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An Overview of the Crisis in the Middle East

Middle East Conflagration

Cataloging the current state of violence in the Middle East and North Africa is a tour de force of the region’s geography. Media reporting typically reflects a content shallow “crisis de jour” approach that neglects trends and causes that counterterrorism studies and intelligence studies must discern. This media overview of individual conflicts obscures geostrategic currents that have profound global consequences. Egypt, with a modicum of internal security, stands as the exception in North Africa. Libya has no effective central government and is rife with anarchy as various militias and tribes fight across the country.1 The ostensible Yemen government is at risk from al Qaeda forces in the south and the Iran Shiite proxy, the al Houthi tribe, in the north.2Israel and Hamas are engaged in a bloody fight in Gaza while Qatar and Iran meddle and the world selectively condemns the combatants. Syria is yesterday’s news; the 2010 Syria nation-state no longer exists. The Islamic State emerged as a transnational threat conquering large areas of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. Iraq is devolving as the Kurds seek political autonomy and the Sunnis oppose the Shiite government in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia deploys troops to defend the north border from The Islamic State extremists and the Southern border from the Iranian proxy forces. Shiites fight Sunnis; Sunnis fight Sunnis.

A New Paradigm with the Old Causes as the Foundation

The dramatic situation in the Middle East makes previous analytic templates less relevant or even obsolete. US intelligence community counterterrorism studies and intelligence studies must transition to reflect a regional problem versus a mosaic of conflicts. This institutional transition is problematic as political issues potentially impose influences on the intelligence process. Iran provides missiles and money to Hamas in Gaza to attack Israel. Egypt fights Islamist extremists, al Qaeda and The Muslim Brotherhood in the Sinai. Qatar gives money to Hamas and The Muslim Brotherhood. The US solicits help from both Qatar and Egypt to force a cease-fire in Gaza. The US and Iran negotiate over Iran pursuing nuclear weapons as the Iranian Supreme Leader publicly calls for an end to Israel.3 The Taliban in Afghanistan attack other Muslims while the Taliban in Pakistan attack the Muslim government there.

While the UN, the US, and other nations clamor for a cease-fire in the Gaza battles after a few hundred casualties, the death toll in the Syria civil war approaches 200,000. However, currently there are only token cries of outrage from the international community as compared to the Gaza conflict.

While ending the fighting is a laudable goal, understanding the cause for the fighting may be more important. The cause for the fighting is at the root of a new terrorist threat modality and threatens the world economy. The analysts face potential obstacles from political agendas and the political correctness syndrome, which interfere with presenting objective analyses. Except for the Gaza conflict, the ongoing conflicts are Muslims versus Muslims. There is a Shiite-Sunni sectarian war going on in Syria and Iraq. Sunni extremists fight each other as The Islamic State attacks the al Nusra Faction. As the intelligence analyst prepares counterterrorism studies and intelligence studies on these various conflicts, there is a potential for a bias or stereotypes to color one’s analysis – the analyst must remain objective and steadfast in discerning out the almost imperceptible nuances in the various conflicts and groups.

New Visions for a World Facing New Threats

As the geostrategic threat environment shifts, US security and global stability need to improvise new policies. The intelligence community is the source for accurate information to support these policies. Intelligence analysts need to be innovative to understand and correctly define the set of new problems that does not fit the traditional norms. Online education is a national resource that can provide the tools and capabilities analysts need for this current challenge. The online security and intelligence schools that field faculties of security and intelligence professionals will lead the way.

1. Stevenson, C. (reporter for the Guardian). Libya’s Descent Into Hell. July 30, 2014, Politico Magazine.
2. Stratfor. In Yemen, a Rebel Push could Topple Regime. July 29, 2014. [Electronic Newsletter]
3. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/23/us-palestinians-israel-iran-idUSKBN0FS2E520140723

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