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North Korea Could Someday Have over 300 Nuclear Weapons. What Should America Do?

The National Interest - Wed, 11/10/2023 - 00:00

Imagine you are the dictator of a small, impoverished country. You are, by nature, paranoid about potential threats to your survival and control of your country. Indeed, your number one objective is regime survival and control. So you devise a story about one of your neighbors and the United States being your vicious enemies, intent on devastating your country. This becomes the base fabrication of a series of manufactured claims, including how wonderful your country is and how outside powers are inferior and hostile. You brutally suppress any internal opposition to this view and shut out as much external information as possible that might contest your assertions.

You also spend a large fraction of your meager gross domestic product to sustain your military and provide it with whatever advanced weapons you can. You explain that these forces are necessary to deter and defeat your enemies. You pursue the ultimate weapon system, nuclear weapons, to make yourself appear, both inside your country and beyond, a powerful and necessary leader. You plan to also use nuclear weapons for coercive purposes against the neighboring country you want to dominate. You then claim that your country is a powerful nuclear weapon state, one of only nine in the world, and thus a truly remarkable country, made great by your leadership.

This perspective helps us understand why Kim Jong-un feels he really cannot give up his nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are critical to the worldview Kim has created for his people to justify his brutal reign and provide a means to achieve his objective of dominating South Korea. Eliminate the nuclear weapons, and Kim is little more than a poor leader of a weak state, ripe for overthrow, much like the Kim family’s friend Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was overthrown as the dictator of Romania in 1989. 

That is not to say that Kim cannot be overthrown, but such an outcome is much less likely as long as he possesses a meaningful number of nuclear weapons. Indeed, Kim has announced that he will exponentially increase his nuclear weapons, apparently intent on building a relatively significant force of perhaps 300 to 500 nuclear weapons or more. 

In short, Kim has created conditions that make it inconceivable that he could denuclearize. And yet, his possession of nuclear weapons does not guarantee his regime’s survival. It is true that the United States and South Korea have much more to lose than gain from an invasion of the North. But if they perceive that Kim could well launch a nuclear attack, they may decide that they have little choice but to act first. The same is true of how China feels about North Korea. China has even threatened to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons if the regime pursues war or collapses.

The United States needs to make North Korean denuclearization a long-term objective but focus in the immediate future on limiting the size and danger of the North Korean nuclear weapon force by achieving a complete or major freeze of North Korean nuclear weapon production. Kim would view such a freeze as countering his objectives and thus a jeopardy to his regime. Therefore, to succeed, a ROK-U.S. effort to achieve a freeze must also challenge his administration through information operations. Such joint action could lead to North Korean escalation, but It appears inevitable as part of the North’s anticipated coercion once its nuclear weapon force grows. Are not South Korea and the United States better off facing escalation now rather than waiting for Kim to possess hundreds of nuclear weapons, which may well tempt him into more severe provocations and coercion? As Kim’s actions become more threatening, the risks of a catastrophic accidental nuclear war become more likely. This is one time when “kicking the can down the road” is not a wise choice.

Bruce W. Bennett is a senior international/defense researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He works primarily on research topics such as strategy, force planning, and counterproliferation within the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Image Credit: U.S. Government. 

Apply Magnitsky Act Sanctions to Israeli Arms Exporters

The National Interest - Wed, 11/10/2023 - 00:00

Israel is reeling after an unprecedented attack that killed over 1200 and forced tens of thousands of Israelis to flee their homes. Hamas’ goal, outlined in its founding document, is ethnic cleansing and the elimination of the Jewish state. Even after the guns of Israel’s response go silent, Israeli diplomats will seek Western pressure, if not sanctions, on those providing Hamas with the weaponry it needed to launch its brutal surprise attack.

Israelis have not been the only people under fire this past month, however. Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev continues to celebrate his conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani advance and threat of genocide forced that mountainous region’s indigenous Armenian population to flee en masse into Armenia proper. For the first time since St. Gregory the Illuminator converted Armenia to Christianity in 301 AD, Nagorno-Karabakh will be devoid of a Christian community, except perhaps for a few whom the Azerbaijani government treats as living museum exhibits for visiting dignitaries on the stage-managed visits. The Aliyev regime, meanwhile, now openly talks about continuing its advance, perhaps even to the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

Aliyev’s decision to address disputes with Armenia by war rather than diplomacy rests largely on the qualitative edge Azerbaijan gained when Israeli companies agreed to sell him top-shelf military technology against which Armenia had no defense. Thousands of deaths over the past three years were, therefore, unnecessary. 

Prior to the Israeli weapons sales, Minsk Group diplomats from the United States, France, and even Russia, alongside their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, had already outlined a far more comprehensive and just agreement. Armenian and Azerbaijani negotiators had largely agreed to an Armenian return of occupied Azerbaijani districts, swaps of unsustainable enclaves, and a right of return to Nagorno-Karabakh for Azeris who fled in the early 1990s. The agreement would have also enshrined the basic democratic freedoms that Nagorno-Karabakh enjoyed. Discussions had advanced to discuss timelines and identify potential external peacekeeping forces, perhaps from the Scandinavian countries. What changed Aliyev’s calculation was, in part, the advanced weapons systems Israel was willing to provide. Between 2016 and 2020, Israel accounted for almost 70 percent of Azerbaijan’s “major arms” imports. 

Israel might justify its weapons trade with Azerbaijan in arms-for-energy calculations or Azerbaijan’s willingness to assist Israeli infiltration of Iran. Such excuses fall flat. The Abraham Accords meant that Israel had energy options beyond Azerbaijan. Journalists might criticize the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) human rights record and foreign policy, but its political rights and civil liberty scores are double those of Azerbaijan, according to the latest Freedom House rankings. Most importantly, the UAE does not incite genocide against its rivals, nor does it harbor irredentist ambitions as Aliyev does.

Nor is the threat Iran poses to Israel a reason to back an increasingly erratic dictator. Not only does Azerbaijan have its own reasons to counter Iran regardless of any Israeli incentives, but Israel also has other options in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region they have thoroughly penetrated. In hindsight, the weaponry Israel exported to Azerbaijan would have been better utilized to defend Israel’s own borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Nor should anyone in Washington accept Jerusalem’s arguments that their arms dealing with Azerbaijan was strategic only. Money matters. For years, Israeli officials downplayed American concerns about Israel’s technology trade with the Chinese Communist Party. When push came to shove, Israeli businesses hoped to profit off the trade. When the diplomatic dispute came to a head, Israel’s initial refusal and arrogant dismissal of American concerns escalated the crisis unnecessarily. 

Just as the Biden administration rallies to prevent the escalation of attacks on Israel, it is also imperative the United States act to constrain Aliyev before he commits even more gross violations of human rights. Azerbaijani forces wearing arms patches celebrating the first Armenian Genocide raise concern about his ultimate intent. So does the arrest of both billionaire and former State Minister Reuben Vardanyan (a former colleague of Samantha Power at the Aurora Foundation) and Foreign Minister David Babayan. Every Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Turkey sees the parallels between their detention and the 1915 arrests of Armenian intellectuals that kicked off the first Armenian Genocide. When it comes to genocidal intent, the only difference between the Azerbaijani army and Hamas is the targets of their ambition.

Just as congressmen demand Washington reconsider its relationship with Qatar, a state that effectively serves as Hamas’ banker, so too do representatives and senators demand the Biden administration cut off military aid to Azerbaijan. Frankly, both steps are long overdue, but if the goal is to prevent further Azerbaijani aggression and to compel the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from dozens of square miles they occupy in Armenia proper, it is also necessary to sanction the Israeli enablers of Azerbaijani aggression and ethnic cleansing. While defending Israel in its existential struggle is right, such support should not mean sacrificing the world’s oldest Christian state. Standing up to racist aggression should not be an either-or prospect; we can do both. 

This is why it is necessary to target Israeli individuals complicit in Azerbaijan’s genocide with Magnitsky Act sanctions.

In 2017, Israel’s Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd. reportedly demonstrated the use of a suicide drone against an Armenian position in order to win an Azerbaijani contract. Israel’s state attorney’s office summoned Amos Matan, the company’s chief executive officer; his deputy Meir Rizmovitch; development director Haim Hivashar; and marketing director David Goldin. In 2020, Matan stepped down against the backdrop of the criminal investigation and appointed Moshe Elazer, the naval systems director at Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, to be his replacement.

In 2019, the Israeli Defense Ministry reinstated the Aeronautics Defense Systems’ export license so that the company might resume arms sales to Azerbaijan. Subsequently, dozens of cargo flights departed Israel for Azerbaijan, allegedly loaded with arms. Such weapons transfers undermined multilateral diplomacy and convinced Aliyev he had a license to kill and made Israel complicit in Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic cleansing. 

If Aeronautics Defense System’s peacetime attack on Armenian positions was a shot heard around the South Caucasus, perhaps designating past and current officers of the company under the Global Magnitsky Act could be a shot heard from Jerusalem to Ankara and Baku to Moscow. Israel has every right to act in defense of its own security, given the existential threat it faces from Iran and the terrorist challenges it faces from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Still, Israeli government officials and business people should have no right to undermine democracies or grease the wheels of ethnic cleansing. Being both a US ally and a terror victim themselves should not provide immunity for Israeli defense executives to profit from similar abuses. 

Israelis are right that they are a sovereign country, not an American satrapy. They can make their own decisions. By the same logic, however, they should not expect U.S. support for the commercial decisions their defense executives make; quite the contrary. When Israel acts as egregiously as it has in the South Caucasus, those most involved in drone exports should expect consequences. If they do not wish to face those, then it is time they find a better client than Azerbaijan.

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Image: Shutterstock. 

The Closing Door of North Korean Denuclearization

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

North Korea has been unequivocal about its intentions concerning its nuclear weapons. In September 2022, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) promulgated a Law on DPRK's Policy on Nuclear Forces, stating that nuclear weapons would remain a permanent fixture in the country's defense. A few days before the law's enactment, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea would never relinquish its nuclear weapons and that his country would no longer engage in denuclearization talks with foreign powers. None of this has changed since North Korea is expanding its arms trade with Russia. Consequently, North Korean leaders have no intention of giving up nuclear weapons. With North Korea’s belief in the necessity of a credible nuclear deterrent as firm as ever, the window of opportunity for a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula has closed.

This does not imply that the international community recognizes North Korea’s right to possess nuclear weapons. Most countries are committed to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which grants such a right only to the current permanent members of the UN Security Council. Therefore, North Korea will not achieve the status of a legitimate nuclear power.

Yet, if giving up nuclear weapons is not realistic for North Korea, what happens next? Engaging in a war against a country with nuclear weapons and delivery systems does not appear rational, whether or not North Korea is a legitimate or illegitimate nuclear power. Thus, the international community must decide on a course of action rather than halting all dialogue until North Korea is willing to abandon its nuclear weapons, which currently seems highly unlikely.

Looking at the evolving situation, it becomes evident that there is a more pressing agenda than whether North Korea should relinquish its nuclear weapons. The primary concern today is not the existence of the few nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles in North Korea’s possession but the development of tactical weapons and North Korea’s emerging ability to wage nuclear warfare. This presents a classical theoretical dilemma regarding the “perfectness” of rationality in extended deterrence situations, as developed by Reinhard Selten in the 1970s. 

In the broader context, North Korea lacks a rational reason to instigate a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, as its losses would certainly outweigh American losses. However, decisions in the nuclear game are made one move at a time, and one can imagine the choices the United States might face after a tactical nuclear strike by North Korea on South Korea. Would it be realistic to assume that the United States would opt to sacrifice one or several of its cities in a fight against North Korea to defend South Korea? Such a move would not be rational, and unless all the actions in a comprehensive strategy are rational, the overall strategy cannot be credible, as Selten theorizes. 

Practically, this means that unless South Korea and the United States can negotiate an arms control agreement to prevent North Korea from acquiring the ability to wage a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula and win it, North Korean leaders may be misguided to believe that Selten's assessment of the lacking credibility of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence strategy is accurate. The current priority is to find ways that offer security for both Koreas under the existing circumstances, with North Korea possessing nuclear weapons but not a nuclear warfighting capacity. One should no longer focus on the efforts of the past to prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons. Those efforts have already failed.

Timo Kivimäki is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Bath.

Image: Shutterstock.

Normalizing Saudi-Israeli Ties is the Best Response to the Hamas Attack

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

A week ago, Washington was abuzz with talk about the negotiations between President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to normalize Israeli-Saudi ties in return for a U.S.-Saudi defense treaty.

The conventional wisdom at that time was that a mega-deal could be concluded early next year and would constitute a major diplomatic coup and geostrategic game changer.

Indeed, a peace agreement between a leading Islamic power, joined by other Arab countries, and the Jewish State, that would also involve a security agreement between Washington and Riyadh could have helped contain Iran and reinforce the American alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel.

It would have created a pro-American Middle Eastern military and economic bloc powered by the energy resources of the Persian Gulf and Israel’s high-tech industries and scientific centers. That would have been the most effective way to respond to the threat posed by Iran and its regional satellites.

But in the aftermath of Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas fighters on Israel, it is hard to imagine Saudi-Israeli peace talks progressing. This suggests that Hamas launched the assault to disrupt the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. From a geopolitical perspective, if there had been a Saudi-Israeli agreement, the power balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia would have shifted significantly in favor of the U.S.-aligned Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In addition to a formal security treaty with the United States, the Saudis would have had access to U.S. nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment, making it possible for them to close in on Iran’s nuclear threshold advantage.

Under present conditions of all-out war by Israel on Hamas and the prospect of a bloody incursion into Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force, the conventional wisdom is now that it is unthinkable for Saudi Arabia to proceed with normalization of relations with Israel. This could be a severe blow to the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

Cui Bono? Iran. According to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian security officials helped the Hamas attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday. Officers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had worked with Hamas since August to devise the air, land, and sea incursions, reported the Journal on Sunday.

Hamas and the IRGC worked out the operational details during several meetings in Beirut attended by IRGC officers and representatives of four Iran-backed militant groups, including Hamas, which holds power in Gaza, and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and political faction in Lebanon.

Iran has an obvious interest in hurling a torpedo at the American strategy of creating a chain of American allies linking three key choke points of global trade—the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Bab El Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea.

In a way, what is emerging now in the Middle East is a new and very fragile balance of power under which the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia face an Iran-led bloc that includes Hamas and Hezbollah.

The concern is that if Israel, as expected, launches a ground attack into the Gaza Strip, Iran could order its Hezbollah proxies to open a new front in the war with Israel in the north, eventually igniting a regional war involving Israel and Iran.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Sunday that he had ordered American military ships, including an aircraft carrier and additional aircraft, to move closer to the eastern Mediterranean, sending a clear warning to Iran not to take steps that could lead to a multi-front war with Israel, and perhaps to direct U.S. military intervention in support of the Israelis, creating the conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East.

The Iranians may assume that, distracted by the war in Ukraine and China’s military challenge in East Asia, the Americans would lack the resources and the political will for a new military intervention in the Middle East.

The Iranians may test this assumption and order their Hezbollah proxy to attack Israel just as it is trying to destroy Hamas’ infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. This would place Israel under enormous pressure, especially if the Lebanese-Shia para-military decided to attack civilian centers inside Israel, including Tel Aviv.

Under these conditions, Israel may directly strike the Islamic Republic itself and—depending on the Iranian response—threaten the use of its nuclear weapons.

To avert this dangerous scenario, the United States and its European allies should clarify that they would not allow Iran to intervene in the war in the Levant and demand that it tame its Hezbollah allies. 

At the same time, the Americans should discuss with the Israelis ways to deliver a military blow to Hamas, including a possible ground incursion into the Gaza Strip to wipe out the Hamas command structure with the fewest possible Palestinian civilian casualties.

Moreover, a full-blown Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip would benefit Iran by drawing the Israelis into a deadly military quagmire, with the Iranians directing Palestinian operations against the Israeli occupier.

If anything, the defeat of Hamas could provide an opportunity for a regime change in Gaza under which the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) takes control of the area. Financial support from the Saudis and other Arab oil states could help reconstruct the Gaza Strip and a multinational Arab force led by Egypt and possibly establish order there.

That could open the road to the renewal of the American-sponsored talks to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia and shift the balance of power again from the Iranian-led bloc to America and its regional allies.

Dr. Leon Hadar is a contributing editor with The National Interest, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, and a former research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He has taught at American University in Washington, DC, and the University of Maryland, College Park. A columnist and blogger with Haaretz (Israel) and Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore, he is a former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post.

Image: Shutterstock.

The Hamas Attack is a Test for Biden’s Foreign Policy

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

The October 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas is unprecedented in Israeli history, leaving over 900 dead and hundreds of civilians kidnapped. Missiles from the Gaza Strip reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The total death toll now is headed toward 2,000. Reportedly, eleven U.S. citizens have been killed. The aggression has been described as Israel’s 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly declared that Israel is in a state of war to end Hamas’ capacity to fight. The Israeli Air Force has begun targeting Hamas sites in Gaza. Yet, alongside this resolve to defeat its enemy, Israel will have to grapple with its own military and intelligence failures that allowed this tragedy to occur. Lessons will be drawn for policy and politics in the ongoing Palestinian conflict.

It is also time for the United States to draw its own lessons that go far beyond Israel and the Palestinians. The Hamas attack took place at the behest of and with the material support of Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States. In other words, one of America’s closest allies was attacked by one of our most vicious opponents, acting through one of its puppet proxies. The White House must hold Iran responsible. President Biden chose to declare the crown prince of Saudi Arabia a “pariah” because of the murder of one journalist. What will be his response to the murder of 900 Israelis, plus the hundreds captive and the thousand wounded? The fiction of Iranian innocence has become obscene.

Recognizing the regime in Iran as the enemy that it is (the Islamic Republic has never pretended otherwise since the Islamic Revolution of 1979) is only the first step Washington must take to craft a realist foreign policy adequate to the historical moment. The United States faces an axis of adversaries: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. No matter how these regimes differ among themselves and despite divergent regional ambitions, all pursue the goal of reducing the power of the United States and its allies. Beijing wants to push Washington out of the western Pacific, while Moscow plans to reassert its hegemony in Central Europe and the Black Sea. Tehran wants to dominate the Middle East and the Muslim world, and Pyongyang’s target is northeast Asia, including South Korea and Japan. Together, they want to drive the United States back to the Western Hemisphere. In the wake of America’s embarrassing exit from Afghanistan, Russia took the next step with the invasion of Ukraine. Iran has followed by way of the Hamas attack on Israel. It isn’t crazy to think that such unanswered aggressions will embolden China to make a move against Taiwan next.

Against those adversaries, the United States must construct a new effective security alliance. It will include democracies and non-democracies because the security interest necessarily overrides our commitment to the value of democracy. If we lose security, all our values cease to be relevant. South Korea, Japan, and Australia, our democratic partners, can be linked to Vietnam as a bulwark against China and North Korea. India will play a vital role despite criticisms of its Hindu nationalism. Israeli democracy and the Saudi monarchy are crucial partners, as will NATO ally Turkey if we can mend our fences. The countries on the eastern front of the European Union understand the threat from Russia and will join eagerly. Whether the free riders in Western Europe participate remains to be seen.

The principle grounding this alliance will be a realist commitment to security against the revisionist powers, not the vacuous idealism of the “democracy summits” of the current administration. Instead of haranguing the Saudis about liberal reforms to meet our taste, we should offer a security guarantee contingent on their refraining from partnering with Russia in the oil market and eschewing future entanglements with China. Similarly, we should stop badgering the Israelis to make pointless concessions to Hamas—pointless because no concession ever will be enough. The Hamas attack and hostage seizure show that their real goal is the ethnic cleansing of all Israelis. Our goal with Israel instead should be that it hermetically seals China out of its advanced technology sector. Mutatis mutandis across the alliance: security trumps values in this time of war.

Our enemies are tag teaming us, dealing us blow after blow: Afghanistan, Ukraine, Israel. They are playing great power competition while Washington dithers. The October 7 attack was a rupture for Israel, but it is now the ultimate test for the Biden administration. Will President Biden go down in history as the weak old man who embraced the Afghanistan defeat, failed to provide Ukraine with weaponry quickly enough, and decided to shower the Iranian regime with $6 billion while it suppresses its own people and spreads chaos throughout the region? Or will Biden dare to become the President who finally holds the regime in Tehran accountable for its crimes? That means responding to the attack on America’s ally by punishing Iran. This may be the last moment before it becomes a nuclear power, a potential North Korea looming over the Middle East and Central Asia. It is also a regime that has lost legitimacy in the eyes of its own population.

However, the key reason for America to act against Iran now is to make it clear to our adversaries that their acts of aggression—whether via proxies or not—come at a cost. In this great power competition, we should play to win.

Russell A. Berman is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Professor of Humanities at Stanford. 

Kiron Skinner is the Taube Professor of International Relations and Politics at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and the W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. She served as director of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning from 2018–2019.  She tweets at @kironskinner.

Image: Shutterstock.

Ukraine’s Battle for Survival: A Report From the Front Line In Zaporizhzhia 

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

Each time we hop in the grey SUV in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, the French battle cry “La Marseillaise” blasts from the radio.

Michael Sushko, an advisor to the Zaporizhzhia governor and my driver, grins and winks as he tears down the city’s main drag. Zaporizhzhia, a sleepy industrial city, sits one hour from the front and serves as a jumping-off point for Ukraine’s soldiers. 

There are signs of war everywhere. At least three military supply stores dot the main street, and there’s visible damage to hotels, residential buildings, and factories. 

Russia occupies almost seventy percent of the Zaporizhzhia region, but as I discovered during a recent visit, the locals remain defiant and utterly determined to retake their land. Fierce battles continue to rage across the Zaporizhzhia region as Ukraine attempts to seize its lands in a counteroffensive that began in June.

My Visit to Ukraine

To gain a better understanding of the Ukraine war, I traveled to the front together with Andrey Liscovich. Liscovich was described in early October in Wired as “a Victorian with an iPhone” and an integral part of a new “military-retail complex” that seeks to supply Ukraine with consumer-grade tech. I was fortunate to have this savvy entrepreneur as my guide. We traveled to the region on an overnight train from Kyiv. Upon arriving at the station, where local police methodically checked passports, we got caught up in a large crowd. 

Despite his status as an informal advisor to Ukraine’s General Staff, Liscovich was concerned about being searched. The local police asked him if he was married. He shook his head, changed the subject, and pointed to my US passport, which seemed to help. There are countless videos of men being mobilized at train stations in provincial cities while life in Kyiv continues unchanged. 

When the war started in February 2022, Liscovich, 38, was living in San Francisco and close to launching a new startup. On February 26, the former tech CEO boarded a flight, walked across the Polish-Ukrainian border, and took a series of buses, trains, and even hitchhiking to travel to his boyhood home. His parents were evacuating, moving west, while he was moving east but they were unaware of his movements. 

After arriving in Zaporizhzhia, Liscovich tried to enlist, but he was rejected. With his Harvard PhD, he was deemed too valuable to send into combat. Instead, he was tasked with solving the region’s serious supply chain shortages. The guys who were volunteering wore track pants and athletic shoes and were not ready for war. So the bulky businessman of Ukrainian Jewish heritage did what he does best: organize and build a team. 

At its height, the Ukraine Defense Fund, Liscovich’s NGO, had thirty volunteers coordinating logistics and raising money. Liscovich was the only one in Ukraine. “I have never worked harder,” he recalled. Indeed, Liscovich went into overdrive, sleeping 2-3 hours every night during March 2022.

Altogether, he has brought in more than $100 million in non-lethal assistance to “speed up the kill chain,” a phrase Liscovich never tires of repeating. Non-lethal aid is everything that doesn’t go boom, and it increases the lethality and efficacy of Ukraine’s armed forces. 

Mykola Vinnichenko, head of the Orikhiv military administration, inspects the city well that provides 1,200 remaining civilians with fresh drinking water. Two people were recently killed at the well. Image Credit: Author.

The office of Ukraine Defense Fund, or “the campus,” as Liscovich calls it with its corrugated metal siding, looks more like my storage facility in suburban DC than the headquarters of one of the most important NGOs in Ukraine. From the bare room, one can see the Ukrainian flag flying over the local regional headquarters and pollution billowing from Zaporizhzhia’s metallurgical plants. It would be difficult to find a less inspiring view or one more dissimilar from his digs in San Francisco.

When Zaporizhzhia came under heavy missile fire, Liscovich decamped to a small village and slept on a couch in a wine cellar, giving interviews and coordinating the delivery of supplies. Mice kept him company.

Russia destroyed the bus station in Orikhiv, Ukraine—image taken October 7th by author. 

Liscovich embodies the low-key tenacious spirit of this otherwise utterly forgettable city in eastern Ukraine. I saw this attitude again and again. When I asked Ruslan Movchan, deputy head of the Zaporizhzhia region, what plans and programs he had in mind to keep people’s spirits up during another long winter, he looked at me like I was barking mad. “We don’t need that stuff,” he said. What they need are large tents as well as bomb shelters for schools. 

In the Zaporizhzhia region, schools remain closed, and children are taught online. Movchan hopes to reopen schools in a hybrid format in January if security conditions allow and the regional government can build sufficient bomb shelters. He estimates that the region needs no fewer than 100. Worst case scenario, Movchan is preparing for 2-3 weeks of blackouts this winter. He worries less about the Russians hitting the city’s dam or a mistake at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant than about the slow pace of the counteroffensive. He expects the Ukrainian side to liberate three more settlements in the coming weeks.

A residential apartment building in Orikhiv, Ukraine, from Oct 7th. Image Credit: Author.

At Palyanycia, an NGO started in 2022, I visited a warehouse where women are transforming old police Kevlar from the United States into new body armor. Led by Olena, a clothes designer before the war, the team worked in three shifts at the height of the war. The pace has slowed; Lena explained that they are all exhausted. She laughed as she showed me the dog body armor her team had fashioned, not to mention body armor for a baby. They recently received bolts of fabric from Europe that help to conceal body temperature so that Russian soldiers cannot detect Ukrainian soldiers with thermal scopes.

As the war continues, so too has the nature of the conflict. Now it’s all about drones. Ukraine plans to spend more than $1 billion on drones in 2023 alone. At another Palatnisya location, I watched Ukrainian soldiers maneuver drones around trees both on and off screens. It takes at least three weeks to train a pilot. Flying a drone on the front in Ukraine requires a pilot’s steely demeanor and then some. Pilots must get close to the frontlines. They are often detected by the enemy and have to flee immediately. 

After a quick dinner, I contemplate my sleeping choices and start to get anxious. I can sleep in Zaporizhzhia, where hotels have been hit or a nearby village. We headed for the Villa de Vino, a winery and ecolodge that was recently built to give all Ukrainians a brief respite from the war. Ukraine gives its troops thirty days of leave per year, although those days can’t be taken all at once. The long journey from eastern to Western Ukraine means that many soldiers have only a few days to reconnect with their families before they head back to the front. Divorce afflicts many families with no end to the war in sight and the WHO expects more than half of Ukrainians to have PTSD by the war’s end. 

Ruslan Lopatko, a winemaker, spotted an opportunity. Now soldiers can drive an hour from the front and relax for their full leave. “There are many ways to serve. This is how I serve,” he said. 

Lopatko, who previously worked in construction and has captained yachts around the world, built a series of small, comfortable cottages outfitted with a queen bed, colorful rugs, immaculate bathrooms and blackout curtains. Bald and over six feet, Ruslan grabbed my bag and handed me a glass of mulled wine while he showed off his petting zoo--outfitted with llamas and a donkey. In a week or so, Ruslan plans to open a fusion restaurant at the villa serving Pad Thai and old Ukrainian staples. 

Getting Closer to the Frontlines 

I can hardly believe that I’m less than an hour from the front. Ruslan and his girlfriend invited us into their home, which looks like a replica of Ukrainian bard Taras Shevchenko’s. Ruslan fired up delicious halloumi cheese while his pet raccoon (not native to Ukraine) taunted his chinchilla. Ruslan settled in with another glass of mulled wine and explained the radical thinking behind the villa.

“In spite of the war we will be happy. We will build. We believe in Ukraine’s victory.”

Early the next morning, Mykola Vinnichenko, head of the Orikhiv military administration, picked us up and we headed to the frontline. 

Heavy fighting has raged in Orikhiv for months. We turned off the WiFi on our phones as we sped closer and closer to Orikhiv, a town with 13,000 inhabitants before the war. Only 1,200 civilians remain behind. 

We pull over and Mykola asked for my coffee order as we put our body armor on.

“Where’s yours?” Liscovich asked. 

“He who is destined to drown will not be hanged,” Mykola said. 

Liscovich laughed. I can’t help but pray. Dark humor abounds in eastern Ukraine.

A few minutes later, we pulled into Orikhiv. We couldn’t find a single building that had not been heavily shelled. Russia destroyed the school— one of the top 100 in Ukraine — the hospital and the church. Mykola took us to his house. He went to work one hour before it was destroyed. An enamel pot with strawberries still sits at the ready on the stove. 

Mykola Vinnichenko, head of the Orikhiv military administration, knows the names and stories of all remaining residents. Here, he stops to check on a pensioner. Image Credit: Author.

Three stores remain open. The best-sellers are all stimulants: chocolate, coffee and cigarettes. A small market still functions, and soldiers joked with the elderly ladies selling piroshki. The herbs were fresh. Next we circled a large apartment building that looked empty. It’s not. We hear the rumble of a generator, and Mykola says that some Ukrainian soldiers are living in the basement. 

An elderly man riding a bicycle approached Mykola. He had been going to the well to fill his jug. Mykola teased him and asked if he needed anything. He knows the name and story of everyone who remains behind. Some are too old to move, while others worry that their homes will be pillaged. Some may want the Russians to move in. 

After he stubbed out his cigarette, we visited a dank, windowless basement shelter that houses about twenty senior citizens. There was no toilet or running water. Each resident has transformed a storage space into a bedroom fit with a padlock. One woman proudly showed me her bedroom, outfitted with a fuzzy pink blanket and an electric kettle. She and her husband live there on twin mattresses. She said that everyone gets along well in spite of the cramped quarters. People go home to bathe, do laundry, and use the toilet.

Mykola’s office, once an attractive tangerine-colored building across the street from the police station, serves as the invincibility center, a community center where people can warm up, see a doctor, get medicine, pick up their mail, and queue for the bus to neighboring Zaporizhzhia. 

That day the power was not working as residents started to arrive at 8 am to power their phones.

Mykola fiddled with power banks and then went outside to turn on the generator. A few moments later, the basement shelter was lit. 

It was time to go. The Russians are too lazy to shell the city early on Saturday morning, but it’s nearing 8:30 am, and they will soon begin their relentless attacks. 

Mykola dropped us off at the hotel in Zaporizhzhia and I began to chuckle. Yesterday I had been too scared to sleep there. Now, Zaporizhzhia felt like a bunker.

Liscovich resumed his duties as tour guide, unfazed by what we saw. Not me. I couldn’t follow anything he said. It was impossible to make sense of the degradation of Orikhiv and the relative calm of Zaporizhzhia.

Over lunch, a Ukrainian medic put my feelings into words: “We are living two lives.” 

Melinda Haring is a Senior Advisor at Razom for Ukraine and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. She tweets @melindaharing.Haring is also a Contributing Editor to this publication. 

All images are original and taken by author in her travels through Ukraine. 

The High Cost of Libya’s Leadership Deficit

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

On Sunday, September 10, Tropical Storm Daniel triggered Libya’s deadliest flooding in over a century. According to a UN report, at least 11,300 people have died, with over 10,000 still missing. 

In the first days after the tragedy that struck cities in the eastern province of Libya, with the city of Derna suffering the greatest damage, we emphasized the importance of saving as many lives as possible while honoring the dead with proper burials.

These were the immediate priorities given the exceptional circumstances that Libya faced. We knew, however, that these priorities would be made even more challenging due to the currently dire condition of much of Libya’s physical infrastructure. So, despite the heroism, self-sacrifice, and courage of the Libyan rescue and emergency teams, they found themselves predictably entangled in the chaos and confusion resulting from systemic corruption and the complete collapse of state institutions throughout Libya.

This systemic corruption and collapse, which we have warned about for several years, is now fully and tragically evident to the Libyan people and the world. It is the result of politicians, at every level of the state, administering the country’s affairs for their personal financial interests rather than the wellbeing of ordinary Libyans. That there was not even the most basic emergency planning in place to deal with the immediate consequences of the flooding displays the systemic breakdown in administrative capability and planning throughout the country. 

Libyans are filled with a profound sense of loss and the painful realization that a national tragedy could have been avoided if Libya had been better governed. Appropriately, they are pointing the finger of accusation at the agents of corruption who continue to hold the destiny and the livelihoods of Libyans in their hands. They have dominated the political scene in Libya for many years, exploiting their position only for personal gain, becoming now the main suspects in this national catastrophe for which thousands of innocent victims paid the ultimate price.

There have been several attempts in the past few years of political “reshuffling” to catalyze a successful political process in Libya. But these attempts have produced nothing. We can expect more such attempts in the coming months, none of which we believe will be able to resolve Libya’s fundamental problems.  

Whatever deal is struck between the political incumbents, under the watch of the international community and led by certain powers whose ambition is to strengthen their foothold in Libya, we fear will only perpetuate the Libyan state’s demise. This will further intensify the political “empty space” or vacuum in Libya that is being filled by aggressive actors that risk the security and wellbeing of not just our country but Europe, Africa, and ultimately, the rest of the world. Due to its location and significant natural resources, Libya matters. Why else would so many competing interests vie for influence and control over it?

In this context, to protect Derna and the rest of the affected cities and villages in the Green Mountain region from further exploitation, Libyans understandably called for an international investigation, as well as independent international supervision, in partnership with the Libyan people, for managing the continuing rescue and reconstruction efforts. However, it must be remembered that international political efforts to date have been less than satisfactory. 

The best solution in Libya will not come from the formation of an international supervisory committee to reconstruct and revive a specific city. Every city in Libya is another Derna waiting to happen. Due to the collapse of institutions and the absence of transparent governance, all regions of Libya are at risk of becoming disaster areas at any moment.

The root of the problem since the first Libyan civil war in 2011 is the imposition of political structures that lack situational context. Libya is a factional nation with competing affiliations to tribe, city, region, and ideology. Ill-conceived political structures of the past twelve years have simply reflected and deepened these divisions within society rather than create the necessary binding glue for a sufficient united political culture to emerge. These deepening divisions resulted in a multilateral second civil war in Libya between 2014–2020 and continue today to fuel deadly factional conflicts and the pervasive political and institutional dysfunction that breed corruption and national demise.

The rescue that my country needs today is not the continuation of the political experiments and failures of the past years but the return of a legitimate and constitutional state as represented by Libya’s own constitutional monarchy. Our constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy established on December 24, 1951, via a written constitution drafted by the Libyan National Assembly with the support of the United Nations, is grounded in Libyan history and national identity, with well-functioning institutions governed by law. 

It emerged from the ravages of World War II and provided a stable, popular, and effective accommodation between rival parties in Libya. It united competing factions, split in ways similar to Libya today, and led to a period referred to by Libyans as our country’s “golden years” in terms of social, economic, and political progress. This solution is again rising in popularity among ordinary Libyans. It needs more consideration, especially by outside international players, who remain cynically wedded to their corrupt and ineffective affiliations, despite clear evidence that this strategy has resulted only in abject failure for over a decade.

While Libya and its people will, of course, need all possible international support, we will only rebuild our country and protect our people’s wellbeing by restoring transparency and integrity to our political system. Shaping a brighter future for our nation, which includes bringing to justice all those who have neglected or manipulated Libya’s destiny, begins with restoring Libya’s democratic and constitutional monarchy, the only one with the necessary historic legitimacy to bring our people together once again.

His Royal Highness Mohammed el-Senussi is the crown prince of Libya.

Image: Shutterstock. 

Can IMEC Emerge as An Alternative To BRI?

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

On the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting in New Delhi on September 8–9, the United States, India, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Italy, France, Germany, and the EU together clinched a significant strategic connectivity agreement, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).

IMEC, a multimodal connectivity project comprising rail and sea components, includes an eastern corridor connecting India with West Asia by sea, followed by a northern corridor connecting West Asia with Europe. According to the White House fact sheet, this ambitious economic corridor aims to connect commercial hubs, lay undersea cables, facilitate the development and export of clean energy, expand telecommunication lines and energy grids, promote clean energy technology, and enhance Internet access for local communities. With its cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit, this corridor is expected to complement the existing sea and road routes with rail routes and set up high-speed data cables and energy pipelines.

India’s former envoy to many West Asian countries, Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, suggested in an interview that IMEC has immense potential to build robust infrastructure and trade networks, generate jobs, boost manufacturing, ensure food and energy security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Though many details are still in the works, IMEC will connect Haifa (Israel) and Piraeus (Greece) with the Middle Eastern ports of Fujairah, Jebel Ali, and Abu Dhabi (all in the UAE), and Dammam and Ras Al Khair (both in Saudi Arabia). These ports will, in turn, connect with the Mundra, Kandla, and Jawaharlal Nehru Ports in India. 

The current traffic from India to Europe goes through the sea route, primarily through the Suez Canal corridor. IMEC can serve as an alternative and complementary economic corridor, which, according to the European Commission’s statistics, is likely to reduce travel time by 40 percent and costs by 30 percent. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi called the project “a testament to human endeavor and unity across continents,” and U.S. President Joe Biden hailed it as a “real big deal.” The United States and Europe, with their robust economies, and the Gulf states, with their massive sovereign wealth funds, are expected to contribute generously to the project’s finances. However, the most critical aspects of this project are not economic but geopolitical. IMEC could counter China’s landmark Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and, by extension, the PRC’s strategic footprint in the Middle East.

The Geopolitics of IMEC

Beijing’s burgeoning ties with the Middle East have not pleased Washington. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and Qatar are already members of BRI. Though Israel is formally not a BRI member, China operates the port terminal in Haifa and has made major investments in infrastructure, construction, and technology in Israel. Chinese companies are bidding for a railway line contract in the country’s center. Americans have objected to Chinese presence at Haifa port as the U.S. Navy’s Sixth fleet regularly docks there, making them highly vulnerable to Chinese bugging and surveillance. Besides, the United States has uneasy relations with Turkey and Qatar owing to their sympathies with Islamist actors; China’s warming up to them goes a step ahead in denting U.S. influence in the Middle East. Israel initially welcomed Chinese investments but is alarmed by China’s strengthening ties with Iran. Notably, in March 2021, China signed a twenty-five-year-long strategic cooperation accord with Iran to boost its investments in Iranian energy, infrastructure, and defense sectors. In addition, IMEC offers Israel an additional reason for strengthening its relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

For India, IMEC is paramount for its energy and expatriate security, as New Delhi imports 53 percent of its oil and 41 percent of its gas from West Asia. The region is also home to 8.5 million Indian migrant workers. In 2018, out of India’s total remittances of $78.6 billion, $48.6 billion flowed from six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The UAE is India’s third largest trading partner, and the Saudis are its fourth. With its rapidly growing economy and strong credit enabling it to borrow from global financial institutions, it can also contribute to IMEC significantly on its own. With Israel, India has a strong economic and strategic partnership. These ties have the advantage of being historical, civilizational, and organic.

With IMEC’s European stakeholders and the United States, New Delhi enjoys robust ties and a firm consensus to counter China’s revisionist designs, debt-trap diplomacy, strategic acquisitions, and influence operations, which often come under the garb of the BRI. India has opposed BRI since its inception because it passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), which falls under the territorial jurisdiction of India. Further, New Delhi understands how China accomplished its strategic objectives through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in PoK and Baluchistan’s Gwadar. To offset them, New Delhi has already invested in strategic connectivity projects like Chahbahar Port (to counter China’s Gwadar) and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INST).

In any case, China’s BRI is becoming unpopular throughout the region due to its dubious clauses and debt traps, resulting in some partner countries facing economic downturns, crises, and the eventual surrender of strategic assets. China’s domestic financial woes are also hurting its economic credibility. IMEC offers an alternative that is transparent, participatory, and respectful of territorial sovereignty and integrity. Notably, it is largely led by democratic nations believing in financial responsibility, economic viability, and standards confirming environmental and ecological safeguards.

New “Spice Corridor” or Regional Pipedream?

However, despite the encouraging geopolitics, IMEC is less feasible than it appears on paper. On a closer examination of the project, several potential bottlenecks emerge, which could prevent its realization and success. Most importantly, IMEC members like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Italy are members of BRI, and Israel has strong economic ties with China. Saudi-Israeli friction could dampen its prospects. Jordan has a highly unstable security environment and economy due to more than three million Syrian refugees living there. In Israel, IMEC’s proximity to the West Bank makes it vulnerable to terrorist attacks. 

A project like IMEC requires stakeholders to agree on technical details, finance, logistics, and other aspects of the proposed infrastructure projects. The experience of economic and trade corridors like INST (International North-South Transport Corridor), Iraq Development Corridor, North-South Corridor, Europe-Caucasus-Asia Corridor, Trans Caspian Corridor, and Northern Sea Route shows that economic corridors involving multiple decision-making stakeholders are difficult to operationalize. None of the above corridors are yet fully operational.

India presents its own set of problems. It has only a few international standard ports, like Mundra and Nhava Sheva—both built by the Emiratis. India possesses a huge population but lacks a skilled workforce, technological and manufacturing base, and business-friendly bureaucracy. 

The financing behind IMEC is also unclear. Although member countries have already announced $20 billion for IMEC, the response from the European stakeholders is not necessarily encouraging. In fact, countries like Italy, Germany, and France find it very challenging to decouple from China. Estimates suggest that roughly $3 to $8 billion will be needed to develop each IMEC component. However, no concrete decisions have been made about the allocation.

Also, it can be argued that most of the route in IMEC is through sea, so what is the rationale behind operationalizing rail and road networks? India already has a flourishing sea trade with West Asia. What is the need to have rail and road networks? The costs of loading and unloading and then again loading and unloading will be high and very time-consuming vis-à-vis a direct sea route from India to Europe. Further, compared to China, which constitutes 16.2 percent of the EU’s total trade in goods, India’s European trade pales at 2 percent.

However, one must note that strategic connectivity is crucial to trade and economic progress. Hence, it needs to be diversified. Sole reliance on sea routes increases vulnerability in the event of sanctions, naval blockades, and piracy.  Moreover, the Middle East’s vast distances are knit together by only a few rail routes. As mentioned earlier, the IMEC is expected to reduce travel time by 40 percent and costs by 30 percent. This is likely to come from the shortening of distances by constructing rail routes. Also, the rail connectivity between Saudi Arabia and Israel could encourage a future normalization deal and economic partnership.

Hence, despite the considerable obstacles, IMEC is an idea worth exploring. An increasingly volatile world needs alternate strategic routes and supply chains. After the Abraham Accords, countries like the UAE and Israel, with huge investment potential, plan to invest in joint chip manufacturing, Electronic Vehicles (EVs), and EV batteries. The Arabian Peninsula and Jordan have a vast solar energy potential. With its fifth-largest economy, huge population, domestic market, and stable security conditions, India offers excellent investment and consumption opportunities. Hence, the project is worth investing time, energy, and financial resources. It is also pertinent in countering BRI, just as it wanes in popularity. A financially powerful and technologically capable multilateral initiative like IMEC could work if it receives enough attention, energy, and resources from its backers.

Dr. Abhinav Pandya is the founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation, an India-based geopolitical and security affairs think-tank, and the author of Radicalization in India: An Exploration. His second book, Terror Financing in Kashmir, will be released soon. He has a Ph.D. from OP Jindal University and an MPA from Cornell University. He tweets at @abhinavpandya.

Image: Shutterstock. 

Prosecute Hamas Funders as Accessories to Murder

The National Interest - Tue, 10/10/2023 - 00:00

As Palestinian rockets rain down on Israel this week, killing indiscriminately and terrorizing the population, there are reports worldwide of demonstrations celebrating the slaughter of Israel’s citizens. Perhaps none more so than in Iran, where the government has endorsed the “anti-Zionist resistance” and praised the attack on Israel as a “proud operation” and a “victory.”

Tehran is one of the most significant backers of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas—the perpetrator of the latest assault on Israel that has so far taken more than 900 lives, injured thousands, and resulted in more than 100 taken hostage. While Iran has denied active involvement in helping Hamas perpetrate the assault, and Israel and the United States have yet to definitively determine and acknowledge Iran’s hand in this devastating terrorist invasion of Israel’s sovereign territory, there are literally smoking guns all over the country, and Iran’s fingerprints are clearly on the murder weapons.

Shortly after the first rockets were launched on Saturday, October 7, senior leaders of Hamas and the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah confirmed that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) helped plan the operation and had been meeting with them since August in Lebanon, with the IRGC giving the final go-ahead for the assault last Monday, October 2, in Beirut. Iran has a long history of support for ideologically aligned terrorist groups and violent non-state actors, and the relationship between the IRGC, Hamas, and Hezbollah spans many decades. Therefore, it would be no surprise that Iran has facilitated the latest onslaught against Israel.

The IRGC was established in the aftermath of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution as a core branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, charged with preserving Islamic ideology and values by operating extraterritorially and extrajudicially. To advance the Revolution’s new theocratic agenda, the IRGC began to deploy agents outside of Iran and to sponsor Islamist militants and terror groups such as Hezbollah—formed in 1982 whose name means the “Party of God” and is considered Iran’s terror proxy in southern Lebanon.

After Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic in 1989, the IRGC began to more formally support other violent non-state actors such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, whose 1988 charter outlines the destruction of Israel as necessary for the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine. For more than 30 years, Tehran has bolstered Hamas by providing it with a significant portion of its funding and offering military-type training in Iran.

Although Iran has denied orchestrating the latest plot against Israel, claiming that the actions taken by Hamas were “fiercely autonomous,” Hamas and Hezbollah would likely not undertake an initiative of this magnitude without extensive preparation and the involvement and express authorization of Tehran. Furthermore, the claims of Hamas and Hezbollah leadership that the IRGC helped plan the operation out of Lebanon to the north of Israel and Gaza in the south are also consistent with Iran’s often-stated objective to surround and strangle Israel from all sides.

While the search continues for “concrete evidence” of Iran’s involvement in the violent attack on Israel, Tehran’s financing and decades-long support for Hamas should not make it too difficult to find. The United States designated Hamas and Hezbollah as Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997, a designation which prohibits providing those groups with material support or resources, knowing that such support would be used to commit a terrorist offense as listed in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In addition, the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act of 2000 lists the criteria for proscribing or “outlawing” terrorist organizations and indicates that supporting terrorist groups, including funding, is unlawful.

The criminalization of terror financing underscores that simply supporting terrorism is deemed tantamount to committing the terrorist act itself. For Iran and the IRGC to be culpable, we don’t need to see them pull the trigger—financially supporting and assisting Hamas is sufficient to determine their guilt in the savage murder and maiming of thousands of Israelis. 

In legal parlance, they would be accessories to murder. And that’s what just occurred—Hamas terrorists murdered, kidnapped, and brutalized innocent Israeli civilians. The terror organization is motivated by an Islamist ideology shared by Iran and funded by its regime to advance their common territorial agenda to destroy Israel and establish an Islamic state in her place.

In addition to military retaliation against Hamas and Iran, criminally prosecuting Iranian and IRGC officials under US or UK law for the Hamas attack on Israel and her citizens must be on the table when the time is right, and there is ample international precedent for bringing legal action against supporters of terrorism.

As Israel now plans to hold accountable all actors who are perpetrating this vicious onslaught against her land and people, to root out all enemies, they must look beyond the immediate aggressors of Hamas and cast a wider net. As financiers and supporters, Iran is equally as culpable as Hamas. It must not be allowed to hide behind its proxies and proclaim its innocence of the crimes it has enabled Hamas to commit.

Elizabeth Samson is an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a former Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Image: Shutterstock. 

U.S. Arms Control Policy Needs More Strategic Thinking

The National Interest - Mon, 09/10/2023 - 00:00

On February 4, 2026, the New Start Treaty (NST) will expire. When it does, there will be no formal restrictions on either the American or Russian nuclear arsenals. Due to the NST’s framework, the treaty cannot be extended or renewed again; therefore, if Russia and the United States want a follow-on arms control agreement, then they will have to renegotiate. So far, the Russian government has rejected all U.S. proposals for new negotiations. For this reason, the fate of any follow-on arms control remains uncertain.   

The Biden Administration’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review articulates a desire to engage in arms control agreements to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy and enhance strategic stability. Recently, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized that arms control helps limit arms races, manage escalation, and ensure the safety and security of the American people from nuclear threats. While these are noble intentions, they may be impractical given the emerging two-peer problem. The United States should evaluate whether arms control is a useful way to secure U.S. national interests. 

The Emerging Two-Peer Challenge

The 2022 National Defense Strategy identifies the People’s Republic of China as the “most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security” with good reason. China is projected to deploy up to 1500 nuclear warheads by 2035—a significant increase from their present nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, China’s leaders refuse to engage with U.S. officials regarding nuclear arms control and demand the United States continue to reduce its nuclear forces. While this argument may seem reasonable given the disparity between China and U.S. nuclear forces, the United States has significantly reduced its nuclear stockpile despite China’s intention to do the opposite. China also refuses to establish formal crisis communication channels and is not transparent about the size and types of its nuclear weapons like other P5 nations. Considering this, the United States needs to consider how future arms control agreements absent of China could impact U.S. interests. 

Additionally, the 2022 National Security Strategy recognizes Russia as a “persistent threat to international peace and stability.” Russia’s military invasions of Georgia and Ukraine violated international law and led to an increase in tensions among nuclear powers. Also, Russia has been an unreliable strategic partner, having violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and having recently suspended its participation in the NST due to American support for Ukraine. Moreover, Russia has up to 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons in its stockpile. The Russian government refuses to be transparent about its non-strategic nuclear weapon systems. President Biden should consider all of this before engaging in arms control with Russia and rewarding nearly two decades’ worth of bad behavior. 

Both Russia and China view the United States as a threat to their security interests. President Xi has accused the United States of attempting to contain and suppress China’s development. President Putin has gone even further in stating that the “West” seeks to erase Russia from the map. These views have pushed Russia and China closer. Over the past decade, these two nations have expanded cooperation in a variety of areas, such as economic trade and military operations. The United States cannot turn a blind eye to this growing challenge. The time has come to assess whether arms control is a useful tool to address the current security environment. 

Going Forward with Arms Control

The Biden Administration’s inclination toward arms control is understandable, especially when you look at its enduring legacy as a part of the U.S. Cold War strategy. There is no doubt that arms control helped navigate one of the most tumultuous relationships to ever exist in international politics. However, the security environment we face today is remarkably different than that of past decades. While arms control may have protected us in the past, it may not serve our interests now. During the Cold War, the United States only had to deter the Soviet Union. Now, the United States and its allies must strengthen deterrence simultaneously against two adversaries in multiple theaters under a variety of complex conditions. 

To determine if arms control is feasible and advantageous, the United States should examine the following questions as a starting point before pursuing further arms control agreements with our adversaries:

Is the United States better off in an unconstrained or constrained security environment? This question must account for U.S. adversaries’ capabilities and capacity if unconstrained. It should also assess what capabilities and capacity the U.S. military should possess to ensure flexibility, credibility, and leverage if unconstrained.  

Under what conditions should the United States constrain itself, and in what ways? This question should identify more than just mutually beneficial agreements. It must also examine the political will of our adversaries and what steps are needed to get them to engage in arms control with seriousness. This analysis should also identify possible strategies the United States could consider when negotiating with two nuclear adversaries.

Has arms control contributed to U.S. nuclear modernization challenges? While there are many reasons why the United States is struggling with its current nuclear modernization efforts, new analyses that investigate how arms control impacts U.S. nuclear force developments may be necessary.

How should Washington use arms control to manage strategic stability in the new era? U.S. efforts to bolster strategic stability relative to either China or Russia, whether through arms control outreach or enhanced deterrence, could paradoxically undermine strategic stability with the other. Neither country is presently willing to engage in formalized strategic stability dialogue either. U.S. leaders need to fundamentally reassess whether legally binding arms reduction or limitations treaties, non-binding tacitly-agreed-upon norms, or other methods of arms control are viable and beneficial for ensuring stability in the emerging three-party balance.  

The point in asking these questions is not to dismiss arms control or argue that it has no place in U.S. national strategy. If arms control is a realistic option to address U.S. security concerns, we should pursue further arms control agreements. But more questions need answering before deciding whether arms control should remain a focal point of national strategy. 

Cody Kennedy is a Program Analyst at Systems Planning & Analysis, supporting naval nuclear modernization efforts. He holds an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the opinions of his employer. 

Image: Shutterstock. 

Will the War in Gaza Spread to Lebanon?

The National Interest - Mon, 09/10/2023 - 00:00

It has been over forty-eight hours since the large-scale Hamas offensive into southern Israel started on October 7, in what the organization calls Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Israeli cities and military targets were caught by surprise at the sheer volume and magnitude of Hamas’ three-pronged attack. This came a day after the 1973 Yom Kippur War anniversary when a simultaneous assault from Egyptian and Syrian forces struck Israel. Analysts are drawing comparisons between the two conflicts, particularly Israeli intelligence’s failure to anticipate both attacks.

Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, minced no words in an address to his people, “citizens of Israel, we are at war.” He has vowed to extract a “mighty revenge” and has ordered a mass mobilization of Israeli reservists. Now, there is fear that this new war between the Gaza Strip and Israel could spread across different parts of the region, including Lebanon. Is that a real possibility? 

Lebanon’s Hezbollah had expressed solidarity with its Hamas ally and what it describes as a common cause with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli occupation. In the southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh, a top Hezbollah official and cleric, Hashem Safieddine, spoke in front of a crowd of supporters, declaring, “our history, our guns and our rockets are with you. Everything we have is with you.” It was a clear affirmation by the group that it stood by Hamas and its actions. As the situation develops, it is difficult to ascertain where this conflict is heading. 

The number of casualties varies. It is estimated that over 700 Israelis have been killed by the Hamas strike deep into the southern part of the country, and over 100 people have been taken prisoner. Israel responded with an airborne barrage over Gaza and bombing areas it claims are Hamas targets. However, the Health Ministry in Gaza said over 400 people have been killed, including women and children. Israel’s armed forces are still trying to regain full control of the areas infiltrated by Hamas fighters. The fighting has only intensified with each passing hour.

This attack was more extraordinary because Israel controls all land, sea, and air crossing into the Palestinian territory. And yet, Hamas still managed to pull off a ferocious asymmetrical invasion of Israel, stunning the country and the world. The leadership of the Gaza-based group has called on others to join the fight. Hezbollah said it fired upon the Israeli position on the Lebanon-Israel border. A radar station was among three Israeli sites targeted in the disputed Shebaa Farms. Israel controls this part of the Syrian Golan Heights, captured in the June 1967 war. Lebanon has long claimed the Shebaa territory belongs to it. Some believe Hezbollah’s missile attack on the Israeli-occupied territory was deliberately calculated so as not to escalate tensions even further since the area is already a region of contention. 

The Israelis retaliated by firing artillery shells into southern Lebanon, which caused property damage and injuries. Currently, one Hezbollah soldier was killed in an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah observation tower. A statement was issued from the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for both sides to restrain themselves and not to allow greater escalation. 

“We are in contact with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line, at all levels, to contain the situation and avoid a more serious escalation. Our peacekeepers remain in their positions and on task. They continue to work, some from shelters for their safety.” Lebanon’s armed forces also increased its presence near the border.

The Lebanese people are waiting to see how this new round of violence will develop and if it will drag them into a new war with Israel. Something both countries cannot afford. One source told The National Interest that although the conflict in Gaza is still in its early stages, it may spread to Lebanon if it continues and Israel “crosses the red lines.” This attack may trigger a wider war. If it continues and Israel crosses various red lines, Lebanon will be dragged into it. What red lines might these be?

Israel invades Gaza, inflicting high casualties on Palestinians. 

Israel attacks Hezbollah’s positions.

Israel assassinates local leaders, either Lebanese or Palestinian. 

Considering these conditions and possibilities, the source added, “I think the only way out is to start negotiations over prisoners. This is the only way to reduce tensions, and both Israeli and Palestinian people will be satisfied with this.” 

Nonetheless, Israel has rejected the idea of negotiating with Hamas. The Islamist group has also raised the stakes by threatening to execute one Israeli prisoner for every attack on Palestinian civilians. There is no doubt that Hamas’ initial attacks on Israel were a strategic shock for Tel Aviv that many observers are calling a defeat. Yet, this war has only begun, leaving questions but no guarantees of how it will end. Now, everyone waits to see what the next phase of this war will be. 

Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.

Image: Shutterstock. 

Israel Under Fire

The National Interest - Mon, 09/10/2023 - 00:00

The 1973 Yom Kippur War began as a surprise attack on one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. And, now, history has repeated itself.

Today, Hamas, an Iran-backed terror group, launched a surprise attack by land, water, and airincluding glider assaults and more than 5,000 rocket strikes in the first 20 minutes. On the ground, Hamas punched through the border fence, attacked armored vehicles, and waged gun battles with police and Israeli reservists for hours. Countless neighborhoods have become battlefields. Dozens of civilians and soldiers have been taken hostage.

The total death and injury toll, which tops 800, is expected to pass 1,000 by the day’s end. One hospital in the border region of Beersheba reports that it is treating some 280 civilians, more than 60 with life-threatening wounds. This is the most extensive Hamas combined-arms campaign in memory. Within hours of the invasion, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded in a solemn televised address: “We are at war, and we will win it.”

Today is Simchat Torah, a holy day of celebration, which translates as “joy of the Torah.” On this day, observant Jews do not work, drive, write, or turn on electronic devices. It was a perfect day to attack a quietly celebrating democratic nation.

Already, social media is polluted by those trying to justify the unprovoked barbarity of the surprise attacks. Some said that Israel should give land for peace. This ignores that Hamas planned its attacks from the Gaza Strip, which Israel handed over in 2006 to make peace. Others talked of the “humiliation” of having to show their identification at the border fence, just as millions do at border checkpoints and airports all over the world. Still, others talk about self-determination—forgetting that Palestinians elect their own leaders in the Gaza Strip and those leaders ordered these attacks.

And all this babble ignores the human view: the wives who watched their husbands die outside their homes, the children lost in rocket attacks or slain by stray machine-gun rounds. The suffering of the many who have no part in politics is immense.

The Abraham Accords, which brought peace between Israel and four Arab nations, offered historic hope. Finally, it seemed the Arab nations and Israel would work together to focus on improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians who, like the Israelis, want jobs, housing, health care, and schools for their children.

But Iran had other plans, supplying vast amounts of rockets, mortars, guns, and ammunition to the Gaza Strip by ship, plane, and truck. (Some of those deadly cargoes were intercepted by the U.S. Navy and diverted to Ukraine.) Iran wanted war, and Hamas complied.

Hamas has killed more Americans than any other terror group, except for Al Qaeda. It has access to underground weapons warehouses, platoons of drones, squadrons of rockets, thousands of fighters, and training facilities to produce more. Hamas plans, promotes, and encourages terrorists and then lionizes them as “martyrs.”

Its war with Israel could last longer than the Yom Kippur War.

If we tolerate extremism, it will erode the rock of security and ultimately destroy all U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East.

Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniyeh, should no longer be received as a hero in some Arab capitals. The U.S. Treasury Department must sanction Haniyeh and his loved ones and deprive them of travel and international payments.

It is also not normal that Hamas continues to be supported by a series of non-state initiatives and foundations, some of which are based in Europe.

This terrorist attack comes as the United States works to negotiate a historic deal that normalizes relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could transform the Middle East. Perhaps that is the real target of today’s attacks.

President Joe Biden expressed his support for Israel in a phone call with Netanyahu. “We stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel,” Biden said in a statement.

This is important, but the United States must do more. The State Department confirmed that nine American citizens perished in the attacks. Hamas is now a threat to America’s national security and its attempts to bring peace to the region.

Ahmed Charai is the Publisher of Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the International Crisis Group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Shutterstock.

ESG Laws in Europe Will Hurt American Businesses

The National Interest - Mon, 09/10/2023 - 00:00

This summer, the European Commission passed the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, a set of burdensome Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting requirements for companies that operate in the European Union (EU), even those based elsewhere. The Biden administration has done so little to push back against the law that some congressmen have suggested it may even coordinate with European officials behind the scenes. With or without active collusion, President Biden’s silence will lead to a host of problems that will hurt the American consumer. EU regulations will tacitly govern large American corporations that do business abroad, while smaller companies will see higher barriers to entering the European market.

Starting next year, all companies with more than 500 employees operating in the European Union must report to EU authorities more than 250 pages of disclosures related to environmental, social, and governance matters like climate change and extensive supplier due diligence. In 2025, these regulations will apply to companies with 250 employees or 20 million euros in assets, and in 2028, to all companies. 

Such reporting will require dramatic shifts of corporate resources toward ESG and compliance departments, burdening companies with bureaucratic work rather than value-adding functions like research and development. Inevitably, many companies––especially smaller ones––will choose not to operate in Europe because of these expensive and time-consuming compliance regulations. 

Meanwhile, many large companies will find it more practical to restructure their worldwide operations around EU regulations. This is known as the “Brussels effect” and will lead to the EU having an outsized effect on how regulations affect the global economy—not just Europe. 

In the short term, American businesses may need to decide if complying with EU regulations is worth it and how that will affect how they do business at home.

As large U.S. corporations become used to European requirements, we may see similar changes at home. In many cases, strict regulations in a large market lead to less-regulated markets adopting similarly strict rules, welcomed by big businesses prepared to deal with such changes at the expense of smaller players. 

If legislators and the president accept the EU’s ESG regulations without pushback, it would clear the way for passing similar regulations in the United States down the road.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has already proposed less extreme ESG reporting rules. Still, these have been significantly delayed and, fortunately, may not pass at all. 

However, once major American companies are made to adapt to stringent European reporting requirements, incentives may change. Big businesses might find that crippling domestic regulations are just what they need to corner their respective markets. And as long as Congress continues to outsource its lawmaking to our growing administrative state, we risk allowing such decisions to be made by bureaucrats far removed from electoral politics.

The overhead spent complying with burdensome EU regulations could compromise price, quality, and innovation in the products offered here. In a globalized world, these are tariffs by another name, replacing populist rhetoric with vague notions of saving the planet via big business. The United States is almost as populous as the EU and far more affluent on a per-capita basis, and the European market has been shrinking relative to the U.S. market since the Great Recession. We should be calling the shots on our side of the pond, but we can only do that if Congress and the President act and stop accepting what European bureaucrats dictate. 

The President and Congress must show Europe that if it chooses to kneecap American businesses, the indispensable defense and extensive trade the United States can offer will no longer be a given.

Mike Viola is the Director of Business Intelligence at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and previously worked in investment research for five years. He tweets at @mf_viola.

Why Didn't Israel See the Hamas War Coming?

The National Interest - Sun, 08/10/2023 - 00:00

Hamas' assault on Israel on October 7 was a surprise not only in terms of its unexpected nature but also in terms of the unprecedented events that accompanied the assault: Israel's intelligence community's failure to anticipate the attack, Israel’s military's initial lack of an effective rapid response, and the unexpected success of militias in the early hours. Although it is still too early to identify the causes of these circumstances, there are educated guesses we can make.

Israel Did Not See the War Coming

For starters, in recent years, Israel’s intelligence community has been largely focused on Iran and its borders with Syria and Lebanon. Essentially, Israelis have been using their espionage capability primarily to counter the development of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic programs, and secondarily to prevent the transfer of advanced military equipment from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. Tel Aviv’s recent state of high alert regarding Iran and Hezbollah's joint construction of an airport in Southern Lebanon, activities of the Iran-backed Hussein Brigade in Syria, and Hezbollah’s recent installment of tents in the City of Ghajar are indicators of the intelligence community's diverted attention. In this context, one might argue that Hamas and its backers, mainly Iran and Hezbollah, were counting on this diversion and have been attempting to exacerbate it. As of now, neither Israeli nor any other sources know what exactly was inside Hezbollah’s tents, leading some to speculate if it was a “false red flag” operation.

Beyond what caused Israel’s intelligence lapse, we need to understand its impact. Just three weeks ago, on September 12th, the so-called Gaza Strip’s Joint Operations Room, comprising various Palestinian militias led by the military wing of Hamas, al-Qassam Brigades, conducted a military drill. They practiced mass rocket attacks, utilized offensive drone capabilities, and refined their urban guerrilla warfare techniques. All these tactics have been employed in the current assault, yet Israel’s intelligence community failed to anticipate the attack.

In addition to the diversion of intelligence attention, it seems Israel, in the recent assault, has been deprived of one of its primary advantages: the element of surprise.

Strategic Paralysis

With the exception of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, in most other conflicts, Israel had the advantage of surprising the enemy with mass aerial attacks to achieve “strategic paralysis.” However, in this conflict, Hamas not only deprived Israel of this advantage but also turned it against the IDF. To compound the “tactical paralysis” Israel faced, the Palestinians employed a Blitzkrieg-like strategy, focusing their forces on specific entry points, then rapidly advancing, followed by periodic outbreaks behind Israel’s defense lines. Additionally, Hamas seems to have attempted to create chaos among the public and distract the Israeli military by launching attacks from the sea using boats and motor-powered hang gliders.

Hamas’s tactical innovations also included the use of new weaponry and the projection of unprecedented firepower. Reflecting on their 2021 conflict with Israel, Hamas realized that while they couldn't out-tech the Iron Dome, they might outpace its reloading capabilities. By concentrating their fire, launching numerous rockets, shells, and kamikaze drones towards Israeli territory, they hoped to overload the Iron Dome’s capacities. Their success in this seems relative. Drawing inspiration from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Hamas employed hardly detectable quadcopter drones to target Israeli troops and observation posts.

In this conflict, Hamas appears to be trying to neutralize one of Israel’s major advantages: aerial superiority, by taking 100 Israelis hostage. While the primary objective of taking hostages is likely to use them as bargaining chips in future negotiations - as Hamas leadership already stated that they have enough hostages to free all Palestinian prisoners - it's worth noting that Hamas is likely housing these hostages in bunkers and tunnels. This tactic not only restricts the Israel Air Force's freedom of movement but also increases the potential for collateral damage. In past conflicts, militias stockpiled their ammunition and troops in civilian areas to create a human shield. By adding Israeli citizens to the mix, they've now created a double-edged sword: if Israel attacks, it risks its citizens; if it doesn't, it still faces challenges.

In the end, despite these tactics, the asymmetrical military capability between Israel and Hamas remains evident. The IDF has absolute superiority in every domain, prompting the question: why was the assault even launched? As we move forward, we may get closer to answering this. For now, it seems Hamas hopes that by leveraging the hostages, they can press Israel to ease restrictions on the Gaza Strip or release prisoners. Or perhaps, all of Hamas' actions are part of a grander strategy, luring the IDF into a land invasion of the Gaza Strip and drawing them into a war of attrition. Only time will tell.

Arman Mahmoudian is a lecturer of Russian Studies and International Affairs and a researcher at the University of South Florida’s Global and National Security Institute. Follow him @MahmoudianArman.

Image: Creative Commons. 

Time for A Firm Stand: U.S. Policy Options in Light of Hamas’ Invasion of Israel

The National Interest - Sun, 08/10/2023 - 00:00

In the tumultuous wake of an unprecedented attack on Israel by Hamas forces from Gaza, a defining moment has arisen for United States foreign policy.

As a longstanding ally of Israel, the U.S. is compelled to reevaluate its stance and actions amidst a conflict steeped in complexity and historical precedent. The escalation of violence prompts the consideration of stringent policy measures aimed at curbing the Islamist organization’s aggression and restoring stability in the region.

The adoption of a “Dismantle Hamas” resolution represents one such measure. In the face of ongoing crisis, rhetorical support or increased pressure on Hamas proves insufficient. A Congressional resolution calling unequivocally for the eradication of the Hamas threat would signify a paradigm shift, underscoring the United States’ unyielding commitment to Israel’s sovereignty and safety, and the eradication of threats to Israel, and the wider region.

Yet, Israel’s security is intertwined with regional dynamics, notably the role of Qatar in funding Gaza. While ostensibly aimed at humanitarian relief, the financial aid flowing from this Gulf state has inadvertently fueled Hamas’s militancy. A recalibration of U.S.-Qatar relations is urgent. Measures such as the revocation of Qatar's Major Non-NATO Ally Status, threatening Qatar’s access to US financial systems, and even the potential relocation of the Al Udeid Air Base, hang in the balance as potent levers to enforce a cessation of all funding to Gaza.

In tandem with these international diplomatic maneuvers, a domestic reassessment of aid to Gaza is pivotal. The recent conviction of World Vision’s Gaza Director for siphoning off tens of millions of dollars for Hamas shows that even well-intended USAID funds can easily be used for nefarious purposes. A comprehensive review of aid to Gaza is required. No U.S. aid should reach Gaza’s shores so long as it can be siphoned off by a terrorist organization running a functional military dictatorship, thereby perpetuating the tragic situation it ostensibly seeks to mitigate.

Global efforts to corner Hamas’s leadership, ensconced in the safe havens of “frenemy” countries, Turkey and Qatar in particular, can tighten the noose around the organization. Nations providing refuge to these leaders must face a stark choice – sever ties with the organization, including expelling senior leaders who live in luxury as ordinary Gazans suffer, or confront a cessation in U.S. military and intelligence support. This measure exemplifies an act of international solidarity against terrorism. Regional dynamics hold the key to further isolating Hamas.

Egypt, in particular, has a pivotal role to play. The U.S. should consider restoring military aid to Egypt, on the condition that it assists in dismantling Hamas and offers refuge to Gazan citizens fleeing the conflict. Such a policy aligns mutual interests for regional stability and underscores the role of cooperative diplomacy in quelling violence.

Yet, these diplomatic and financial efforts must be complemented by direct actions to stem the flow of arms to Gaza. Inspired by the Biden Administration’s recent interception of Iranian weapons bound for Yemen, which were brilliantly then shipped to Ukraine, the U.S. should intensify efforts to halt the supply of arms destined for Hamas and repeat this success by sending captured arms to Ukraine. Each weapon intercepted represents a concrete step towards de-escalating ongoing conflicts and restoring a semblance of peace.

Lastly, the legislative arsenal of the United States can be fortified by reviving and reinforcing the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act, perhaps to be aptly renamed as the ‘Dismantle Hamas Through Sanctions and Direct Action Act.’ Adapted to the current crisis, this legislative initiative should aim to disempower Hamas, cutting off its financial and political lifelines. As Israel grapples with the onslaught initiated by Hamas, the U.S., fortified by its unwavering commitment to the Jewish state, is not only expected to stand with its ally but also to enact decisive actions.

The proposed policy measures represent a comprehensive approach, reflecting the necessity for a sustained solution to a conflict that has festered far too long. In this defining moment, the U.S. can exemplify international leadership, affirming that its support for an ally is not only resilient but unyielding.

Gregg Roman has been the director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum since 2015. His work with the organization includes management of all aspects of its day-to-day communications and financial strategies. Gregg Roman’s writing has appeared in publications that include Newsweek, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Los Angeles Times, and the Miami Herald. 

Clifford Smith is the director of the Middle East Forum's Washington D.C. office. He is a liaison to decision makers and opinion leaders in Washington, D.C. He holds a B.A. from Washington State University, an M.P.P. with a focus on international relations from Pepperdine University, and a law degree from the Catholic University of America. He is a member of the Maryland Bar. An experienced political operative, he is the veteran of numerous campaigns and has held several positions in Congress, most recently communications director for U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer. His writings have been published in the Daily Caller, the American Spectator, PJ Media, and other outlets.

Image: Shutterstock. 

The Simchat Torah War

The National Interest - Sun, 08/10/2023 - 00:00

In early August, I visited Kfar Aza—a kibbutz in southern Israel only two kilometers from the Gaza Strip. This is a community where residents have mere seconds to seek refuge once loudspeakers go off, signaling an imminent Hamas rocket or mortar attack. One of these residents, Chen Kotler Abrahams, invited my colleagues and me to her home, served lemonade, and pulled out body-height remnants of these rockets for us to see. Despite the grim conversation, life in Kfar Aza appeared fairly normal: children played in groups, adults gardened, and the like.

As of the time of this writing, there is a chance that many of the people I met are dead.

As many recall, Israel was caught off-guard fifty years ago during one of its holiest days, Yom Kippur. The war that followed was one of the hardest fought in Israel’s history, with repercussions that still shape the Middle East today. Half a century later, history has a grim way of rhyming, if not repeating. Today, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, as Jews worldwide were completing the annual reading of the Torah and dancing in celebration, Hamas launched an unprecedented and massive surprise attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

This operation has sent shockwaves around the world. This isn’t just another episode in the Israel-Hamas conflict or a bold attack by terrorists; it is a watershed moment that might reshape the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape.

Yom Kippur War Redux

The situation is still unfolding, but developments thus far have been shocking. Hamas fired over 5,000 rockets, overwhelming Israel’s Iron Dome system. Multiple Israeli communities near the Gaza border, including two military bases (Re’im and Kerem Shalom), faced not only the terror of rocket fire but also on-the-ground incursions. Dozens of Israeli civilians have been killed in their homes and communities, with graphic recordings of these heinous acts circulating on social media as gruesome propaganda. Meanwhile, an undetermined number of Israeli civilians and soldiers—including, supposedly, an Israeli general—have been kidnapped and reportedly taken back to Gaza, amplifying the atmosphere of terror. That this attack came on a Jewish religious holiday devoted to celebrating the Torah—a vital part of the Jewish connection to God and, by extension, their historical connection to the land of Israel—makes it more than a military maneuver; it’s a symbolic gesture.

Yet, unlike the Yom Kippur War, which was a conventional conflict involving state actors, this Simchat Torah offensive is marked by the asymmetric warfare that has come to define the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years: Hamas fighters taking off from Gaza in paragliders and descending onto Israeli settlements, drones dropping bombs on vehicles and guard posts, and more.

Why now? Why on this particular day?

The answer lies in the realm of geopolitics. Hamas’ attack, besides its obvious goal of inflicting pain on Israel, aims to “veto” the budding rapprochement between Israel and other Muslim Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia. Though in its nascent stages, the recent thawing of relations between the countries is a monumental shift in Middle Eastern geopolitics. For decades, the prevailing trend set Israel and the Arab states on opposing fronts. But shared concerns, especially about the United States’ military drawdown from the region and Iran’s growing influence, have made former adversaries reconsider their stances.

For Hamas itself, the assault is due to a variety of reasons. The group has long positioned itself as the uncompromising vanguard of the Palestinian cause but has seen its legitimacy questioned and regional influence wane in recent years. Moreover, any hint of normalization between Israel and Arab states is regarded as a betrayal and a death knell for the Palestinian cause. By launching this brazen, massive attack and taking numerous hostages, Hamas has not only proven its resilience and competence as a fighting organization and put its political rival, the Palestinian Authority, on the back foot, but also it has placed Arab states under the spotlight—especially if Israel launches massive retaliatory attacks. Moreover, the 1973 conflict holds an iconic status in the Arab psyche. It is seen as a moment when Arab forces, even if momentarily, regained their dignity against the Israeli military might. By choosing this symbolic date, Hamas aims to rally the wider Arab world around its cause, invoking memories of past glories.

There’s another layer to this strategy. By striking on Simchat Torah, Hamas seeks to challenge the spiritual narrative of the Jewish state. They aimed not just at bodies but at souls, attempting to dampen the spirit of a people celebrating their divine covenant. This act reveals the deep-seated ideological battle at play.

Moves and Countermoves

As Israel begins its retaliation and the search for its kidnapped citizens, there’s a realization that the Middle East stands at the cusp of another potential large-scale conflict. In a move that underscores the gravity of the situation, Israel has authorized a massive counterattack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address to the nation, declared, “Citizens of Israel, we are at war. Not an operation, not a round [of fighting], at war!” The country’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, has stated, “We will change reality on the ground in Gaza for the next fifty years. What was before, will be no more. We will operate at full force.” The gloves may be coming all the way off.

For years, Israel has hesitated from launching a full-scale operation to take Gaza, primarily due to the sheer military cost, the international repercussions, and the humanitarian concerns such an assault might trigger. But the scale and audacity of the recent attack may have shifted the calculus in Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s coalition government, composed of hard right elements, will not accept anything less than the destruction of Hamas. Moreover, Israel’s political and military establishment now feels pressured to restore its reputation and prestige. The scale and audacity of Hamas’ operation raise alarming questions about the massive intelligence failure by Israel and, to some extent, the United States. For an operation of this magnitude, planning would have spanned weeks, if not months. How was it that the Israeli defense establishment missed the brewing storm on their doorstep?

At the same time, any actions Israel takes must take into account the protection of the diplomatic gains; winning the immediate war will not amount to much in the long run if Israel is once again left isolated in the region with an Iran that is growing ever stronger.

The Arab world, particularly the governments of the Gulf states that have pursued improved ties with Israel, is in a tricky situation. At present, the Gulf states have called for de-escalation (the UAE), restraint (Oman), or blamed the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar). This response must be understood in a broader context; if Israel’s past responses to Hamas attacks are any guide, then the Israeli response will be great and terrible, with casualties in thousands, if not greater. Urban warfare, particularly in a densely populated area like Gaza, is fraught with difficulties. Civilian casualties are practically impossible to avoid in such circumstances, especially if they—along with any kidnapped Israelis—are used as human shields by Hamas. Gulf states would be hardpressed by domestic politics to respond to the deaths of so many fellow Arab Muslims.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, is in a precarious position. Riyadh’s recent overtures for Israel have been driven by mutual concerns over Iran, along with a desire to access Israeli technology. A stable relationship with Israel could serve as a bulwark against Tehran’s regional ambitions. But the Kingdom, with its deep-seated historical support for the Palestinian cause, will find it challenging to navigate the currents without alienating its populace.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies are “assessing” the situation and testing boundaries. If Israel appears weak, then there is a strong chance these groups will also attack Israel via Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, Syria. This would create a second front for Israeli forces and possibly set off a broader regional war.

Israel’s operation presents a double-edged sword for the Palestinian Authority, which has been losing its grip on power and influence to Hamas. On one hand, the weakening or removal of Hamas could restore the PA’s primacy in Palestinian politics. On the other, any large-scale humanitarian crisis in Gaza resulting from the Israeli incursion will undoubtedly stoke anti-Israel sentiments, making its own situation all the more challenging.

The United States, traditionally Israel’s staunch ally, is also in a precarious situation. That Washington also didn’t see this attack coming speaks ill of its intelligence capabilities, especially in signals intelligence. The Biden administration will find itself under fire. Only mere days ago, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan argued that “The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades now.” On the same day, Semafor revealed that Iran built a significant influence network that reached deep into the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. Finally, the administration’s decision to release $6 billion to Iran in exchange for five American hostages hostage will only face harsher criticism in the coming days; it is not unlikely that some of that money funded or otherwise supported Hamas’ current operation. Pressure to support Israel will be immense, complicating an already delicate situation with a public already tired of supporting conflicts abroad.

Perhaps the worst off are Gaza’s civilians, who’ve endured years of blockade and conflict, along with their own share of suffering under Hamas’ rule, and are now once again caught in the crossfire. Much like the broader Middle East’s, their future hangs in the balance, dependent on the choices and actions of regional and global powers in the coming weeks.

Coming Apart at the Seams 

It’s hard to guess what will happen to Kfar Aza, the kibbutz I visited two months ago. According to the latest reports, a baby was found alive but alone amid the community's charred remains.

Likewise, it is difficult to ascertain what will come next for the Middle East. With Israel’s announced intention to take Gaza and obliterate Hamas, the Arab world finds itself at a crossroads. Will they condemn Israel’s actions and risk derailing the recent diplomatic warmth? Or will they, even tacitly, support Israel’s move, viewing the eradication of Hamas as a pathway to a more stable Middle East? Either choice carries with it massive geopolitical implications. But now, it feels as if the Israeli/Palestinian situation is about to be resolved, one way or the other. 

This, perhaps, is what is truly terrifying Western policymakers: the sense that the Western-led, rules-based world order, such as it is, is coming apart. The previous constraints imposed on states are no longer as constraining. The war in Ukraine, the retaking by force of what remained of the Karabakh Armenian breakaway entity by Azerbaijan, heightening tensions over Taiwan, growing instability in the Balkans, military coups in Africa, and myriad other events are all grim portents of this trend. Which domino will fall next?

The Simchat Torah War, as this conflict will soon likely be called, is thus not just another skirmish. It’s a turning point, one with vast implications that heralds a coming age of disorder. The world watches with bated breath. 

Carlos Roa is a contributing editor and former executive editor for The National Interest.

Image: Shutterstock. 

The Roots of the India–Canada Clash

The National Interest - Sun, 08/10/2023 - 00:00

Rarely have two major democracies descended into as ugly a diplomatic spat as the one now unfolding between Canada and India. With the traditionally friendly relationship already at its lowest point ever, both sides are now engaging in quiet diplomacy to arrest the downward spiral, using the United States, a Canadian ally and Indian partner, as the intermediary. But even if the current diplomatic ruckus eases, Canada’s tolerance of Sikh separatist activity on its territory will continue to bedevil bilateral ties.

The latest dispute began when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sensationally claimed that there were “credible allegations” about a “potential link” between India’s government and the fatal shooting in June of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist and Canadian citizen, on Canadian soil. India’s government fired back by demanding that Canada reduce its diplomatic staff in India, suspending new visas for Canadians, and accusing Canada of making “absurd” accusations to divert attention from its status as “a safe haven for terrorists.”

Nijjar was hardly the only Sikh separatist living in Canada. In fact, the country has emerged as the global hub of the militant movement for “Khalistan,” or an independent Sikh homeland. The separatists constitute a small minority of the Sikh diaspora, concentrated in the Anglosphere, especially in Canada. Sikhs living in India—who overwhelmingly report that they are proud to be Indian—do not support the separatist cause.

With British Columbia as their operational base, the separatists are waging a strident campaign glorifying political violence. For example, they have erected billboards advocating the killing of Indian diplomats (with photos), honored jailed or killed terrorists as “martyrs,” built a parade float on which the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was re-enacted, and staged attacks on Indian diplomatic missions in Canada. They have also held referendums on independence for Khalistan in Canada.

But, much to India’s frustration, Canada has been reluctant to take strong action to rein in Sikh separatism. Trudeau’s first official visit to India in 2018 turned into a disaster after it was revealed that a convicted Sikh terrorist who had spent years in a Canadian prison following the attempted assassination of a visiting Indian state cabinet minister had made it onto the Canadian guest list. At last month’s G20 summit in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave Trudeau a dressing-down for being soft on violent extremists.

It was against this tense backdrop that Trudeau made his allegations about Nijjar’s murder. When countries have linked foreign agents to a domestic death—for example, in 2010, when the Dubai police chief accused Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, of killing a Hamas commander in a local luxury hotel—they have typically presented video, audio, or forensic evidence. And they have mostly avoided blaming the government that the foreign agents represent.

Trudeau, by contrast, cast blame directly on the Indian government without presenting a scintilla of evidence. He says the allegations are based on credible intelligence, apparently from a Five Eyes partner country (Australia, New Zealand, the UK, or the US), but refuses to declassify the information or share it with Indian authorities.

Trudeau apparently hasn’t provided “any facts” even to Canadian opposition leader Pierre Poilievre, a member of the Privy Council. And, according to the premier of British Columbia, the province where the killing occurred, the intelligence briefing he received on the matter included only information “available to the public doing an internet search.”

Meanwhile, Canadian investigators haven’t made a single arrest in the case. This has left many wondering to what extent Canada’s powerful but unaccountable intelligence establishment controls the country’s foreign policy.

In any case, there’s no doubt that Sikh radicals wield real political influence in Canada, including as funders. Trudeau keeps his minority government afloat with the help of Jagmeet Singh, the New Democratic Party’s Sikh leader and a Khalistan sympathizer. According to a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau’s government, action was not taken to choke off financing for the Khalistani militants because “Trudeau did not want to lose the Sikh vote” to Singh.

Canada must wake up to the threat posed by its Sikh militants. Rising drug trade profitability and easy gun availability in British Columbia have contributed to internecine infighting among Khalistan radicals in the province. The volatile combination of Sikh militancy, the drug trade, and gangland killings has serious implications for Canadian security, but it is not only Canadians who are in danger.

Under the premiership of Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s reluctance to rein in or extradite Sikh extremists wanted in India for terrorism led to the 1985 twin bombings targeting Air India flights. One attack killed all 329 passengers, most of whom were of Indian origin, on a flight from Toronto; the other misfired, killing two baggage handlers at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. With Khalistani militants continuing to idolize Talwinder Singh Parmar—the terrorist that two separate Canadian inquiries identified as the mastermind behind the bombings—history is in danger of repeating itself.

By reopening old wounds, not least those created by the Air India attacks, Trudeau’s accusations have created a rare national consensus in fractious and highly polarised India. Many are calling for New Delhi to put sustained pressure on Ottawa to start cleaning up its act. But more bitterness and recriminations won’t restore the bilateral relationship. For that, both sides must use effective, cooperative diplomacy to address each other’s concerns.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi–based Centre for Policy Research and fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Water: Asia’s new battleground. He tweets at @Chellaney

This article was originally published in the Australian Strategic Polic Institute’s journal, The Strategist.

Image: Shutterstock.

Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy: A Strategic Triumph

The National Interest - Sun, 08/10/2023 - 00:00

In January 2024, Taiwan will hold its presidential election to choose its next leader. President Tsai Ing-wen, currently in her second term, will soon conclude her tenure as mandated by the constitution's two-term limit. Her tenure has been marked by several noteworthy developments, with one of the most pivotal decisions being the launch of the New Southbound Policy in 2016. This policy was designed to broaden Taiwan’s economic engagement and strengthen its foreign relations. It encompasses eighteen countries from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, focusing on eight key target countries.

With the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at the helm, Taiwan has successfully raised its regional profile, and Taiwan’s foreign policy is no longer solely focused on the West or China. Since 2016, a noteworthy development has been the continuous effort to foster strong relations with its immediate and extended neighbors. 

Taiwan’s Window to Asia

There have been several tangible benefits that Taiwan has achieved through the implementation of the New Southbound Policy. It would not be an overstatement to describe this policy as a holistic approach to Taiwan’s foreign relations. The initiation of this policy has meaningfully enhanced the institutionalization of Taiwan’s engagements with countries to its south, particularly those that had previously received limited attention from Taiwan. Before the initiation of the policy, Taiwan, as an Asian country, had fewer substantial ties or linkages within its geographical region. Taiwan’s implementation of the New Southbound Policy and its utilization of medical diplomacy during the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly enhanced Taiwan’s engagement with the countries in the region.

Furthermore, the New Southbound Policy also served as a gateway to the Indo-Pacific region. During the 2022 Yushan Forum, an annual dialogue dedicated to Taiwan’s relationships with New Southbound Policy countries, President Tsai connected the New Southbound Policy with the country’s broader Indo-Pacific strategy. She affirmed, “The New Southbound Policy is at the center of Taiwan’s own Indo-Pacific strategy. Through this policy, we are working to bolster our security and economic ties with partners across the region.”

A Unique Response to China’s Aggression 

Seven years since its inception, the New Southbound Policy has consistently delivered striking outcomes in trade and investment. For instance, between 2016 and 2022, the overall bilateral trade between Taiwan and the New Southbound Policy countries surged by an impressive 88.2 percent, with investment demonstrating similar notable growth. In 2022, Taiwan’s investments in the New Southbound Policy partner countries surpassed those in China. Even more significantly, the New Southbound Policy has actively and effectively enabled Taiwanese businesses to generate higher profits than those earned from China.

Government-led initiatives have furthered the establishment of regional networks, including Bilateral Investment Agreements, mutual recognition agreements, memorandums on the avoidance of double taxation, investment guarantee agreements, educational cooperation, talent development, and fostering quality enterprises, among other areas. These accomplishments have enhanced Taiwan’s ability to withstand China’s aggressive tactics and deepened its multifaceted partnerships with Indo-Pacific neighbors.

While the New Southbound Policy has its share of shortcomings and there is still much room for improvement, it has provided a unique and nonconventional response to China’s escalating aggression and its attempts to limit Taiwan’s international space. However, despite this obvious objective, the New Southbound Policy goes beyond the China factor. Through the policy, Taiwan has attempted to convey to the New Southbound Policy partner countries that Taiwan is much more than China and engagement with the government is mutually beneficial. This is one of the major reasons the New Southbound Policy is not focused on the security and political aspects of Taiwan’s foreign relations. Since many of the New Southbound Policy countries have been exercising caution to avoid crossing China’s perceived redlines, Taiwan’s strategic approach within the New Southbound Policy framework, which prioritizes enhancing economic cooperation, facilitating regional connectivity, promoting resource sharing, and fostering talent exchange, enables these countries to cultivate closer ties with Taiwan without being unduly concerned about the China factor.

What’s Next?

With the West increasingly focusing on the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan must engage with Asia comprehensively. The New Southbound Policy has provided Taiwan with a valuable avenue due to its alignment with the policy objectives of several other countries, including India’s Act East Policy. As the upcoming election draws near, there is ongoing deliberation about the fate of this policy. While there still has been a lack of enthusiastic response to the New Southbound Policy, its mere existence has given Taiwan a structured framework for engagement. The multifaceted, non-security, and nonpolitical nature of the policy has allowed Taiwan to develop a blueprint that is well suited for the New Southbound Policy countries as well. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Taiwan has garnered renewed attention. This has presented a prime opportunity for Taiwan to bolster its engagement with and presence in Asia, and the policy framework has proven to be a valuable tool. As Taiwan enters a period of election frenzy, it becomes imperative not to overlook Taiwan’s crucial engagement with several significant Asian countries. Taiwan has become a focal point for both political and nonpolitical reasons in recent years, and the progress made should serve as a foundation for further development. To enhance its prominence in the region, Taiwan must maintain and advance the New Southbound Policy consistently. Given China’s consistent defiance of the rule of law and its threats to the rules-based order, it becomes increasingly vital for Asia to mirror Taiwan’s eagerness for engagement.

Alan H. Yang is a Professor at the Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies and Executive Director at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF). 

Sana Hashmi is a Fellow at TAEF and George H. W. Foundation for U.S.-China Relations. She tweets @sanahashmi1

Image: Shutterstock.

The Grand Bargain is a Great Delusion

The National Interest - Sun, 08/10/2023 - 00:00

It would be the most transformative moment in world history since the end of the Cold War, a mega-deal that could change everything. So say the advocates of the proposed grand bargain among the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. In outline, the deal entails a U.S. defense pact with Saudi Arabia, the recognition of Israel by Saudi Arabia, and the accompanying transformation of the security and economic environment. The deal would promote the creation of an integrated U.S. air defense system across the Middle East (directed at Iran). It would spur investment in a new shipping and rail corridor (IMEC) linking India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Israel with Europe. Israel and Saudi Arabia, in effect, would reconcile over their shared fear of Iran. They would do so under the protective mantle of the United States. 

In return for the recognition of Israel, the Saudis are said to want four things: a formal U.S. guarantee of their security, like the bilateral treaties signed with Japan and South Korea in the Cold War; U.S. help in building civilian nuclear reactors; better access to U.S. arms; and Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. 

It is widely accepted among the commentariat, among both those who support and oppose the deal, that all these demands or “asks” are to be taken at face value as signifying a package that the Saudis really want and believe they can get. I think that is highly unlikely. Something else is going on. No one has a beeline into the brain of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, including U.S. officials, but their theory—that MBS really wants a security treaty and is willing to give a lot to get it—strikes me as highly implausible. Please consider the opposing theory that the Saudis don’t want a tighter alliance with the United States and that these negotiations are part of their preparations for a world without that. 

The Revolution in Saudi Policy

The assumption underlying the grand bargain is that the Saudi position is inherently weak and vulnerable, requiring American succor. The Saudis long for renewed embrace today, though Biden hated on them yesterday. Saudi actions of the past two years suggest a far more independent stance. Consider these steps:

They agreed to a truce in Yemen.

They thumbed their noses at American requests to increase oil production in 2022, nullifying Biden’s releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by barrel-for-barrel cuts of their own. In 2023, they coordinated with Russia in reducing production further (by, respectively, 1 million barrels a day and 500,000 BPD), spurring an increase in the oil price from a low of $64 a barrel in the summer to the $80-$90 range today. 

In December 2022, they gave a lavish welcome in Riyadh to Chinese president Xi Jinping, heralding an “epoch-making milestone” in China’s relations with the Arab world. As part of that summit, the Saudis agreed to a memorandum that called for Huawei, the US-sanctioned Chinese firm, to build cloud computing and high-tech complexes in Saudi cities.  

They led the effort, over considerable opposition, to readmit President Bashar al-Assad of Syria into the Arab League last May and want to work with China in rebuilding the country.

They have shown a keen interest in developing ties with both BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in both of which Russia and China play key roles. 

They reduced their holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds, contributing their might to the ongoing U.S. funding crisis. 

Last but not least, they agreed in March 2023 to restore diplomatic relations with Iran under the auspices of China. 

Taken together, these initiatives amount to a revolution in Saudi policy. Yemen apart, each was strongly opposed by the United States. The White House went ballistic over Saudi oil policy in the fall of 2022, charging collusion with Vladimir Putin and putting the White House and the Democratic Party “on a mission to punish the kingdom.” U.S. leaders have vehemently opposed the normalization of ties with Assad. They have feared and protested growing Sino-Saudi trade and investment ties. U.S. leaders want the Saudis to continue pricing oil in dollars and to park their surpluses in U.S. Treasury bonds. They don’t want the Saudis to have any sort of military relationship with China or Russia.  

The grand bargain, in effect, seeks to reverse the bold new Saudi foreign policy of the last year. Biden began his presidency by treating MBS as a pariah whom he could trash talk. Then it gradually dawned on him and his advisors that the outcome of the epochal conflict with Russia and China could turn on the struggle for influence in the Middle East, making Riyadh the pivotal player in that great game. So a lot is at stake. The administration’s means of getting the Saudis to reverse course is the U.S. security treaty.

Treaty Ally? 

There are lots of things that are passing strange about this proposed bilateral pact. It almost certainly couldn’t get the approval of sixty-seven U.S. senators. When the administration chose New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to reveal (on July 27) that Biden was weighing a big Middle East deal, Friedman wrote that Biden himself hadn’t fully committed to it, though the president is now said to be an enthusiast. MBS pretty much reviles the supposed guarantor. He refused to take Biden’s phone calls for over a year. He made fun of Biden in private. MBS is vilified in Congress as often as Putin or Xi, among Democrats and Republicans alike.  Treaties are matters of trust. Trust is lacking between Saudi Arabia and America.  

Here’s another oddity, which is that the treaty would simply affirm what was, over many decades, seen as a key pillar of U.S. policy in the region. The distinction between the historic commitment and the proposed new commitment has garnered virtually no discussion in the press, but there are a few obvious questions. If the old commitment is no longer in existence, when did it go away? If the commitment went away before, couldn’t it go away again? If so, what’s it worth?

In fact, the traditional U.S. commitment has been worth something to Saudi Arabia, but that something has rested not on U.S. affection for the Saudis but on fear and loathing of Iran. So long as hostility to Iran is the centerpiece of U.S. policy in the region, as it seems likely to remain, the Saudis achieve about as much “security” as they would under a formal treaty. Whereas the United States has been irresolute in its commitment to its clients—it abandoned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak; it double-crossed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi; it turned tail in Afghanistan—its enmity with Iran is eternal. This factor is far more important for the Saudis than vague words on paper about mutual protection.

That applies also to all the lesser “guarantees” that have been bruited about, including a mutual defense understanding that would be “less than a full treaty” or an executive agreement that would bypass Congress (practically impossible given the inherent congressional prerogative to block aspects of any deal). Whatever form the guarantee might take, there is no possibility of it being truly “iron-clad,” as the Saudis are said to want. A future White House or Congress would interpret its terms as they liked.  

China Interposes

In the history of the grand bargain, the news of three Saudi “asks”—a formal security treaty, a civilian nuclear program, and guaranteed arms sales—broke on March 9, 2023. A few hours later, to the apparent surprise of Washington, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced their diplomatic rapprochement under Chinese auspices.  

This was a significant development, most unwelcome in Washington, and a “lose, lose, lose” for the neoconservatives. But good relations with China are essential for Saudi security because China is vital to Iran, giving China sway over decision-making in Saudi’s chief rival. The isolation from much of the world that the United States has imposed on Iran makes China an especially vital lifeline for it. 

Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf insisted that China’s role in the deal was insignificant; the agreement “was not brokered by the Chinese; they hosted it.” That’s not Salman’s view. “We had a few obstacles,” Salman noted in his interview with Fox News. “China come in and solve it.” 

What China likely told Iran and Saudi Arabia was that it would not stand for either side infringing on the vital interests and national rights of the other. Saudi Arabia has in China a lever to restrain Iran. This is worth just as much, if not more, than the U.S. threat to blow up Iran’s nuclear installations. Given that the Saudis would be deeply exposed in the event of a U.S.-Israel attack on Iran, a peaceful route to Iran’s restraint sponsored by China probably looks more promising to the Saudis than the bellicose U.S. approach.  

Palestine: On Back Burner? 

A central part of the grand bargain is an apparent solution, but not really a solution, to the Palestinian question. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told PBS that the deal will ensure that “the prospect of a two-state solution stays vibrant and strong.” As that “solution” has been dead and buried for many years, existing solely in speech as a fraught hypothetical, Nuland’s formulation is bizarre. Events on the ground—above all, 700,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank—have long pointed toward no settlement that respects Palestinian rights. The last two decades showed that the Israelis didn’t want an independent Palestinian state and that the Americans couldn’t or wouldn’t make them want it. 

Even before the savage October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, the prospect of a real settlement was remote. Factors barring a settlement include the most extreme government in Israel’s history, a fractured Palestinian leadership, continued Palestinian terrorism, and what critical observers call a “second Nakba.” For the Israeli government, the issue is only a “checkbox that you have to check to say you’re doing it.” That is, it is to be without substantive meaning. The Biden administration apparently intends to win the consent of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with sweet talk but no threats. That seems unlikely to work in the future. It has never worked on Netanyahu in the past.  

Will the Saudis consent to a fig leaf? Their formal position is, no, they won’t. According to Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, “There is no way to resolve the conflict other than by ensuring the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.” It must “return to the forefront.”  The foreign minister was yet more emphatic in his September 23 speech to the UN General Assembly. MBS did say in his recent interview that “every day we get closer” to an agreement, but the Saudis have not publicly retreated from their 2002 peace plan.  The Saudi response to the October 7 war was to recall “its repeated warnings of the dangers of the explosion of the situation as a result of the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights, and the repetition of systematic provocations against its sanctities.”

Insiders say that the Saudis will accept far less—a settlement freeze, formal disavowal of annexing the West Bank, more Palestinian control over a few parcels in the West Bank—but even these limited steps pose insuperable obstacles for Israel. Netanyahu can’t accept them without breaking his coalition. A national unity government could be formed in response to the October 7 war, but it is most unlikely to favor concessions to the Palestinians.  

Even if Israel’s acquiescence is miraculously secured, it is difficult to see why the Saudis should break so radically from past policy. Overwhelmingly, Arab and Islamic public opinion opposes such recognition if it simply ratifies existing realities of Israeli annexation and Palestinian dispossession. That includes Saudi opinion. The United Arab Emirates, the most important Arab signatory of the Abraham Accords, complains of Israel’s violation of its limited commitments under the accords and the new conditions the United States imposed on selling it F-35s (the breaking of relations with Huawei), causing the arms deal to fall apart. The Saudis have watched closely the UAE experience with the Abraham Accords. They don’t like what they see. 

Recognition of Israel bears on Saudi security. Underwriting the Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians could potentially constitute a threat to the security of bin Salman and his regime, as it might well work to undermine his legitimacy at home and his leadership position in the Muslim world. A refusal to recognize Israel, unless it consents to an independent Palestinian state, protects MBS from the accusation that he is complicit in the unjust treatment meted out to the Palestinians. 

The critical Saudi dependency on U.S. arms—much of its air force could not operate without U.S. logistical support—is often taken as a source of considerable U.S. leverage on Saudi Arabia. Still, it is also true that the U.S. defense industry is critically dependent on the Saudis, who are responsible for $13 billion in U.S. arms sales between 2016 and 2020.  The leverage works both ways. The Saudi dependency on U.S. support for key weapons systems also constitutes a good reason for diversifying away from the United States. According to MBS, it would “cause headaches” if the Saudis were forced to seek new arms suppliers, but he wants those U.S. arms without the conditions Washington wishes to impose. 

That’s probably their bottom line on a civilian nuclear industry, too. The Saudis have put this forward as something comparable to U.S. help in building its military, but they have also made clear that they are open to competing offers from China, itself on the cusp of agreement with Turkey to build a new nuclear power plant. The U.S.-Saudi negotiations are shrouded in secrecy, so it is challenging to assess the state of play with respect to these offers, but it seems evident that a Saudi deal with China would be less subject to subsequent cancellation than one with the United States. The United States, under pressure from Israel and Congress, would probably insist on conditions so onerous—it’s on your soil, but under our control—as to make the U.S. offer appear unattractive.

To the Dustbin of History

So, the grand bargain is destined to flop. There are half a dozen deal breakers. The United States has wildly overestimated the leverage a formal offer of American protection affords it. The failure of the negotiation will, in turn, underscore the limitations of U.S. power and influence in the region. 

The U.S. reversal toward MBS, from odious pariah to best new pal, has painfully demonstrated the Biden administration’s new-found appreciation of Saudi power and independence. Alarmed by the new Saudi diplomacy, the United States has been making a last-ditch effort over the past six months to get them to reverse it.  The Saudis have responded by stating conditions that they know the Americans cannot satisfy. 

Instead of taking the Saudi demands at face value, we should infer that what MBS really wants is the demonstration that the United States cannot deliver on most of the agenda he has set forth. That demonstration would justify his refusal to yield ground on Israel and his desire to maintain good relations with Russia and China while not wholly alienating the United States. Saudi diplomacy today is not about the ways and means of reaffirming its status as an American protectorate but about accumulating points for the blame game to follow the collapse of the negotiations. 

David C. Hendrickson is President of the John Quincy Adams Society and emeritus professor of political science at Colorado College. You can find out more about his work at He tweets at @dhendrickson50

Image: Shutterstock.

Understanding AI in an Era of Great Power Politics

The National Interest - Sat, 07/10/2023 - 00:00

As cyberattacks grow exponentially—an insecure computer can suffer 2,000 attacks per day—Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now imperative to deal with the massive volume of breaches. Yet, it seems that AI developers and researchers are behind the curve. Namely, the number of AI developers eclipses those that deal with its safety thirty to one. Moreover, AI-focused cybersecurity solutions only rose after 2016.

Figure 1: Annual distribution of research papers presenting a novel AI for cybersecurity solution

As governments are increasingly under pressure to both deploy and regulate AI, policymakers need to understand what types of AI are available for cybersecurity purposes. As Max Smeets wrote: “Discussing the use of AI in cyber operations is not about whether technology or humans will be more important in the future. It is about how AI can make sure developers, operators, administrators, and other personnel of cyber organizations or hacking groups do a better job.” Policymakers are hungry for sound academic advice clarifying the political and legal implications of a complex and complicated technology.

Thus, we offer a foundational overview of the use cases of AI for cybersecurity. Namely, we look at the publicly available unique AI algorithms (700) and use a rudimentary NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) framework to determine for what cybersecurity purpose (identify, protect, detect, respond, or recover) distinct types of AI algorithms (reasoning, planning, learning, communications, or perception) are being used.

First, we dispute findings that only looked at the sheer number of publications, as we look only at novel AI solutions for cybersecurity. Hence, when one takes this deeper perspective, one sees that it is not China that leads the way in developing AI for cybersecurity, but rather the United States. The majority of the authors are affiliated with institutions within the United States or the European Union.

Figure 2: Geographic distribution of research papers presenting a novel AI for cybersecurity solution

Second, analyzing 700 unique AI for cybersecurity solutions according to the five NIST categories, we see that 47 percent of them focus on detecting anomalies and cybersecurity incidents. The second most popular category, with 26 percent, is protection, followed by identify and respond, 19 percent and 8 percent, respectively. This comes as a surprise as we see a gradual shift towards Cyber Persistent Engagement Strategy: comparing the U.S. National Cybersecurity Strategy of 2018 and 2023 or comparing the development of EU member-states strategies, political initiatives, and rhetoric.

Figure 3: Distribution of research papers presenting a novel AI for cybersecurity solution according to the cybersecurity purpose

There are several dimensions in answering this puzzle. Cyber Persistence Theory does not map well onto the NIST framework, as the latter does not include anticipation—a key feature of Cyber Persistence Theory. The latter “redefines security as seizing and sustaining the initiative in exploitation; that is, anticipating the exploitation of a state’s own digital vulnerabilities before they are leveraged against them, exploiting others’ vulnerabilities to advance their own security needs, and sustaining the initiative in this exploitation dynamic.” Hence, linking Cyber Persistence Theory to response within the NIST framework distorts its meaning. Furthermore, states are risk-averse, and letting machines decide when and how to respond to a cyber-incident might be too escalatory, similar to self-driving cars, where the liability considerations are too high for such vehicles to be operational. Finally, AI models need a lot of training data before they can be deployed. However, appropriate data to prepare a response AI cybersecurity algorithm is scarce.

Third, less surprising is the distribution of AI algorithms developed for cybersecurity according to their nature. Almost two-thirds of the AI-based cybersecurity solutions use learning methods (64 percent), followed by communication (16 percent), reasoning (6 percent), planning (5 percent), and a hybrid format, using a combination of the two or more aforementioned methods—7 percent.

Figure 4: Distribution of research papers presenting a novel AI for cybersecurity solution according to the nature of the AI algorithm

When we cross-tab both dimensions—the purpose and the nature—of a unique AI solution for cybersecurity, we see that machine learning algorithms dominate all five cybersecurity functions. They are primarily used for intrusion and anomaly detection, malicious domain blocking, data leakage prevention, protection against distinct types of malware, and log analysis.

Curiously, we have also found that some well-known cases of AI applications for cybersecurity do not have many unique AI algorithms developed—e.g., penetration tests and behavior modeling and analysis. Future research should indicate if this is due to the satisfactory performance of the existing ones, so much so that there is no demand for new ones.

Cyberspace and AI are both means and platforms for great power politics. As both are rapidly evolving, regulation may, in fact, unintentionally lead to overregulation, as lawmakers cannot guess the direction of the rapid development. In turn, overregulation would have a damp effect on the development and deployment of digital technologies. Hence, minimizing the regulation of AI in cyberspace would empower the United States and give it an edge in global power politics. However, the United States must also find a way to safeguard its democratic values, norms, principles, and civil liberties when dealing with these new technologies. Therefore, transparency guidelines are in order for the ethical use of AI for cybersecurity, as well as strengthening public oversight of the intelligence and security agencies’ use of AI in cyberspace.

Igor Kovač is a researcher at The Center for Cyber Strategy and Policy at the University of Cincinnati and The Center for Peace and Security Studies at the University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on the intersection between political economy and security studies. He served as the foreign policy advisor to the Slovenian Prime Minister from 2020 through 2022.

Tomaž Klobučar is the head of the Laboratory for Open Systems and Networks at the Jozef Stefan Institute. His main research areas are information security and technology-enhanced learning.

Ramanpreet Kaur is a researcher at the Jozef Stefan Institute.

Dušan Gabrijelčič is a researcher at the Jozef Stefan Institute.