006 second Lebanon war), Israel’s future conflicts will have to be shorter and more intensive. Israel still has no effective answer to the threat of 40,000 short-range missiles and rockets deployed in Lebanon and Syria.

    Eytan Ben-Eliyahu, the former commander of the Israeli Air Force, suggested that to prevent massive strikes against the Israeli civilian targets, Israeli Defense Forces would need to be ready to retaliate against high-value state institutions in Syria (such as military headquarters) and, to lesser degree, in Lebanon.

    In the future, many confrontations will occur in cyberspace. In fact, Israeli experts say, the lines between cyberwarfare and “3D” operations are increasingly blurred. While speakers avoided discussion of the Stuxnet computer virus attack on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, they viewed WikiLeaks, al-Jazeera leaks of Palestinian negotiations with Israel, and mass mobilization in Tunis and Egypt through the Internet as formidable information warfare tools. Their importance, according to Israeli and Western experts who spoke at the conference, will only increase. Yet today’s generals, who are in their 40s and 50s, understand Internet 2.0 much worse than their 20-something terrorist adversaries. Several gray-haired generals in their 50s have admitted that the West needs to play catch-up with terrorists and extremists in using social media.

    Information, especially online presence and social media, are used to mobilize global pubic opinion against U.S. foreign policy, the West, and the Jewish state. They are becoming crucial to Israel’s effort to combat delegitimization from extremist Muslim and leftist organizations worldwide. Similarly, the U.S. is fighting al-Qaeda and other extremists’ massive online presence, including propaganda, recruitment, online training, and even operation management.

    Despite a 10-year conflict, many in the U.S. are still lacking clear understanding of who the enemy is. Boaz Ganor, the founder of Institute to Combat Terrorism at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and one of the world’s leading experts on counterterrorism, quoted a senior U.S. official, who told him, “A Sharia law state is not necessarily going to be anti-democratic.” He also quoted John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, who said that “Islamism and terrorism is not our enemy.”

    The conference provided a chilling panorama on the rising storm in the Middle East almost 10 years after 9/11. The U.S. and its allies should heed the warnings that the world’s policymakers and leading security experts sounded in Herzliya before it is too late.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Emerging Threats in the Middle East

    1. Jeremy says:

      This conference is a typical result of the paranoid mentality of Israelis who have been claiming for more than 12 years that, "Iran will have a nuclear bomb in six months or a year!" Well, when will people realize that the little boy called wolf too many times. These conferences are a total waste of time and most of the attendees, including former Israeli generals and former US officials like General Jones are just trying to build up their earning potential in the media circuit built around Iranophobia.

      The talk about "The rise of Iran and its rush to acquire nuclear weapons," is total nonsense. Yes, Iran is rising but there is ZERO evidence that it is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Anyone who disagrees, please present the evidence. Also, Tzipi Livni is in no position to declare "Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear power." Who is she to demand anything about Iran?

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    3. JLRichardson says:

      The above comment by Jeremy is absolutely correct. There is so far not a single shred of evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon but the pro war, attack Iran crowd won't let up. It is inconceivable that the U.S. with all that's happening in Egypt, Yemen, possibly Jordan and the two wars we are already losing would even think of attacking Iran. The idiots advocating this have got to be Nuts!!!

      Sheer Madness seems to have overtaken the brains of some of these people who just cannot pass up a war.

      Israel's problem with Iran is economic not military. Even if Iran had a bomb it would not commit suicide. If Iran with its enormous energy wealth and educated population along with countries like Turkey begin to rise and prosper they will surpass Israel in wealth and power. Israel knows this. Therefore it works to hold its dominant position.

      Wealthy and powerful Muslim countries surrounding Israel are seen as a threat that cannot be allowed to happen. Israel is going to have to find another formula for its security and long term interests because other countries cannot be held down forever.

    4. Hank says:

      Iran is now the main player in the ME. We cannot ignore that. We cannot hope for a regime change either. Hope is not a strategy.

      It's clear to me that we need to start talking to the Iranians. Work things out with them. Get them to see the light. And we need to do this before what happened in Tunisia and Egypt happens in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Because if, correction when, that happens, Iranians will charge a premium for talking to us. Why? You may want to sit down for this. If these regimes fall, the Iranians will have the most stable and established and secure regime in the ME.

    5. Hank says:

      Congratulations. Mubarak has gone. Next Stop, Jordan.

    6. Hank says:

      God must have a sense of humor. Egyptian Dictator leaves on the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution. Maybe he is on their side!

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