Tag Archives: Security

CTX 2013

Counter-terrorism it has become big business. In recent times the growth of an entire terrorism-industrial complex has developed around the real, and perceived, threat of terrorist attacks. This type of fear driven commercial activity raises all manner of ethical questions, not least in terms of maintaining the ‘threat-level’ in order to sell more products. Often however, the counter-terrorism industry is not the Neo-con monster it is perceived as, but can provide the impetus for fresh innovation and research, as well as driving the development and emergence of new technologies, many of which have far grater scope than their original remit and benefit society at large.

A stark illustration and interesting case in point is that of the forthcoming Counter Terrorism Expo (CTX) event at the Olympia, London on 24th and 25th April 2013. This is an amalgamation of conferences, workshops, and trade shows, bringing together an array of private and public organisations all with a focus on security and counter-terrorism. The event hosts a number of features including (but not limited to) the Cyber Security Conference and Solutions Zone – focusing on the strategic analysis of cyber security for governments, critical national infrastructure, and private corporations. CTX brings together representatives and professionals from police, emergency services, government, military, intelligence and security services, private sector, oil and gas, cyber, maritime/anti-piracy and critical national infrastructure. It provides a platform for some the leading suppliers of integrated security solutions with a full trade show and workshop programme concerning themes such as intelligence reporting and analysis, investigations and detection, video management and CCTV, blast protection and resilience systems, CBRE protection and suppression, armoured and support vehicles, and command and control technologies.

Far from being adverse to this, I believe a multi-solution approach to security is absolutely essential for a dynamic, intelligent response to security threats and a holistic appreciation of the sector. Indeed, I would like to see events like CTX in the future go a step further and also include scholarly presentations from appropriate academic institutions, like the Jill Dando Institute at UCL or the War Studies Department of King’s College London. This would not only complement the professional experts and workshops discussing operational strategies, but also provide sober political and risk analysis, and allow practitioners access to the most up-to-date research from across the field. Nonetheless, with 400 exhibitors and an audience of over 8,500, CTX 2013 will no doubt prove to be a unique showcase for emergent technologies, equipment, and services in the security sector.

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Photo Credit: counterterrorexpo.com

A Blow for Big Brother! Military Grade Encryption on your Smartphone

A sharp blade is often used to save lives as well as to take them.

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Just how secure do you want your communications to be? Well, if you’re Phil Zimmermann then being “able to whisper in your ear, even if your ear is a thousand miles away” is a good place to start. That’s the message Silent Circle is touting with their latest communications package that promises to offer protection from “powerful criminal and political use of your personal information,” and at the most basic level, our right to privacy.

This bold smartphone package brings to the masses an ability to communicate video, SMS, audio, and other data with what is widely acknowledged as military grade encryption. With interesting additions such as a timed ‘burn notice’ (think “this message will self-destruct”, without all the hassle of a burning plastic and tape), and a technophobe friendly interface, this app appears to be writing the book on spy-proofing for dummies.

So who is this application targeting, and is it a step too far for the common marketplace? Well according to Silent Circle, the garden variety toddler knows how to use a smartphone, computer, or tablet, and “the average 16 year old knows basic hacking techniques”. This slight tendency towards scare tactics aside, I think most people will agree that the potential for criminal, government, and media entities to rifle through our (occasionally) dirty and often personal cyber laundry is far from limited. In all seriousness, this app along with PGP before it, will likely generate huge interest among free speech and privacy activists worldwide.

So what makes this kind of communication so secure? Running a peer-to-peer encryption system means that when your device connects to another, it will create a unique ‘cryptographic key agreement’. What’s more interesting is that following a communication, this key will be wiped from both devices creating an almost unbreakable level of security. This raises an interesting point about Silent Circles ethos. As a non-governmental organisation working for “citizens of the world”, Silent Circle has made a choice to remove all internal access to your communications. Essentially what this means is that they don’t hold any of the keys, and are in turn, unable to access your data. Sounds intriguing…

To prove this point, Silent Circle moved many of their operating servers out of the US, where the CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) would require them to create ‘backdoor’ access should the government require surveillance of an individual or group. If requested Silent Circle could be obligated to hand over what little data they might have, such as the payment and contact details of a client, however a 3rd party purchasing system offers yet another tier of anonymity. In a statement Co-Founder Mike Janke has said “We won’t be held hostage. All of us would rather shut Silent Circle down than ever allow a backdoor or be bullied into an ‘or else’ position.”

Despite these bold statements from Silent Circle, there is still a level of skepticism emanating from global privacy gurus. For the security savvy, the first step towards trusting this new network will only begin once the products become open sourced. In this case open sourcing will allow consumers (with the expertise) to evaluate claims of security and productivity. According to Nadim Kobeissi, a security research and developer, until Silent Circle permit open source access to the software they will be working against the grain of “responsible methods of cryptography software development.” Unfortunately this point may mark a fatal pitfall for Phil Zimmermann’s software. Whilst impressive, until it moves out of the realm of proprietary security software, it cannot be viewed as a suitable replacement for current methods of encryption. Only time will tell whether Zimmermann and the Silent Circle group will adhere to the traditional method of security practice. It’s a strange irony that Silent Circles Achilles heel may be that it will not trust it’s users to confirm it’s trust in them.

I think it’s too early to tell whether this software will become popular in the common marketplace, and critics will almost certainly jump toward claims of potential abuse. I’m not sure if I can make a valid judgement on the balance of privacy v.s. misuse. I will let more suitable minds battle over the risk of this kind of consumer software becoming a tool for terrorism, crime, and malevolence. However to get the ball rolling I’ll leave you with this fact: a sharp blade is often used to save lives and well as take them.

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Photo Credit: Julian Haler

Fracking, Energy Independence, & The New International Security Landscape

If fracking is really to produce the sort of oil independence that the USA could only have dreamed of just a few short years ago, we must begin to prepare for the possibility of a new superpower isolationism and the manifold effects that withdrawal may bring.

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Recent developments in energy technology will have a profound effect on Western reliance on imported petroleum. This in turn will likely reduce incentives for a weary America to project its power on oil-rich trouble spots in the Middle East. Planners must be ready.

Fracking is set to change the world. That much is clear. To what extent, though, and how, is uncertain. The most violent debates centre around its effects on the environment. But what about the global security environment? Many worry the process itself will cause dangerous earthquakes and there are too many unknowns. Equally, this swiftly developing technology could produce seismic shifts in the way horizon scanners and strategists approach the landscape of international security in the coming decades; it will also bring uncertainty about the motives of key international actors on the world stage. As is often the case, the questions hang on America’s role in world affairs, and what we can expect its military to do or not do. Fracking may be removing some of the half-certainties we had in this regard.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing to give it its full name, is the use of water to crack open pockets of hydrocarbons in previously unreachable places below the ground. It has been used up until now to extract natural gas in enormous quantities, but the last two years have seen spectacular developments in America’s ability to extract ‘tight oil’ from its shale reserves across the country.

The practice is highly controversial ecologically; those against cite massive water consumption and pollution, induction of tremors, and the disincentives it provides to curb fossil fuel consumption as existential dangers to the planet.

Regardless, the industry is moving so quickly that some last month predicted energy independence for the USA by 2035. Though others doubt the totality of these claims, even cautious forecasts see American imports of oil and petroleum products from the Middle East plummeting by the middle of this century.

We could be witnessing momentous changes in the way the world’s superpower approaches its relationship with the region that has shaped its military power projection – and arguably the entire global security landscape – in the latter decades of last century and the first decades of this.

The debate over the role played by oil in America and Britain’s decision to invade Iraq has played out tirelessly (and rather tiresomely) since before a single soldier was on the ground in 2003. Although only the most credulous observer could have believed Donald Rumsfeld’s avowal that “the Iraq war has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil” was said in whole-hearted good faith, the issue remains obscure. What matters here is the question whether America would have been so keen to invade if those such as VP Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force had not had to worry about securing oil supplies in far flung corners of the world.

Operation Desert Storm was fought explicitly to protect the oil fields of Kuwait and neighbouring Saudi Arabia from falling into hostile hands. That America and its allies have waged war, invaded countries, propped up dictators, toppled dictators, deposed democratically elected leaders, spent billions fortifying whole peninsulas with garrisons, air and naval bases explicitly to secure its oil supply should be news to no one. Even landlocked, oil-bereft Afghanistan’s 1979 invasion by Soviet forces was seen by strategists in US as a geostrategic play for priceless access to the Persian Gulf, furthering incentives to fund the mujahedin resistance.

The implications of these interventions have rippled out across history. Just before Suez came Operation Boot (which is what we called it this side of the Atlantic) / Operation Ajax (the American’s designation) – a covert mission to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadeq of Iran who had just announced the nationalisation of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. The MI6 / CIA action reimposed the Shah upon Iranians, whom he tortured and murdered in their thousands, likely precipitating the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 2003 under Operation Southern Watch was one of the founding grievances of al-Qaeda, and America’s effective guarantee of the entire Arabian Peninsula against any – and especially Iranian – threat continues to shape the balance of power in the region. If Washington starts to feel that, with ample oil and gas on its own shores, the cost and ill-will bred by its involvement in MENA is no longer outweighed by the benefits, a total disengagement from the area would be welcomed by many. But the permutations of that isolationism are not easy to envisage, what with India, moreover China, becoming ever more thirsty for energy imports.

The possible effects of the fracking revolution are not limited to the USA’s involvement in world affairs, of course. The enormous bilateral trade in oil and arms between Britain and the Saudis is testament enough to that.

Moreover, the unique value of oil, to producers and developed consumers has contributed to the outbreak and prolongation of many recent conflicts. Mary Kaldor, Yahia Said, and one of the worlds foremost experts on the topic, Terry Lynn Karl give a superb rundown of the ways they see oil shaping conflict in the introduction to their excellent edited volume “Oil Wars.” In it they describe the multitude of linkages between crude exports and conflict. In their thesis, ‘new oil wars’ have been produced by the calamitous effects of reliance upon oil exports on economy, state institutions and governance; hollowed out petro-states blighted by patrimony and factionalism that descend into civil conflict. They regard Iraq between 2003 and 2009 as paradigmatic of an ‘old oil war’ – military intervention to secure future access and supply to foreign oil fields – and the state collapse of a ‘new oil war’.

British Petroleum, France’s Total Elf Fina and the Dutch Shell turn up in the histories of many civil wars in the post cold war epoch, from Casanare in Colombia to Cabinda in Angola. The risks to personnel, financial investments and reputation are enormous when engaging in active conflict zone, and can only be taken when value of possible rewards are great and range of viable alternatives small.

Yesterday, the suspension on fracking in the UK was lifted. Perhaps the UK is never likely to see an ‘unconventional oil’ bonanza on the scale of the US. However, we must now envisage increasing domestic oil production along with imports from countries such as Canada – with whom we share warm relations– diminishing the strategic importance of areas historically far more troublesome for Britain.

Yesterday also saw the announcement of the £2.2m compensation package awarded to Libyan dissident Sami al-Saadi for the alleged complicity of MI6 agents in the kidnapping of him, his wife and young children from Hong Kong and his subsequent torture by Gaddafi’s security forces in Tripoli. It would appear that this episode was another in the unedifying series that many have linked to Tony Blair’s ‘deals in the desert’ with Libya in 2004 and 2007. The other most notorious being the 2009 return of convicted terrorist Abdelbassett al-Megrahi, one of those responsible for the atrocity at Lockerbie in 1988. The accords on sharing military and security intelligence (though not necessarily prisoner release) between London and Tripoli were not unrelated to a new found willingness of Gaddafi to allow BP back into business in Libya where it had seen all assets appropriated in 1974.

The pressure of the national interest of securing affordable energy supplies – on which the functioning of the economy and all services rely – exerts a heavy force on leaders and shapes developed country’s strategic stance towards the rest of the world. If fracking is really to produce the sort of oil independence that the USA could only have dreamed of just a few short years ago, we must begin to prepare for the possibility of a new superpower isolationism and the manifold effects that may withdrawal bring. An Iran emboldened in the Arabian peninsula and new gatekeeper of the Persian Gulf in China may be the first of the new realities we would need to make sense of, and perhaps begin worrying about.

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Photo Credit: Marcellus Protest

The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty

Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. The outcome of the battle for it could have a significant impact on global security.

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Arctic Sovereignty

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Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.  Each country claims ownership of part of the Arctic.  In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) countries have ten years to make claims for sovereignty over extended shelf areas.  The ten year period begins when each country ratifies the UNCLOS.  The deadlines for Norway and Russia have already passed while those of Canada and Denmark are approaching quickly (2013 and 2014 respectively.)  While the United States claims sovereignty over parts of the arctic due to its northern territory of Alaska it has yet to ratify UNCLOS.

There have already been disputes for sovereignty over particular areas of the Arctic.  Disputed areas include the Northwest Passage, the Beaufort Sea, Hans Island and the North Pole.  Canada considers the Northwest Passage to be internal waters which entitles Canada to the right to enact fishing and environmental laws, to enforce taxation and import restrictions.  The United States and others consider the Northwest Passage international waters.  This would entitle ships to a right of passage and limit Canadian authority over the area.

The Beaufort Sea covers the boundary between the Yukon (in Canada) and Alaska (in the United States.)  Canada maintains that sovereignty should be distributed based on extensions of the land border while the United States disagrees.  The United States has leased land under the sea that Canada considers to be its own to search for oil.  The issue has yet to be resolved but would probably be settled by a tribunal if the United States ratifies UNCLOS.

Denmark and Canada are currently negotiating the division of Hans Island.  The island is small and uninhabited but has received significant attention from both governments.  The maps originally used in 1967 to determine ownership of the island showed the island to be in Canadian waters but recent satellite imagery has revealed that the boundary between the countries falls directly in the middle of the island.  In 1984, 1988, 1995 and 2003 the Danish government planted flags on the island.  In 2005 the Canadian defence minister stopped on the island during a trip to the Arctic which resulted in another dispute between the governments.

Perhaps the most intense dispute in the Arctic has been and will be over the North Pole.  The North Pole has been claimed by many countries but it is yet to be determined which shelf it is attached to.  In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a Russian flag at the seabed of the North Pole and sparked a major international controversy.  Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay criticized the Russians for planting the flag as though it entitled them to sovereignty over the North Pole.  Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov responded that it was merely a celebration of national accomplishment akin to putting the American flag on the moon.  Despite this Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry claims that results from samples taken on the expedition indicate that the North Pole is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf and that Russia is entitled to the vast natural resources that it may hold.

The outcome of the battle for Arctic sovereignty could have a significant impact on global security.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the shipping industry could begin to use the Arctic as a major shipping route as the ice cap continues to melt.  This has consequences for border protection and the rights to charge levees on shipments.  Beyond that the Arctic is believed to have vast reserves of natural gas and oil.  With the impending deadlines and high economic incentives to gain sovereignty there is little doubt that conflict will arise.

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Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Will The Dragon Swallow The Bear?

If Russia’s future boils down to a choice between the East and the West, maybe it’s just about time for Moscow to start reconsidering its troubled relationship with Europe

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The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

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“Russia’s death will come in either of two ways – from the East by the sword of the awakened Chinese, or through the voluntary merger with a pan-European republican federation”. These stunning words were written by Konstantin Leontyev, a Russian philosopher, already in 1891. His judgment might be very close to the truth if one takes a closer look at what has been happening within the last decade in the vast, wild country of Far Eastern Siberia. Spanning over spectacular 6.2mln square kilometers, Far Eastern District is home to a mere 6.2 million people (population of Israel). Those 6 millions are mostly native Russians as well as some semi-nomadic indigenous tribes, who live in the wilderness breeding reindeers and cattle. Yet, since the collapse of Soviet Union, Siberian lands East of Baikal Lake have become home to hundreds of thousands (precise numbers are unknown) of Chinese, whose community has been growing exponentially every year since 1998.  Russia and China share a 2,038 mile-long border – one the longest in Asia. But there is a stark difference between a life in the South and the North – Chinese border provinces house ca. 110 million people, who have harvested the fruits of economic boom and indulged in development and unprecedented wealth for over a decade, whereas their Slavic neighbours were left with a feeling of gloom, frustration and abandonment by Moscow, watching from far away how the Russian cities West of Ural blossomed, showered with oil and gas money.

This is why scarcely populated, undeveloped and relatively impoverished Russia’s Far East has become an increasingly attractive destination for China’s investments. One of the areas of such investment is farming. Infinite amount of uncultivated land makes a perfect opportunity for the production of cheap food for Chinese markets. For example, in the Birobidzhan oblast, Stalin-made Jewish enclave, Chinese companies have already rented out hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and more is being bought or rented every year for cultivation. These companies do not hire locals, but bring their compatriots to do the seasonal work in the field. In the cities, Chinese businessmen run numerous enterprises, from shopping malls to vodka distilleries, hiring Chinese workers, and flooding Siberia with Chinese products, capital and culture. The invasion from the South makes Russians feel a bit like strangers in their own country but little choice they have, they accept for the most part foreigners’ presence. Without them, their cities and villages would never gain an equally good opportunity to advance economically. Nevertheless, fear of being overwhelmed by a populous and powerful neighbour is also spreading. To demonstrate just how much attention Chinese influx draws among Russian policymakers, one can look at Prime Minister Medvedev warning directed towards China in August this year, in which he stated that it is “important not to allow negative manifestations, including the formation of enclaves made up of foreign citizens”, as well as emphasized Russia’s need to defend itself against “excessive expansion by bordering states”.

On the other hand, Far Eastern District was the only Russian governorate in 2009 to experience a growing, rather than contracting, economy.  This growth was fuelled by Beijing’s growing appetite for Siberian great riches above and underneath the ground – timber, oil, gas and steel. Kimkan mine near Birobidzhan, now owned by a Chinese conglomerate IRC, holds ca. 1bln tonnes of iron ore and that’s just one single mine in this enormous country. Now, Kimkan’s iron has replaced imports from Brazil as a cheaper, more available source. Chinese lumberjacks smuggle thousands of tons of timber from Russia and sell them to wood mills back at home. China is also interested in Siberian water reservoirs as more and more of its cities suffer from water shortages, whereas Baikal lake contains a fifth (!) of world’s sweet water.  Yet, the most important project so far, which skyrocketed the value of Chinese-Russian trade, was the opening of an oil pipeline in January last year. This pipeline carries almost 15mln tones of oil every year directly into China. Another 15mln tons are transported to the Kozmino seaport near Vladivostok, and shipped to farther regions of Southern China. The pipeline project also was politically motivated on Moscow’s side – Putin wanted to send a message to EU that it’s not irreplaceable as a trade partner, and Russia doesn’t appreciate how Brussels constantly patronizes her and preaches how to run its domestic politics. If in Putin’s eyes, China is a better alternative than the EU, should then Russia view Chinese penetration of its Far Eastern territories as a security threat?

A threat from China does not come in a form of unparalleled value of trade between the two countries or from what is, as of now, the best period in Sino-Russian relations in history. The threat comes in size disparities, as Russia will never be able to compete with China, financially, economically nor militarily. Firstly, Russian state control of its Far Eastern territories is weak and Chinese are taking advantage of it very well. Scarce population in the area is mostly to be blamed, but widespread corruption and general social malaise are also at play. Declining native Russian population facilitates Chinese buyout even more. Moreover, Moscow also becomes increasingly dependent on China on its hard currency inflow – China has already taken over Germany as Russia’s biggest partner, whereas Russia is only on the eighth place in China’s trade balance and fifth in energy trading. With Russian physical presence virtually vanishing year by year, Far Eastern District, and in the end all of Siberia might become a Chinese dominion, which will fuel its titanic industrial sector, making China largely resilient to fluctuations in global resource prices. In the worst-case scenario, it will also allow China to become a virtually invincible military power, which will wield huge human resources, enormous industry to produce firearms, as well as its own, reliable source of energy and materials right from across the border. Russia’s traditional military strategy, which worked so well in past wars with Europe and which can be summed up as “human quantity over arms quality” supported by insurmountable resource capacity, will lose any value in the face of a conflict with 1bln-people-strong country. Fears of losing Siberia to China can be far-fetched, but looking at a current dispute between China and Japan over Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Chinese takeover of Siberia cannot be ruled out and should definitely become a central theme in Russian foreign policy thinking. Russia still aspires to be a peer to other global powers in this increasingly multilateral world, but a powerful neighbour encroaching on its greatest treasures can substantially impede its ability to exercise a successful foreign policy.

So if Russia’s future boils down to what Leontyev prophesied over a hundred years ago, a choice between the East and the West, maybe it’s just about time for Moscow to start reconsidering its troubled relationship with Europe.

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Photo Credit yvescosentino

Has The Surge In Afghanistan Worked?

As the surge in Afghanistan ends it is legitimate to ask to what extent it has achieved its security goals.  It is hardly a secret that the overall picture in Afghanistan encompasses complex economic and political factors above and beyond the security situation.

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The surge in Afghanistan is officially over: the last of the 30,000 additional American troops deployed by President Obama in December 2009 have left the country.

Of course, 68,000 US troops are still there alongside 38,000 from forty-nine nations [accurate to 10 September] and will remain, in gradually reducing numbers, up to and beyond the end of 2014 as per the agreements reached at the NATO Summits in Lisbon (2010) and Chicago (2012) respectively.

Nonetheless, September 2012 represents a noteworthy milestone in the campaign and has unsurprisingly been marked by active debate in the media as to the success, or otherwise, of the surge. Equally unsurprisingly, the debate has been coloured by the current security situation in Afghanistan, particularly the worrying increase of ‘green-on-blue’ incidents and the US death toll reaching 2,000 (3,195 ISAF fatalities overall)

However, the intrinsic link between security, economics and politics is fundamental to the situation in Afghanistan. At this point we’ll avoid the temptation to insert the usual quotes from Sun Tzu or Clausewitz so suffice to say that improvement in one area will never be achieved without improvement in the others, even accepting that security will never be perfect in Afghanistan.

This has always been the case but is especially pertinent today as we assess the impact of the military surge. As stated by the outgoing NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Simon Gass, on 19 September:

“[T]he biggest uncertainties about the future of Afghanistan are much more about politics and economics than they are about the security situation.”

On the economic and development side, there have long been questions as to why greater tangible success has apparently been so elusive in Afghanistan, despite the huge amounts of western money that have been thrown at the problem. A simple, even simplistic, answer is that too much money has been haphazardly thrown at a complex range of problems which have never been properly defined or understood.

For example, last week it was reported that British development efforts in Helmand province have in fact gone too far, meaning that many new schools and clinics will be closed because the Afghan government cannot afford to sustain them in the medium- to long-term.

This disclosure will not surprise those with experience of reconstruction and development in Afghanistan but it does serve as a strong reminder, if that were even necessary, of the fundamental need to ensure sustainability and genuine Afghan ownership up to and beyond 2014.

That said, the mistakes admitted to by the British presence in Helmand should not detract from their achievements there. More importantly, they should not undermine the continued international support for development in Afghanistan. Referring to the Tokyo conference in July, Ambassador Gass highlighted the relevance of that support for the future of Afghanistan.

“It gives a high degree of assurance that when our countries say that we will support Afghanistan we mean it, because we have put figures to our promises.”

In short, while uncertainties remain in security, economics and development, the international community does have the means to positively affect the situation, although that depends on the Afghan government assuming its responsibilities, notably in seriously tackling corruption. So improvement will primarily be driven by the Afghans themselves but with a tangible international commitment to support them long-term. In the political sphere, in contrast, the solution lies entirely with the Afghans.

Great challenges and uncertainties lie therein, especially in the context of the Presidential elections to be held in 2014. Since President Karzai cannot stand for a third term, this amounts to the first democratic transition of political power in decades. Aside from the obvious need to at least limit (i.e. greatly reduce) the levels of electoral fraud which marked the 2009 elections, the legitimacy of the next government, and by extension its effectiveness, will depend on the political settlement that will emerge over the next two years.

Partly that will likely require some kind of agreement with the Taliban, or factions within it, but this also requires outreach to all ethnic and political groups in Afghanistan. A general acceptance of the political order – firstly through (relatively) fair and legitimate elections – will be just as essential to long-term security and development as the Afghan security forces and international assistance.

In conclusion, as the surge ends it is legitimate to ask to what extent it achieved its security goals but it is hardly a secret that the overall picture in Afghanistan encompasses complex economic and political factors above and beyond the security situation. That being the case, and contrary to what many commentators would have us believe, even now it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions concerning the future of Afghanistan and certainly not when those are solely based on security incidents.

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Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

Israel: Security & Foreign Policy

Israel on the International Stage: A Security or Foreign policy?
{Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds}

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Israel, security is a “dormant war” (Rabin, 1967, 195).  Although internal political evolution and external international developments has seen changing stimuli, the direction of Israel’s international policy has remained the same: entirely subservient to the perceived need to maintain security. An examination of Israeli-US and Israeli-Middle East relations, coupled with understanding of internal influences on the foreign policy elite, will demonstrate that foreign policy is a continual response to security threats, presenting “remarkable agreement within the Israeli body politic on essential foreign policy themes,” (Reich, 1988, 17). Security is the dominant policy concern, and when there are other goals, which have had to be pursued for reasons domestic electoral supremacy, they have always been implemented or assessed through the prism of security.

For this essay, considerations of the external appearance of Israel are central. Whilst the considerations of leaders internal power dynamics and Israel’s domestic political fabric provides some account of why security has consistently dominated foreign policy, it does little more than assume the premise. And before the discussion can begin justifiably, the security focus must be proven. Thus, the internal rubric, which aggregates the influences on internal foreign policy creation, holds little significance for this treatment.

Moreover, there is a tendency to explain the security focus as one institutionalized in “a restricted process” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 94), created by people “socialized in the defense establishment” (Inbar, 1998, 63). Amongst others, examples of the Knesset’s regular conflations of foreign and security policy give credence to such analysis. Evidenced by meetings of the cross party forum of foreign policy and defense issues, the overlapping of foreign and military spheres are rife and well-documented. However, a fierce internal debate rages, where the former is rebutted by examples of limited security significance, such as Netanyahu’s hamstrung National Security Council (Makovsky, 1999) which has given ammunition to reformist writers. Ultimately though, the internal foreign policy decision matrix “comprises: (a) societal factors […] which derive from cumulative historical legacy; and (b) personality factors […] those aspects of elite attitudes which are not generated by their role occupancy,” (Brecher, 1972, 11), or in logically equivalent terms: “the military and social aspects of national security are closely interrelated,” (Horrowirz-Lissak, 1989, 197). The result has been the formation of a unique Israeli narrative that pervades the following investigation, and will show how each aspect of foreign policy has been slanted by Orientalist conceptions of ‘us vs. them’ security policy. 

Untangling the strands of Foreign Policy

In claiming one policy can be subservient to another, one generally assumes foreign and security policies can be segregated and balanced against each other. However, appealing critiques argues that in Israel the two areas converge far too regularly, or are too inextricably linked, to be considered separately. In most 21st century states, especially since the advent of the War on Terror, this approach seems tenable. Indeed, as threats to most liberal democracies have become more domestic so too has foreign policy become more centered on national security: traditional lines of delineation don’t work. In reality, it is still possible to see different foreign policy directions. In Israel, where domestic and foreign security threats exist inseparably, it is more accurate to say national security has been the dominant focus of foreign policy rather than usurped its significance entirely: security is dominant amongst equals, a supreme sub-section of traditional foreign policy. To such ends, “issue area focuses” (Rosenau, 1967, 11-50) are vital.

Foreign policy can be split into four overlapping areas: security, political/diplomatic, economic/developmental, and cultural. Importantly, the groups are divided by substantive content rather than motive, largely because “choice of content derives from the fact that is self-evident, whereas motivation emerges after analysis has been completed,” (Brecher, 1972, 13). The first, security, is defined here as, “Issues which […] pertain to violence, including alliances and weaponry,” (Brecher, 1972, 13).

This definition is vague, “the study of foreign policy is underdeveloped: […] and analysis for the most part lacks rigor,” (Brecher, 1972, 1). However, for our purposes, the sentiment rings true. In Israel, security policy, as distinct from its rivals, amounts to those areas where ‘violence, including alliances and weaponry’ are designed to alleviate or divert threats, and has been seen most commonly in country-to-country relationships. In line with Brecher, who defined his seminal research around “the selection, among perceived alternatives, of one option leading to a course of action in the internal system,” (Brecher, 1974, 1), there will be a macro focus to our evaluation. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ policies to other countries will be considered as complimentary rather than separate, whilst the former is often more obvious in its security focus, the latter underpins the broader aims.

However, the aims themselves are unclear. Whereas, in most cases one could locate the dominant considerations of foreign policy by consulting a stated doctrine – such as the Bush administration 2001 NSS document – this for Israel is impossible. The lack of a clear national security doctrine to which one can refer is a problem that has plagued most of the literature, justifying stunted comparisons.

In Israel carefully evolved strategy remains ad hoc, developing sporadically upon a combination of peacetime principles and wartime necessities (Rodman, 2011), election patterns and international circumstance. Therefore to argue that foreign policy in Israel is subservient to security policy the signifiers must be reductively identified. Whilst “determining […] national interest […] remains a vexed question,” (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 93), history has suggested some insoluble aims. Such as: the stabilization of troublesome borders and defensive geography with the use of limited manpower; the creation of military superiority and deterrence (Bowker, 1996, 114), either by self-reliance, great power patronage or, historically, the maintenance of divisions within the Arab world (Telhami, 1990, 400), and dispersal of Middle Eastern threats.

The pursuance of these aims, born from weak borders, limited manpower and historical ostracisation, is our focus here, starting with a dependency on a global Hegemon. Our first consideration, the US-Israeli relationship, came from the broader Israeli foreign policy principle that “Israel should always have at least one great power patron,” (Rodman, 2011). Historically, the fit has been uncomfortable. In fact, Ben-Gurion’s awareness of a large Jewish Diaspora behind the iron-curtain, and the influence of socialist Zionism on political institutions, meant the USSR offered more ideological symmetry (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 97). However, in light of their malaise towards non-liberal-democracies, Israel originally turned to France for a relationship culminating in the Lavon Affair. This scramble for a great power patron, and the thaw of a frosty relationship between the US and Israel in the 50s and 60s, provides a key example of Israel’s security focus that is often under analyzed. The building of such relationships (Eytan, 2006, 169-182), regardless of socio-cultural symmetry, indicates an Israeli foreign policy concerned less with ideology than with arms. Where America failed to supply weaponry, commit troops or develop research-links, France succeeded, creating close ties between Jerusalem and Paris. Where such assurances of security faltered (e.g. the Suez/Egyptian quagmire), Israel deliberately cooled relations, turning to a new patron. Whereas most liberal democracies are expected to temper realist intent with ideological motive, Israel’s great power patrons have been decided, with perceived legitimacy, by security maintenance. Even before specific alliances are formed then, we see options considered through a security prism.

Parasitic Interests and The Lobby 

The subsequent progression of academic evaluations of Israel and its great power – from co-beneficial to parasitic – has been retarded by strange systematic oversights. Special relationships like these, by definition, recognize the supremacy of one country over another, thus academic analysis has often discounted the policies of the lesser party as reactive: informed by the desire to maintain the patron at any price. Mearsheimer and Walt (2009), for example, concerned themselves with those of America exclusively, dismissing the complexity of Israel as a ‘strategic liability’ since the close of the Cold War. However, if we ignore the host temporarily and consider the parasite, a more equitable distribution of aims emerges. In fact, “since the end of the Cold War, Israelis have become concerned regarding the role and capabilities of the United States,” (Steinberg, 1998, emphasis added); a concern nurtured by a Republican Congress and the policies of the Senator Jesse Helms (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Once we recognize the aims of the client it is easier to see the commonality of Israel’s security focus. Indeed, only the reality that even a reduced American role is still vital to Israel (Steinberg, 1998) has kept the patrons’ clientele. Israel’s relationship towards the US is one dependent on real strategic value, and its prioritization over any other foreign policy concerns has marked a belief within the electorate that disengagement is possible, if not currently desirable.

US-Israeli relations, and specifically the lobby, have been largely separated from consideration of the Israeli national security doctrine: fifty years after the formation of AIPAC, the academic debate is stagnant. Most considerations survive by their interaction with the seminal work of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, and thereby fail to constitute alternate interpretations. Their central argument largely holds true, despite contemporary difficulties and weak academic criticism (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 61),  but the debate regarding US benefits has been had, an evaluation of the Israeli motivation is needed.

Such evaluation posits that every available example of the lobby exerting influence has been for security ends (below). Moreover, it was the realization of threats from surrounding Arab nations, rather than the desire for cultural or political global assimilation, that proved the main instigator of an Israeli policy to court “the US more assiduously, a process that included supporting more vigorously lobby groups of Capitol Hill,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 100).

For example, Martin Indyk, the former Deputy Director of research at AIPAC, was given a senior position in Middle Eastern policy formation in the Clinton administration (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65).  The background of the appointee is less significant than his destination. This was not a victory for the Israeli lobby in cultural or economic spheres, but in security. Likewise, in Spring 2002, when the IDF resumed control of Palestinian settlements of the West Bank, Bush’s demand that Sharon “halt the incursion and begin withdrawal,” (Bush, 4th April 2002) went unheeded and without enforcement. The Israeli lobby, through Tom Delay (D-TX) and Richard Armey (R-TX), forced the administration to back down with the passing of two resolutions (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65). The significant weight of the Israeli lobby was again bought to bear on security aims before any other.  It is worth noting, though, that security aims may have been facilitated by unregulated socio-cultural hegemony between the two countries. A large Jewish Diaspora, and similar patterns of political evolution, has allowed other issues area to fade in significance, maintained as they are by informal cultural influences.

However, the quantifiable evidence available shows a relationship between soft power influences in, hard policy output of, the US administration that has allowed the importance of security in Israel to bleed out of the American lobby. The US response is a tacit assurance of the supremacy of security policy in Israel, evidenced by American conduct during the 1995 NPT conference (Steinberg, 1996). Such timidity from the US is the result of security rhetoric of a more obvious kind: “we made it clear to the United States that Israel had its own considerations which are unique to its situation in the region,” (Netanyahu, 1998). Investigations into the role of soft Israeli policy in the United States, shows clearly that, whilst other considerations exist, they do so in the shadow of security concerns. 

Quantifiable Support for Security

Harder relations are easier to quantify. Almost all official trade and intelligence agreements have been focused, at least on Israel’s part, on the enhancement of national security. Acting upon Kissinger’s historic commitment to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative edge” (Gold, 1992), and beginning, during the expansion of the Cold War arms race in the Middle East, with the first sale of Hawk missiles to Israel, the official US-Israeli relationship was founded amid a plethora of security threats that have refused to abate. The result has been a series of financial trade agreements and intelligence alliances that have dwarfed other Israeli foreign policy concerns in output alone. Even after economic aid ceased, military aid continued uninterrupted, facilitating the creation of the preemptive doctrine (Ovendale, 1999, 195-205) and demonstrating renewed prioritization of security policy at the turn of Israeli fortunes. For example, from 1971-76 Israel was able to secure $6.9 billion in aid (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 104-105), the majority of which supported their mammoth defense expenditure (Mintz, 1985, 9-28). The Joint Political and Military Group (JPMG), in addition, met twice yearly to “provide a forum for ongoing co-ordination” in response to “regional threats,” (Steinberg, 1998).

However, clearly not every aspect of the relationship is concerned with security. Israel’s “willingness to forgo” retaliatory strikes against Saddam Hussein (Steinberg, 1998), for example, is levied as evidence that Israel sacrifices security for patron maintenance. However, given that restraint led directly to the American pledge for security against WMDs (Steinberg, 1998), a more compelling interpretation is that Israel sacrificed short-term security vulnerability for long-term security assurances. That said, the Middle Eastern peace process remains one level upon which Israel’s foreign policy towards the US doesn’t fixate on security exclusively. Tellingly though, in this area unlike others, although differences and tensions have been rife (see Steinberg, 1998), “strong disagreements have not resulted in any visible decline in the level of strategic co-operation,” (Steinberg, 1998). Why? Often disagreements within the peace process are ignored or relegated due to inconvenience.

For foreign policy elites, maintenance of security with a great power patron has trumped rivalries in Middle Eastern diplomacy.  The ensuing relationship has been vital to Israeli security, too vital to see squandered on bargaining positions, not least of all in its ability to force a tacit concession amongst most Arab states that Israel has a right to exist, (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 115). 

The Focus of Security

Whereas Euro-American relations see security founded on amicable terms, in reality, “… all aspects of foreign policy are skewed towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and are overshadowed by the focus on the security and the survival state,” (Reich, 1988, 1).

The priority of national security due to perceived necessity rather than societal preferences is born internally from the longevity of the threat, beginning with regular raids on the Yishuv (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 198). The reason for, and understanding of, security dominance arises from the lack of perceived development away from such threats; few open lines of dialogue and fewer cultural or intelligence exchanges, has created “a region where the use of force is widely considered a policy option and one which receives popular support […] Israel’s predicament has hardly changed,” (Inbar-Sheffer, 1997, 156). If Inbar’s claim holds true, Israeli foreign policy has inevitably withdrawn to security focus.

As a policy option in the wider Middle East the threat can be considered real, whilst to be seen to be the security candidate is vital, as was the case this year with Netanyahu’s negotiation of Gilad Shalit’s return (Levy, 2009). Such an equation is confounded by the perceived reality of the elite (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 113; Brecher, 1972, 12; Sprout, 1961, 109), and would therefore fit realist and neo-liberal interpretations alike.

Israel’s response to historical vulnerabilities demonstrates security policy supremacy in itself. Emerging with porous and conflicted borders from the War of Independence in 1949, policies evolved as attempts to secure these. “Strategic depth”, to fight the ease with which Israel could be divided, for example, led to a key emphasis on preventive (1956) and preemptive (1967) war (Rodman, 2011; Handel, 1973, 1-36), and to IDF retaliation against bandit incursions on Israeli land. However, debate arises, post-1967, with the acquisition of the Occupied Territories (OT) (Horowitz, 1975, 13-41) and the passing of ‘strategic depth’ into relative obscurity.

However, to argue that security was a focus that existed only while necessary is naïve for two reasons. Firstly, most threats are now low-intensity, requiring different tactics that would present less aggressively. Pre-emptive and preventative wars were, to illustrate, substituted for settlement re-housing and the creation of ‘the wall’. Secondly, most other threats now come from long-range missiles and WMDs (Cohen, Eisenstadt & Bacevich, 1995, 78), and as a result border security specifically has a less noticeable impact of foreign policy (Rodman, 2011). Indeed, the threat of WMDs has consistently caused security concerns which usurp Middle Eastern policy. Now, the “primary concern among Israeli decision makers centers on the threat […] of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 117), but the sincerity of this threat is questionable. Sprinzak proves the dominance of security in response to WMDs by political force of habit, rather than genuine threat response. On this question, modern Israeli identity is manipulated by “the constant presence of an enemy at the gate”, the absence of which would instigate an “identity crisis” (Sprinzak, 1998).  The rationality of the response is insignificant here (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 118), but the way it has fostered an unalterable approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy undeniably indicates security’s dominance. The results of which are clear (see Beres, 1986 and Cohen, 1998). 

Diplomatic Evolution

The more potent threats of state and non-state terrorism have been alleviated, in part, by exchanging acquired territories for peace. However, the pervasiveness of security concerns in this new OT policy direction has not diminished. Direct public meetings between Israelis and Arabs have been, and are still, almost always handled by “military men” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 209), suggesting a more security-focused approach. In explanation, a ‘security’ rather than ‘foreign/diplomatic’ policy towards the OT’s is necessary because the reverse would be a tacit concession that they constitute a foreign land rather than a national security dilemma. And despite developments, considerations have remained unchanged, “Palestinian territories were to be dealt with by Israel’s security forces as a security problem,” (Reich, 1988, 9), and still are.

For progression, the political future of Palestinians, which is a “more complex matter” (Reich, 1988, 8), must divorce itself from exclusively security concerns.

The general lack of that progress is in itself indicative of the supremacy of security policy. Whereas continued effort by the international community has failed to broker political settlement, Israel’s national security is maintained ruthlessly through IDF prevention and retaliation. Even conflation of politics and security sees the latter dominate, evidenced by governmental attempts “to limit the settlements to those that could serve a security function,” (Reich, 1988, 10). The OTs remain the single most important consideration of Israeli foreign policy, and they have been approached will almost unanimous security focus.

The election of the Rabin-Peres administration is the only anomaly, presenting brief moment of public disenfranchisement from the security rhetoric (Kimche, 1996, 139-40). The freezing of settlement building, (Reich, 1988, 6), as well as circumstantial developments in diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Tunisia (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 116), are often offered as evidence of diminished security focus. However, the change was limited and reactive. It provided at best an interlude, and worse “continuity” (Reich, 1988, 15), to a security focus in the OT and wider foreign policy directions.

The current stance towards the OTs, like that of the wider Israeli foreign policy elite towards America and the broader Middle East is one dominated by security, colored incidentally by “the incursion of political and ideological considerations,” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 202). The result, however, has been friendly to the security agenda, bolstered by a powerful force “based on an Orientalist view of the Arab world,” (Cypel, 2006, 80). Israeli foreign policy, which has been examined here in its external context in order to compliment extensive work on internal considerations elsewhere in the academy, proves subservient to security policy: its primary and secondary goals remain evaluated through the prism of security.

 

[toggle title=”Bibliography”]

Lithographs

Bowker, Robert (1996). Beyond Peace: The search for Security in the Middle East (London: Lynne Riener).

Brecher, Michael (1972). The Foreign Policy System of Israel: Setting, Images, Process (London: Oxford University Press)

Brecher, Michael (1974). Decisions in Israel’s Foreign Policy (London: Oxford University Press).

Cohen, Avner (1998). Israel and The Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press).

Cypel, Sylvian (2006). Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (New York: Other Press).

Handel, M (1973). Israel’s Political-Military Doctrine (Cambridge: Occasional Papers).

Horowitz, Dan (1975). Israel’s concept of Defensible Borders (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Horowitz, Dan and Lisak, Moshe (1989). Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel (New York: State University of New York Press).

Inbar, Efraim and Sheffer, Gabriel (1997). The National Security of Small States in a Changing World (London: Frank Cass).

Jones, Clive and Murphy, Emma C (2002). Israel: Challenges to Identity, Democracy and the State (London: Routledge)

Overndale, Ritchie (1999). The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Wars (Harlow: Longman Press).

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Rosenau, James N (1967). Domestic Sources of Foreign Policy (New York: The Free Press).

Journals 

Cohen, Eisenstadt and Bacevich (1995). ‘Knives, Tanks and Missiles’ in Cohen, Stuart A, ‘Small States and Their Armies: Restructuring The Militia Framework of the IDF’ in The Journal of Strategic Studies (Vol. 18, No. 4).

Boulding, Kenneth (1959). ‘National Images and International Systems’ in The Journal of Conflict Resolution (iii).

Gerstenfeld, Manfred (2007). ‘European-Israeli Relations: Between Conclusion and Change?’ in Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Eytan, Freddy (2005). ‘French History and Current Attitudes to Israel; An Interview with Freddy Eytan’ in Manfred (2007, above).

Gold, Dore (1992). ‘US Policy Towards Israel’s Qualitative Edge’ in Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies (Report No. 36).

Inbar, Efraim (1998) ‘Israeli National Security, 1973-1996’ in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Vol. 555, No. 1).

Inbar, Efraim (1998). ‘Israel Strategy’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 2, No. 4).

Jones, Clive (1997). ‘Ideotheology: Dissonance and Discourse in the State of Israel’ in Israel Affairs (Vol. 3, No. 3 & 4).

Kimche, David (1996). ‘The Arab-Israeli Peace Process’ in Security Dialogue (Vol 27, No. 2).

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Rodman, David (1997). ‘Patron-Client Dynamics: Mapping the American-Israeli Relationship’ in Israel Affairs (Vol 4. No. 2).

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Steinberg, Gerald M (1996). ‘The 1995 NPT Extension and Review Conference and The Arab-Israeli Peace Process’ in Non-Proliferation Review (Vol. 4, No. 1).

Steinberg, Gerald M (1998). ‘Israel and the United States: Can the Special relationship Survive the New Strategic Environment?’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 2, No. 4).

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Levy, Gideon (22nd December, 2009). ‘Gilad Shalit Must be Released at Any Cost’ in Ha’aretz. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/gilad-shalit-must-be-released-at-any-cost-1.1639 [Last accessed 08/01/12]/

Makovsky, David (8th March, 1999). ‘Government Approves National Security Council Concept’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)

Makovsky, David (13 April, 2010). ‘Obama and Netanyahu can’t afford to disagree’ in Ha’aretz. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/obama-and-netanyahu-can-t-afford-to-disagree-1.284148 [Last accessed: 08/01/09]

Rabin, Yitzhak (21st September, 1967). Lecture printed in Academy in Memory of Yitzhak Sadeh (Hebrew, English translation).

Shiff, Z (June 24th, 1979). ‘Whose Professional Opinion Prevails?’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)

Sprinzak, Ehud (29th September, 1998), ‘Revving up an Idle Threat’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)

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Sinai Flashpoint

The effect on Israeli-Egyptian relations of terrorism in the Sinai.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the strongest Arab state, Egypt’s policy towards Israel is vital to the Middle East’s politics. Before the 1979 Camp David Accords, Egypt’s military power made conventional wars palatable to the other Arab states. Until that time, the Sinai Peninsula was the major battleground between Israel and the Arab world and where many of those wars were decided.

However, the 1979 peace treaty, the cornerstone of American regional policy, is arguably in some jeopardy. Egypt’s liberal politicians are frequently anti-Semitic with Washington favourite Ayman Nour describing the role of peace agreement as having ended. The Salafi party, al-Nour, has discussed the remilitarisation of the Sinai, which is barred by the peace agreement. The Muslim Brotherhood has announced it would put the agreement to a public referendum – a betting man would put money on such a vote resulting in the treaty being revoked. The Egyptian military, which routinely mounts major exercises simulating a war with Israel, had to be pressured by the Americans to evacuate Israeli diplomats trapped in the Cairo embassy when it came under attack, after desperate phone calls from Tel Aviv were ignored.

In short, it should be clear that a crisis has the potential to escalate in a way unlikely during Hosni Mubarak’s reign. Admittedly, this is a very brief assessment of Egypt’s likely policy towards Israel in future. But my intention here is to show that any such assessment must include an analysis of the emerging nexus between the Sinai’s Bedouin, Palestinian militants and al-Qaeda. 2004-2011 saw a serious increase in acts of terrorism in the Sinai, as well as across in to Israel and Jordan. Much discussion of the future of the peace treaty has focussed on a conflict in Gaza drawing in Egypt. While this is a risk, the trend of violence in the Sinai may lead to a similar test of the agreement.

The Bedouin and the 2004-6 resort bombings

The Sinai’s Bedouin have suffered from significant discrimination from the central government in Egypt. The traditional Bedouin lifestyle and social structures have often come in to conflict with settled communities, but the problems the Bedouin face in terms of housing, employment and land rights have led at least some Bedouin to turn to violence. This has not become a full-blown insurgency. Nor has the Sinai’s relative lack of control by central government led to the creation of an al-Qaeda safe-haven of the like seen in Yemen or Somalia. The grievances the peninsula’s large population of unassimilated Bedouin hold against Cairo have not led to a minority-interest political force akin to Hezbollah.

However, the last ten years saw the Bedouin come in to closer contact with ideologies and organisation it was not previously identified with: Palestinian militancy, particularly that of Hamas, and, to a lesser extent, violent Islamism as typified by al-Qaeda.The Bedouin’s largest contribution to Middle East violence had previously been smuggling arms in to the Gaza Strip, a demand which grew hugely in 2000 due to the Second Intifada. The Bedouin sold ordnance left over from the peninsula’s many battles between Egypt and Israel as well as arms moved from abroad. Latterly, this included arms smuggled from Iran, sub-Saharan Africa and, most recently, Libya. As the Israeli blockade on Gaza tightened, the demand for consumer goods also grew. The arms and goods were and are moved through the Sinai and then in to Gaza through the tunnels under the city of Rafah.

This relationship developed in to something more like cross-pollination rather than a fully-fledged alliance. The 7th October 2004 bombing of Taba, a resort popular with Israelis, killed 34 people and was the most serious act of terrorism in Egypt since the Luxor massacre of 1997. Significantly, it was carried out by an Egyptian-born Palestinian leading a mixed group of Bedouins, Egyptians and Palestinians named Tawhid wa-Jihad. Although the group claimed responsibility on a website commonly used by the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Iraq branch of al-Qaeda, it seems this was an effort to gain legitimacy rather than an indication of organisational association.

Egyptian authorities claimed that the group received training in Gaza and used explosives supplied by Sinai smugglers. The Egyptian prosecutor said that the group had intended to cross in to the Palestinian territories and mount attacks on Israel, but were prevented from doing so and thus chose to strike tourist sites popular with Israelis. The inevitable Egyptian crackdown was aimed almost entirely at the Sinai’s Bedouin. As many as 2,400 were arrested following the 2004 bombings, and most of the suspected ringleaders were killed in the attack or in firefights with security forces.

The 23rd July 2005 bombings at Sharm el-Sheikh claimed 88 lives, most of them Egyptian. This was a departure from the Taba attack, in that the targets chosen in Sharm el-Sheikh were not particularly popular with foreign tourists. Egyptian media at the time, as well as other analysts since, have suggested that the motive in killing Egyptians was an answer to perceived discrimination against the Bedouin.The bombing was followed a month later by an attack against the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), the United Nations force responsible for monitoring the Egypt-Israel border. This attack left two Canadian soldiers slightly injured. Attacks on the MFO are more indicative of a jihadi mindset, in that the Bedouin’s main quarrel has been with Cairo and Egyptians.The bombing of Dahab on 24th April 2006, which killed 21 people, was accompanied by two suicide attacks against the MFO, causing minor injuries. The tourist sites at Dahab were, as with Sharm el-Sheikh, more populated by Egyptian than Western tourists, an indicator of Bedouin militancy.

If we cannot say exactly whose ideology dominates the Bedouin terrorists, we can at least identify where they are largely from. Men from the town of El-Arish in Northern Sinai have been involved in all three attacks in 2004-6. The anti-Cairo sentiment of those behind those attacks is clear from the decision to strike on dates of important Egyptian public holidays –Armed Forces Day, Revolution Day and Sinai Liberation Day, respectively. Whether the root of these choices of dates is Bedouin grievance or jihadi antipathy for the hated Mubarak government is difficult to say.

The Palestinians

Significantly, the day of the attack on Dahab also saw a major attack against the Karni border crossing in to Israel, carried out by the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and thwarted by Palestinian security forces. The timing is very unlikely to have been a coincidence. Nor was the PRC’s involvement, as they are involved in the smuggling of arms and goods in to Gaza. While Hamas, Islamic Jihad and most Palestinian factions have largely refrained from operating outside Israel/Palestine or targeting the West, the PRC ambushed an American diplomatic convoy in 2003, killing three American security officers. The PRC has also been involved in sending attackers against Israel via the Sinai.

While there were not successful repeats of the resort bombings, there was at least one effort reported in 2008, which was thwarted by Egyptian security forces. The Sinai has also been used repeatedly as a route for Palestinian militants moving from Gaza in to Israel. A suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Eilat in 2007 was carried out by a terrorist who had taken that route, and several other attempts were prevented by Israeli security forces.

The most visible Palestinian challenge to Egyptian sovereignty came in 2008 after Palestinian militants blew holes in the border wall. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streamed in to the Sinai, mostly taking the opportunity to buy consumer goods, but scores were armed members of terrorist groups. Many were arrested by Egyptian security forces, apparently en route to strike resorts frequented by Israelis. During the border breach episode, Egyptian security forces were attacked several times by Palestinian gunmen, who caused several deaths and injuries. Although there was little in the way of Bedouin involvement in the breach of the border, the incident was indicative of Egypt’s weak control over its eastern-most territories and borders. In 2010, there were two instances of rockets being fired from the Sinai in to Israel and Jordan. While Hamas was blamed, it seems likely there was some Bedouin involvement in or knowledge of the operation.

We must also briefly mention Gaza’s radical, al-Qaeda-aligned groups, foremost amongst them, the Army of Islam. The group has had a difficult relationship with Hamas, cooperating with them in the 2006 operation that led to the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but violently clashing a year later when the Army of Islam kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Centred on the large Dughmush family, the group has been accused by Egypt of mounting the December 2010 attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 people as well as other fatal attacks in Egypt.

The Sinai since Mubarak’s fall – al-Qaeda emerges

If Egyptian control of the Sinai was weak before the Arab Spring, the revolution damaged it considerably. On 5th February 2011, a bomb planted on the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel and Jordan disrupted supplies for several weeks, a scenario which occurred ten times this year. Unsurprisingly, most of the bombs were planted near El-Arish. The summer saw the most serious increase in Sinai violence since 2006. On 29th July, hundreds of black-clad militants, along with Palestinian terrorists, clashed with Egyptian security forces in a battle that cost seven lives. On the same day, about 100 similarly-dressed men attacked the police station in El-Arish, killing five people. The men, calling themselves, Takfir wal-Hirja, flew al-Qaeda flags and distributed leaflets and are said to be Bedouin from a particular village in Northern Sinai. Some escaped to Gaza, where Hamas is refusing to turn them over to Egypt.

As a result of these incidents, in August the Egyptian military launched Operation Eagle, sending thousands of troops in hundreds of armoured vehicles to restore order. While the operation lead to some arrests, it did not disrupt preparations for a cross-border attack in to Israel that same month. On 18th August 2011, several small teams of terrorists crossed in to southern Israel and attacked civilian traffic and security forces with small arms, suicide belts, IEDs and anti-tank weapons, killing eight people. Eight of the terrorists were killed by Israeli forces. Several Egyptian soldiers were also killed, some in a suicide bombing on the Egyptian side of the border, and others in disputed circumstances during combat between Israel, fleeing terrorists and the Egyptian security forces. Mortars were also fired at Israeli workers building a fence along the Egypt-Israel border.

At least three of the militants killed were Egyptian, one of whom had been jailed by Egypt for his radical affiliations, but escaped during the revolution. Other Egyptian militants, some of them Bedouin, being sought by Egypt in connection with the attacks in El-Arish and southern Israel are now in Gaza, with Hamas refusing to extradite them. While Israel blamed the PRC, who denied involvement, the United States has posited that the PRC played a scouting role and a nascent al-Qaeda cell played a significant role in the attack. Indeed, an organisation calling itself ‘Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula’ announced itself that summer with a mixture of traditional jihadi rhetoric, Bedouin grievance and anti-Israeli policy. Another group, ‘Ansar al-Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula’, was in December. These groups are probably successor organisations to the networks behind the resort bombings of the mid-2000s, but whoever they are, they are making an effort to unite with al-Qaeda that their predecessors did not.

A new day in Cairo – moving forward in the Sinai

The revolution has left a vacuum in the Sinai that is only now being filled by Egyptian security forces. In the absence of police, local tribes launched the ‘Salafi Group in Northern Sinai’ to maintain some element of law and order, even as it turned a blind eye to most smuggling. One of the founder’s rejected the notion of creating an Islamic Emirate, but did suggest that “Sinai may become part of another state should the borders be changed”. This nascent separatism is indicative of the animosity the new Cairo government will have to address. To do this, Egypt must address Bedouin complaints about their treatment. There are obviously strong cases to be made for doing this as a social good, but Cairo must also view this as a necessity for future security.

This effort must be complemented by a restoration of military control over the Sinai in order to prevent the sort of crisis that might endanger Egyptian-Israeli peace. Ironically, the peace treaty is something of an impediment, in that it establishes the peninsula as a demilitarised zone. In that past, this has been sidestepped when both parties have agreed to temporary deployments of Egyptian soldiers – most recently in July 2011, which saw thousands of troops in armoured vehicles take part in Operation Eagle, aimed at tackling violence and disorder amongst the Bedouin. Some of those troops are still there in a show of force in the trouble-spots of El Arish and Rafah. But as we have learned to our cost in Afghanistan and Iraq, military occupation without political and social progress will not produce results. One must accompany the other.

Assuming the Egyptians request Israel’s agreement to further operations to take control of the Sinai, Israel would be wise to consent. Although the Israelis will have concerns about remilitarisation of what has been a thirty-year buffer zone, the risk of continued Sinai violence is more of a threat than a temporary increase in Egyptian troops there. However, it would also be wise to press the Egyptians to make securing the Gaza border an element of their efforts. Cairo must recognise that the traffic of arms and militants through the Rafah tunnels is travelling both ways and is part of the problem. There are reasons for optimism. Arrests have been made of suspects in the bombings of the gas pipelines. In August, senior Egyptian officers met with Sinai leaders to improve relations. They promised development and jobs, but these promises have been made before.

The prospect of an Egyptian-Israeli clash remains. Israel has accused Egypt of turning a blind eye to Hamas infrastructure in the Sinai, an accusation Egypt predictably denied. In response to the deteriorating security situation, Israel has established a brigade to protect the border with Egypt. However, the situation can be salvaged if Cairo-Sinai relations are improved and security is restored. But much depends on the approach the new Egyptian government takes.