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Defense & Security
Confrontation between Israel and Iran.

Shadow war no more: Hostilities between Israel and Iran have strayed into direct warfare – is there any going back?

by Javed Ali

For decades, Iran and Israel have been engaged in a “shadow war.” Falling short of direct military confrontation, this conflict has been characterized by war through other means – through proxies, cyber attacks, economic sanctions and fiery rhetoric. Events over the last few weeks in the Middle East have, however, changed the nature of this conflict. First, Israel – it is widely presumed – broke diplomatic norms by bombing an Iranian mission in Syria. The operation, in which 12 individuals were killed – including seven officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp Quds Force – ratcheted up the stakes. It also crossed a new threshold. Never before had that many Quds Force or other Iranian military officials been killed in a single attack by Iran’s adversaries. Almost immediately, rhetoric from leaders in Tehran indicated Iran would respond swiftly and dramatically. Then, on April 13, 2024, Iran responded by crossing a line it had, to date, not crossed: launching a direct attack on Israeli soil. Iran’s attack against Israel was also qualitatively and quantitatively different than anything Tehran had directly attempted before. Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that it consisted of at least 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and 120 surface-to-surface missiles. The attack was launched from positions in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In physical terms, the barrage caused little damage. Hagari said that 99% of the projectiles sent by Iran were intercepted by air and missile defenses, and that only one person was injured. For now, it appears that Tehran is content with its own response; the Iranian Mission to the United Nations posted a message on social media following the attack indicating that the operation had concluded. But as an expert on national security and the Middle East, I believe the Iranian attack was not about inflicting physical damage on Israel. It was more about Iran attempting to restore deterrence with Israel following the Damascus incident and showing strength to its domestic audience. In so doing, Tehran’s leaders are also conveying the message that should Israel conduct more aggressive actions against Iranian interests, they are willing to escalate. Friends, then longtime foes Iran and Israel have been adversaries virtually since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when the Shah of Iran fled the country to be replaced by a theocracy. New leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini broke the former regime’s ties with Israel and quickly adopted a strident anti-Israel agenda both in words and policy. In the decades since, Israel and Iran have inflicted harm on the other’s interests in both the physical and virtual worlds. This has included major terrorist attacks backed by Iran against Israeli interests in Argentina in 1992 and 1994, Tehran’s backing of Hezbollah’s grinding insurgency against Israel in southern Lebanon, and the major operational support provided to Hamas that in part enabled the attacks on Oct. 7, 2023. Meanwhile, Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the killing of senior military officials and scientists related to Iran’s nuclear program in Iran or elsewhere in the region. The lack of open acknowledgment by Israel of the killings was to create the illusion of plausible deniability and implant doubt about who was actually responsible. In recent years, Iran has relied heavily on its “axis of resistance” – militant groups in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza that share some of Tehran’s goals, notably in regard to countering Israel and weakening U.S. influence in the region. In the monthslong conflict sparked by the Oct. 7 attack, Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq network have repeatedly attacked Israeli and U.S. interests. ‘A clear message’ So what comes next? A lot will depend on how Israel and the U.S. respond. Officially, U.S. President Joe Biden has stated that in repelling the Iran missiles and drones, Israel had sent “a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten [its] security.” But there are reports that Biden has warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel should “take the win” and could not rely on the U.S. supporting any offensive operations against Iran. A number of factors will determine whether Iran and Israel continue to launch more attacks against each other out in the open, or revert to shadow warfare. These include how each side reads domestic sentiment. Netanyahu is already facing pressure based on his handling of the war in Gaza and previous domestic concerns regarding attempts to influence the Israeli Supreme Court, among other matters. Likewise, inside Iran, the United Nations reports that two years after major public protests inside the country based on socio-economic conditions, the regime in Iran continues to ruthlessly suppress dissent. Apart from domestic considerations, both Iran and Israel will also weigh the risks of more open confrontation against their current operational capabilities. Here, it seems clear that neither Iran nor Israel can decisively win a prolonged military campaign against each other. Israel’s powerful military certainly has the ability to launch air and missile strikes against Iranian interests in the region, as they have already demonstrated in Syria and Lebanon for many years. And Israel probably could do the same for a short period of time directly into Iran. But Israel would face major challenges in sustaining a prolonged combined arms campaign in Iran, including the relatively small size of the Israel Defense Forces compared with Iran’s military, and the physical distance between both countries. Israel has openly conducted military exercises for years that seem more focused on simulating air strikes and perhaps special operations raids against a smaller number of targets inside Iran, like nuclear facilities. Moreover, launching a new front by directly attacking Iran risks diverting Israeli resources away from more immediate threats in Gaza, the West Bank and its northern border with Lebanon. Of course, Israel has fought and won wars with its regional adversaries in the past. But the conflicts Israel fought against its Arab neighbors in 1967 and 1973 took place in a different military age and prior to the development of drone warfare, cyber operations and support to Iranian-backed proxies and partners in Israel’s immediate neighborhood. Wary of further escalation A similar type of campaign against Iran would be unlike anything Israel has faced. Israel would no doubt find it difficult to achieve its objectives without a high-level of support from the United States, and probably Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt. And there is no indication that such backing would be forthcoming. Iran, too, will be wary of further escalation. Tehran demonstrated on April 13 that it possesses a large – and perhaps growing – inventory of ballistic missiles, drones and cruise missiles. However, the accuracy and effectiveness of many of these platforms remains in question – as evidenced by the seeming ease in which most were shot down. The Israeli and U.S. air and missile defense network in the region continues to prove reliable in that regard. Given the realities and risks, I believe it seems more likely that Iran will seek to revert back to its unconventional warfare strategy of supporting its proxy axis of resistance. Overt attacks, such as the one carried out on April 13, may be reserved for signaling resolve and demonstrating strength to its domestic audience. The danger is now that war has come out of the shadows, it may be hard to put it back there.

Defense & Security
Gaza envelope, Israel: October 25: IDF M M109 scourge gun fires in Gaza Strip

Expanding Israel’s Ground Forces or Prioritizing Technology?

by Azar Gat

Since Hamas’s attack and the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip, the public discourse has been impressed by the view, which Major General (res.) Itzhak Brik in particular voiced even before the war, that the IDF is too small given the threats; that reliance on technology has led to dangerous neglect and reduction of the ground forces; that the air force is disproportionately funded at the expense of the ground forces; and that there is a need to increase the defense budget significantly and permanently, beyond covering the expenses of the war. This article argues that these claims are misleading and even damaging, both militarily and economically. It contends that the current size of the IDF and that of the main fighting ground formations have proven adequate for future challenges. Despite known failures—particularly in the field of intelligence—the article asserts that elite technology, combined with the quality and determination of its combat troops, has given the IDF its most significant advantages in the war. Therefore, the article advocates to continue prioritizing the investment in technology, in addition to significantly expanding and reforming the inexpensive low-tech local and community ground defense forces, which have been neglected, with disastrous consequences. We start with the events of October 7. In addition to the significant failure in intelligence, it is widely agreed that the operational mishap was even more shocking. Contrary to the accepted view, the Gaza Division had enough forces available to effectively cope with Hamas’s attack. These included the 77th Armored Battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade, as well as infantry forces from the Golani and Givati Brigades—all of which were first-line regular forces. However, some of these forces had been granted leave for the Simchat Torah holiday weekend. Incredibly, those who remained were not stationed at dawn in combat readiness in their positions or armored fighting vehicles, and they were caught unprepared. As a result, Hamas fighters were able to photograph themselves dancing on unmanned and burned Merkava tanks and Namer armored personnel carriers (APCs) in their parking lot. Even the 400 combat soldiers and the 12 Merkava 4 tanks that reportedly remained in the Gaza zone on that Saturday could have thwarted Hamas’s attack if they had been stationed in their positions. Additionally, combat helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on standby could have aided in defeating Hamas. Furthermore, there was a fiasco with the emergency squads in the border communities, which had faced cutbacks and restrictions in the years leading up to the war. In the few communities, like Nir Am, where the emergency squads were able to organize themselves—even to a minimal extent—they played a significant role in repelling the attack and preventing a massacre. The shock of October 7, the subsequent recognition of the serious security reality, and its potential to deteriorate into a regional war have strengthened the assessments that the IDF, particularly the ground forces, are facing missions and challenges that are too great for their current size. Since the 1980s and 1990s, the IDF’s order of battle has been significantly reduced. The number of tanks in the IDF has been cut down to approximately one-third of its peak in the 1980s, though the number of infantry brigades, especially in the regular forces, has increased to adapt to the changing face of the battlefield. The number of fighting field divisions has been cut in half. According to information made public during the war, the IDF currently has six or seven such divisions (the 36th, 162nd, 98th, 99th, 146th, 252nd, and parts of 210th). It is worth noting that this is similar to the number of divisions the IDF had during the Yom Kippur War (six divisions), when it faced the Egyptian army, the Syrian army, and expeditionary forces from other Arab countries, which altogether consisted of about 18 regular enemy divisions and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, along with their heavy equipment, including around 4,500 tanks. As an additional point of comparison, the United States conquered Iraq using four or five divisions, supported by overwhelming air superiority. Recall that during the current war in Gaza and with Hezbollah, the IDF called up approximately 300,000 reserve troops, in addition to the standing army. They faced around 30,000 armed fighters in Gaza and a similar number in Lebanon. This gave Israel a clear numerical advantage, not to mention its far superior combat equipment and firepower. In the ground invasion of northern Gaza alone, the IDF deployed four divisions (the 36th, 162nd, 252nd, and 99th)—more divisions than were used against the entire Egyptian army in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Furthermore, the 98th Division operated in Khan Yunis with eight (!) brigades (which were reduced by half as the intense combat declined)—a number that is almost equal to the total number of brigades deployed against the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War. It is difficult to imagine a greater concentration of force than this. Meanwhile, Central Command forces have been successfully and aggressively targeting terrorist activities in the West Bank, while in northern Israel, the 146th Division reinforced the 210th Division against Hezbollah after the war broke out. But doesn’t the IDF lack divisions for a simultaneous offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to remove the threat to the Israeli communities along the border? Let us recall the main considerations for operating in Lebanon or for refraining from doing so. Since the beginning of the war, the United States has vetoed such operation, in favor of diplomacy. Moreover, there are serious questions regarding the prospects of such an operation. If the IDF conquers southern Lebanon, which it is certainly capable of doing, Israel will face two choices: remaining there and dealing with Hezbollah’s guerrilla warfare indefinitely, as it had before the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, or withdrawing and watching Hezbollah return. Neither option is promising, especially given the possibility of escalation into a full-scale missile war. Indeed, in addition to these difficult questions, the concentration of efforts against Hamas has also played a role. Israel’s defense doctrine has always prescribed focusing the IDF’s efforts, both on the ground and in the air, against a single adversary at a time. This includes the use of internal lines to transfer forces from one front to another after achieving victory on one of them. Finally, does anyone really want to see a return of the large number of divisions and thousands of IDF tanks that crawled along the crowded roads of mountainous southern Lebanon in 1982? Still, some argue that the Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank are only the tip of the iceberg in the threat that Israel faces in a potential multi-front war. In this most severe scenario, the threat also includes the Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and even Iran itself, and possibly also some Arab citizens of Israel. However, it should be noted, in the context of claims of excessive cutbacks to the ground forces, that all of these potential arenas, except for those already active in Gaza, southern Lebanon, and the West Bank, and not including the Arabs of Israel, are distant theaters of operations that do not require or have use of additional ground forces. Without mentioning the Americans, the air force—possibly with the assistance of special forces, and in certain scenarios, in cooperation with the navy—would conduct the main activity in these arenas. This is the same air force that some claim is being prioritized at the expense of the ground forces. In practice, the air force’s share of the IDF’s budget, which is around 50 percent, has remained at the same level since at least the 1960s. Furthermore, contrary to the impression that has emerged, the air force too has experienced a reduction in the number of its aircraft by half in recent decades. Finally, we must not forget that it was the air force’s precision one-ton bombs that paved the way for the ground forces, even in the nearby theaters of operation. In the exemplary inter-service cooperation in the campaign in the Gaza Strip that crushed Hamas’s organized resistance, the air force made a significant contribution to the relatively low number of casualties among the ground forces. Some ask, what guarantee is there that Egypt will not turn around and join the war against Israel—in its current regime or under a future Islamic regime? But if so, why not also add Jordan and Syria, and maybe also Saudi Arabia, now or in the future, to the roster of potential enemies? After all, according to the popular—and erroneous—argument heard since October 7, we must no longer rely on assessments of intentions, and only judge according to capabilities. For the sake of this argument, let us focus on Egypt. Egypt’s interests and political orientation under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are clear and they most definitely do not involve a return to war against Israel. Of course, if an Islamist regime comes to power again in Egypt, Israel will need to make security adjustments. However, it is important to remember that Egypt’s dependence on the provision of American weapons and munitions is at least as great as, if not greater than, Israel’s dependence, and that the prospect of American support for Egypt waging war against Israel is nil. Furthermore, in order to wage war against Israel, the Egyptian army would need to cross the Sinai Peninsula—a large-scale classic killing ground, as it was in past wars, lacking population and without natural cover—where the high-signature Egyptian army would face destruction mainly from the air. Indeed, given the size of the Egyptian air force and its relatively advanced aircraft, the budgetary weight given to the Israeli air force at its current size is of supreme importance. Despite the failure of intelligence and additional technology-based systems, like the “see-and-shoot” system, the IDF’s great advantage in the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, aside from the heroism and determination of its troops, lies primarily in technology. The ground forces, air force, intelligence, and other firepower units, closely communicating and cooperating, possess unprecedented capabilities in rapidly identifying and destroying Hamas fighters and their positions in highly complex urban and underground environments. Some of the technological advancements made public include computerized data communication and intelligence systems based on artificial intelligence (AI), UAVs and drones for intelligence and attack purposes, as well as guided rocket weapons and mortars. The smart-shooter Smash artificial intelligence sight device for infantry rifles is also worth mentioning. These advanced capabilities, along with the Trophy Active Protection System equipped on IDF tanks and APCs, are the main reasons for the relatively low number of IDF casualties and the success of the ground advance. The Trophy system provides protection against Hamas’s anti-tank armaments, particularly rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers. While no system can guarantee complete protection, the Trophy system has demonstrated high interception rates, making it a groundbreaking Israeli innovation with global significance. Additionally, the interception capability of the Iron Dome—another unique Israeli technological development—has prevented significant damage from the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas against Israeli population centers, as the IDF’s ground invasion dismantles the organization’s defenses in the Gaza Strip. What, then, should Israel invest in? Essentially—beyond various adjustments and supplements, such as reinstating the mandatory military service at three years, certainly in combat units and other essential units—Israel should invest in further enhancing technological capabilities, and not in increasing the number of its field formations and tanks. As we have seen, and contrary to popular belief, the IDF did not lack forces during the ground invasion in Gaza; on the contrary, the concentration of forces that were utilized was enormous by any comparative measure. This was primarily due to the complexity and sophistication of Hamas’s underground network in densely populated urban areas, for which the IDF sought to find solutions, many improvised during combat. A high-priority necessity, thus, is the expedited development of capabilities for discovering and neutralizing underground infrastructure—in the Gaza Strip, in Lebanon, and in other places. To this end, a variety of tactical and technological means will be needed, including, as has already been partly revealed, drones and AI-guided (under)ground robots that operate inside tunnels. An equally high, if not higher, priority is to expand and enhance the active protection systems of the IDF’s tanks and other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs). As proposed in an article that I wrote before the war (“The Future of the Tank and the Land Battlefield,” INSS, July 20, 2023), we are currently in the early stages of a profound revolution in ground warfare, the context of which is not yet fully understood. This revolution is the Third Technological Revolution of the Industrial Age—the electronics and computing revolution—that the world has experienced since the mid-20th century, and it has already had a significant impact on air and sea warfare. In naval warfare, battleships with heavy armor and large guns, which once dominated the seas, have been replaced by electronically-guided missile armaments launched from ships, aircraft, and land. Defense as well is now achieved through electronically-guided interception and electronic jamming. Similarly, in aerial warfare, kinetic gun armaments and “dumb” bombs have been replaced by electronically-guided missile armaments and electronic defensive jamming for air-to-air, surface-to-air, and air-to-surface fighting. By comparison, due to the complexities of ground warfare, which involves varied terrain and extensive cover, and a large number of potential targets, the electronic revolution’s impact on ground warfare has been slower and more gradual. Nonetheless, we are currently witnessing a revolutionary turning point in ground combat. Since the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza, many have rightfully acknowledged the critical role played by tanks in the campaign, while also criticizing what they mistakenly perceived as a diminishing of the IDF’s tank’s power and importance in recent decades. It is true that the number of tanks in the IDF has significantly decreased as part of the overall downsizing of the IDF, and also due to changes in the tank’s role on the battlefield. Gone are the days when heavily armored formations engaged in direct combat with their cannon fire as the center of ground warfare. Tanks now have become targets for long-range guided munitions before they even come within the firing range of each other’s kinetic guns. Moreover, their heavy armor is no longer effective against advanced anti-tank missiles with dual-charge warheads, which strike their less protected top. Although such missiles have not yet been used in the Gaza Strip, they are starting to appear in Lebanon. The war in Ukraine has clearly demonstrated this vulnerability, even in advanced western tanks supplied to Ukraine. The absence of active protection systems for tanks in Ukraine, such as the Trophy and Iron Fist systems developed in Israel and now being acquired by the armies of the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, has contributed to the failure of the Ukrainian offensive efforts and the stalemate in the fighting, reminiscent of World War I. Indeed, the current interpretation of the stalemate overlooks the significance of active protection systems for tanks. Furthermore, in contemporary ground combat, tanks primarily provide immediate mobile firepower at the front lines. However, it is uncertain whether tanks armed with high-muzzle-velocity kinetic cannons, which were originally designed for warfare against other tanks, is still suitable for the changing nature of the battlefield. A more appropriate approach would seem to involve guided missile armament, combined with a 30 mm automatic gun; or, alternatively, a high-caliber, low-muzzle-velocity gun that is lighter and has reduced recoil. Such a gun would allow for dual-purpose fire, employing both missiles and high-explosive shells. This is comparable to the 152 mm gun, planned over half a century ago for the MBT-70 tank and the Sheridan light tank, which was ahead of its time. Additionally, the heavy armor of tanks (and heavy APCs such as the Namer) has reached its limits, and it is expected to be largely replaced by electronically-guided interception and jamming measures. Substantial changes are necessary in the tank’s design. The Merkava 4 and its upgrade, the Barak tank, are masterpieces and the best tanks in the world. However, the future does not lie with high-muzzle-velocity kinetic cannons and super-heavy armor. Israel’s Carmel project for the tank of the future is the way forward. In any case, the IDF has no shortage of tanks. What it requires is to equip all of its AFVs with active protection systems and continuously upgrade these systems based on battle experience. The vulnerabilities discovered in these systems need to be rectified, and the cover of the systems must be completed from all angles, including protection against drones and loitering munitions. Protection against UAVs and drones of all types and sizes is also crucial, including against targets that are not AFVs. This has been demonstrated to an unprecedented extent in Ukraine and the current conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon. The IDF has been a global pioneer in developing intelligence and attack systems of this nature. However, it seems that less attention has been given to developing defensive measures for intercepting and jamming enemy systems. In addition to ground warfare, solid-state laser systems for intercepting ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and UAVs are also of utmost importance. Some argue that none of the defense systems currently available can effectively counter the hundreds of thousands of missiles that Iran and its proxies in the Middle East could launch toward the Israeli home front in an all-out war. However, even if this argument holds true, it cannot be used in conjunction with the notion that the Israeli air force is receiving too much funding that could be allocated to ground forces. Israel’s primary response to the massive missile threat on the home front by Iran and its proxies lies not in defense but in deterrence, in which the air force plays the central role. This has been evident in the mutual deterrence that has existed thus far with Hezbollah, and even more so with Iran in the case of a regional war. In such a scenario, Iran should be concerned, and it appears that it is indeed concerned about, potential Israeli strikes on its infrastructure in areas such as power stations, oil fields, energy transmission, and ports. A related question is how much Israel should allocate to precision surface-to-surface missiles as alternatives to aircraft-launched missiles and bombs in varying war scenarios. However, it is important to note that such substitutions are particularly applicable in nearby combat zones, as there is still no real competition with the air force’s capabilities at longer ranges. So much for high-tech. While the majority of the IDF’s investment should focus on enhancing its technological capabilities, there is a clear need to significantly expand and reconstruct the ground forces in the cost-effective and inexpensive realm of low-tech local ground defense. The worst aspect of the October 7 fiasco was in that field. It is hard to believe, but a few years back, the IDF actually implemented budget cuts to the minimal payments made to the civilian security coordinators in frontline communities. Furthermore, due to theft concerns, the rifles stored in their homes were taken away from the emergency squads and placed in a central armory. Before the Six-Day War, when enemy armies were stationed right on the other side of the border, a system of local defense communities were an integral part of the IDF’s first line of defense. However, after 1967, when the borders were pushed further away from the settled areas of the country and with the increased mechanization of Arab armies, the significance and capabilities of community-based local defense decreased accordingly. However, given the changing nature of threats and the emergence of militias and armed organizations across the borders, the ability of emergency squads in communities to serve as the first, vital, and readily available line of defense has returned in full force. As such, their members should be released from all other reserve duties, and instead be properly organized, armed, and trained for their task. One reason raised for increasing the number of field formations is the anticipated need for additional reserve service due to the war. However, it is important to differentiate between different aspects of this burden. As long as the war continues, frontline reserve combat units will have to serve for an extended period. Israel should perhaps consider expanding the reserve forces that will be rotated in existing AFVs. This would provide more manpower without requiring additional equipment, as the IDF already has an abundance of tanks. On the other hand, the main need for reserve service will be to reinforce the defense system along the borders and protect the communities. It would not be appropriate to use units from frontline, “heavy” combat formations, armed with advanced and costly equipment, for this purpose. Instead, local defense units, which are much less heavily armed and much less expensive should be allocated for the task. The IDF’s establishment of the new Hashomer Brigade, composed of reservists from regular border defense units, is a positive step in this direction. Additionally, it would be worthwhile to establish national guard units based on individuals who have been released from the reserves in recent years due to budget cuts. These units would secure roads, critical facilities, airports, and communities within Israel in the event of a conflict. The necessary equipment and armaments for these units would be relatively light and inexpensive. Once bitten, twice shy—but this can also take a heavy toll. Following the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, the IDF doubled in size and defense expenses jumped to between a quarter and a third of GDP. This increase made a decisive contribution to the “lost decade” of the Israeli economy after that war. It is difficult to blame the defense leadership of the time. The trauma was great and largely justified, and alternatives in qualitative rather than quantitative directions only started to appear and become practical in ground warfare in the 1980s. In conclusion, the IDF, with the exceptions mentioned, is built more or less correctly with respect to the threats on the borders. When it comes to more distant threats, the air force remains the main deterrent and offensive response, in addition to its central role in the inter-service battle in the immediate theaters of operation. In view of the existing balance of power and given its overwhelming numerical superiority, the main things that the IDF is missing are primarily not in the realm of offensive field formations. The ranks need to be filled, there may be various expansions and supplements, and, of course, we can always want more—especially when it comes to security. But as Ben-Gurion determined, security needs and expenses must be balanced with other vital needs. After covering the major military and civilian costs of the war, replenishing stockpiles, and returning vehicles to service—a large and necessary one-time expense—there is no room for increasing the regular defense budget beyond 4.5–5.5 percent of the net GDP (before American aid). In military history, there are more than a few cases of drawing the wrong lessons from wars. Following the Spanish Civil War, for example (1936–1939), it was decided in the Soviet Union that the future vision of mechanized war advanced by Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and his comrades in the top brass of the Red Army (who had been executed in Stalin’s purges) did not prove itself. The mechanized armies and corps that they had established were disbanded as a result and were hurriedly reassembled only after the Germans proved the doctrine’s effectiveness between 1939 and 1941. The Soviet Union paid dearly for this mistake with the German invasion. We must be careful to avoid the trauma of October 7 leading Israel to draw the wrong lessons. Contrary to the prevailing mindset, the main factor in the IDF’s exceptional success in the Gaza Strip, alongside the determination and heroism of its combat soldiers, has unequivocally been its decisive technological advantages. Israel should continue to deepen them in the mentioned directions.

Defense & Security
Meeting of the Russian President Vladimir Putin

Terrorism Undercuts Putin’s Political Agenda

by Pavel K. Baev

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 49 Executive Summary: • The Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) terrorist attack outside of Moscow was an abject failure of the Russian intelligence services, leading officials to push conspiracy theories claiming that Ukraine and the West were involved. • Moscow’s exploitation of Tajik immigrants, who perform the hardest, lowest-paying jobs in Russia and whom the police regularly mistreat, only exacerbates domestic tensions and creates a potential recruitment pool for ISKP. • Russia’s anti-terrorism policies to isolate and blame the West for the attack block any possibility of restoring counterterrorism cooperation as Moscow’s influence in the Middle East wanes due, in part, to cordial ties with Hamas. The shock from the March 22 terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall is continuing to generate angst and confusion throughout Russian society while failing to inspire unity. The Russian population may have grown accustomed to the perpetual shocks caused by the war in Ukraine, but the people are unprepared for the return of the specter of terrorism that loomed so large in the early 2000s. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who consolidated his leadership during Russia’s “war on terror,” which started with the explosions in Moscow in September 1999, cannot seem to find a way to turn the new disaster to his advantage (see EDM, March 25; Moscow Times, March 26). He had anticipated a confident start to his new presidential term, granted by the crudely manipulated “election,” but the Kremlin leader is now struggling to minimize the Moscow attack’s damage to his domestic authority and international agenda, as well as society’s support for the “long war” (Meduza, March 20; see EDM, April 1). The terrorist attack that has claimed over 144 lives was an abject failure of the Russian intelligence services. Putin, however, cannot punish the heads of the intelligence services because they make up his most covert inner circle and are the main conduits of his aggressive policies (Republic.ru, March 25). To divert attention from the security failure, Russian officials have declared that the terrorist act is connected to Ukraine and have sought to extend that connection to the West, particularly the United States (Kommersant, March 29). No shortage of pundits are eager to spin these conspiracy theories and present the US warnings about probable attacks as corroborating evidence (RIAC, March 28). Convenient as such insinuations may seem, they block any possibility of restoring international counterterrorism cooperation, as suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron (Forbes.ru, March 25). The primary responsibility for the Moscow attack lies with the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). It would take a long stretch of malignant imagination to present the Khorasan offshoot as a tool of US policy (see EDM, March 26; TopWar.ru, March 28). The depth of Islamist radicalization fostered by ISKP in Tajikistan, one of Moscow’s most reliable allies in Central Asia, has aggravated societal discontent in Russia (Carnegie Politika, March 25). Tajik labor migrants perform some of the hardest and lowest-paying jobs in many cities across Russia. This unregulated exploitation inevitably creates a recruitment pool for ISKP (The Insider, March 29). Expelling illegal migrants might seem like a natural countermeasure to many Russians, but the manpower shortage caused by the war against Ukraine makes Russia’s economy increasingly dependent on this cheap labor force (Svoboda.org, March 27). Police brutality toward Tajik immigrant communities has exacerbated the situation, creating another opening for Islamist recruiters (Novaya gazeta Europe, March 29). For ISKP’s ambitions, these domestic opportunities can be strategically connected with Russia’s ambivalent policy in the wider Middle East (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 25). Counterterrorism used to be a key tenet of that policy. Currently, however, Moscow is trying to build ties with the Taliban and dissuade the Houthis in Yemen from targeting Russian ships (RBC.ru, March 21). Russian forces confronted the Islamic State most directly in Syria. In recent months, only occasional airstrikes have been delivered on the rebel-controlled Idlib province (Interfax, March 7). Hezbollah has been a key Russian ally in Syria. Yet air defense assets at the air base in Latakia have not interfered with Israeli airstrikes. The Russian Foreign Ministry even condemned Israel’s recent bombing of a camp near Aleppo as an “unacceptable provocation” (RIA Novosti, March 29). Terrorism continues to be a significant driver of instability in the Middle East, but Russia finds its influence and legitimacy in the region waning, not least because of its cordial ties with Hamas and other terrorist groups (Carnegie Politika, March 13). The harder Kremlin “hawks” push Ukraine’s involvement in the Moscow massacre, the less convincing the claims become to many states in the Global South, who are well aware of ISKP’s activities (Interfax, March 26). India is one of Moscow’s particular concerns. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s recent visit to New Delhi has added to these worries (Kommersant, March 28). India’s possible contribution to the peace summit planned to be held sometime this summer in Switzerland, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace plan will be discussed, will be a significant blow to Russian intrigues aimed at torpedoing or at least postponing this event (Rossiyskaya gazeta, March 28). Brazil is another important but currently unconfirmed participant in the peace summit. Russian pundits are keen to argue that Macron’s recent visit has not changed President Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva’s neutral stance on the war (Izvestiya, March 29). China remains ambivalent about sending a delegation to Switzerland, but Russia has few means to influence Beijing’s position (Vedomosti, March 19). Putin’s intention to prove that domestic support for his “long war” remains strong and the apparent inability of his security apparatus to deal with the real causes of terrorism only aggravates the damage (see EDM, March 28). The Kremlin leader attempts to demonstrate confidence in Russia’s capacity to sustain the war effort, but the depth of domestic discord and discontent has been exposed. Many international actors who saw benefits in preserving neutrality and circumventing sanctions must now re-evaluate. Russia currently maintains the advantage on the Ukrainian battlefield. Still, a change in fortunes is increasingly probable—not only because of the new surge in Western support for Ukraine but also because of the degradation of Russia’s newly militarized economy and traumatized society. The presidential “election” has depleted rather than improved support for the war, and the next spasm of crisis may trigger a chain reaction that leads to a complete meltdown.

Defense & Security
Moldova and Transnistria, political map.

Moldova: Russia continues its mischief-making in breakaway Transnistria

by Stefan Wolff

In mid-February, the leader of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, summoned deputies “of all levels of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”. The purpose of their meeting, he announced, would be to discuss “pressure from the Republic of Moldova that is violating the rights and worsening the socioeconomic situation of Transnistrians”. The meeting was set for February 28, the day before Vladimir Putin’s “state of the union” address. This was taken by some – including the influential Washington-based thinktank the Institute for the Study of War – to signal an intention to announce that Transnistria would formally declare its intention to join Russia. The Transnistrian congress met as planned. But its resolution, while full of praise about Transnistria and complaints about Moldova, fell well short of expectations. In the end, the assembled deputies merely appealed to Russia – as well as the Interparliamentary Assembly of States Parties of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the UN, the EU, the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Red Cross – to protect Transnistria and prevent an escalation of tensions with Moldova. Transnistria declared independence from the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990, as the dissolution of the Soviet Union was gathering pace. A brief violent conflict ended with a Russian-mediated ceasefire in 1992. This ceasefire mandated negotiations on the reintegration of Transnistria into Moldova, which included, among others, Russia and Ukraine. Efforts to agree on a deal proved futile over the following three decades and have completely stalled since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Thus, the Transnistrian region of Moldova has remained in a limbo state for more than 30 years now. Its separate identity is not even recognised by Russia and it remains formally part of Moldova. This limbo state has contributed to fears – in Moldova and the west – that Russia has territorial ambitions in the region. These have worsened since the invasion of Ukraine two years ago. Talk of Kremlin-backed plots to destabilise the country is not uncommon. In the event, the Russian president failed to mention Transnistria even once in his state of the union address the day after deputies had gathered in Transnistria. With the initial “excitement” of a potential crisis around Moldova gone, the predominant view among regional and international analysts was that this was a storm in a tea cup rather than a full-blown crisis. This is also the view of Moldova’s foreign minister, Mihail Popșoi. In an interview with Politico at the beginning of March, a month after taking office, Popșoi said that “the probability that the Russians would be able to advance and reach our territory is much lower now than it was two years ago”. Russian ambitions But this is, at best, only half of the more complex geopolitical context in which Moldova finds itself. Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, a member of Nato, Moldova’s future prospects are heavily intertwined with the outcome of the war against Ukraine. At present there appears to be little chance of Russia expanding its land bridge to Crimea all along the Black Sea coast to the Ukrainian border with Moldova. But that’s not to say that the Kremlin has completely given up on this ambition. Just days after the deputies’ meeting in Transnistria, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, complained about Moldovan violations of Transnistria’s rights. He alleged Moldovan discrimination against the Russian language as well as economic pressure on the Russian enclave. This eerily echoes Russian justifications for the invasion of Ukraine both in 2014 and 2022. Transnistria is not the only card Russia is playing. Four days after Lavrov’s comments, Putin met the leader of the Gagauzian region in Moldova, Yevgenia Gutsul, at the so-called World Youth Festival, which was held near the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi at the beginning of March.    Gutsul – and other powerful Russian allies including the fugitive Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor, who was convicted of fraud in the “theft of the century” of US$1 billion (£792 million) from three Moldovan banks a decade ago – have been fomenting protests against the Moldovan government since September 2022. These protests reflect many ordinary Molovans’ existential fears over a cost-of-living crisis that has engulfed one of Europe’s poorest countries since the COVID pandemic and has worsened since the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Moldova’s European aspirations At the same time, the Moldovan president, Maia Sandu, has proposed a referendum on joining the European Union. Sandu, who faces a reelection campaign later this year, hope that this will boost her popularity among Moldova’s generally – but not unequivocally – pro-European electorate. Wanting to capitalise on popular discontent with economic conditions in Moldova, Russia has been supporting Shor’s protests and linking the unrest to Sandu’s pro-European foreign policy. Relying on allies in both Gagauzia and Transnistria, Moscow’s aim is primarily the destabilisation of the country ahead of presidential elections at the end of 2024 and parliamentary elections in the spring of 2025. In this context, even non-events such as the resolution passed by the Transnistrian deputies at the end of February are useful to Moscow. They increase uncertainty not only in Moldova but also among the country’s western allies. And this feeds into a broader narrative in which a status quo that has been stable for decades is suddenly questioned – with potentially unpredictable consequences. There is no evidence that the Kremlin has any concrete plans, let alone any capabilities, for military action against Moldova. Nor does it need to, as long as it has local allies to do its bidding against the country’s president and her government. This does not give Moscow a lot of leverage in its war against Ukraine but it is helpful in the broader efforts to weaken support for, and from, the European Union. The more Russia can peddle a narrative that connects European integration with economic decline and constraints on language and cultural rights, the more division it can sow – and not just in Moldova, but potentially also in other EU candidate countries from the western Balkans to the south Caucasus.

Defense & Security
Josep Borell

Europe’s Demosthenes moment: putting defence at the centre of EU policies

by Josep Borrell

HR/VP blog – Defence was at the centre of the last European Union Council. This was the culmination of intense work on EU’s security and defence with the preparation of the European Defence Industrial Strategy and the creation of a new fund to step up our military support to Ukraine. We took stock also of the progress made in implementing the Strategic Compass. Power politics are reshaping our world. With the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the war that has flared up again in the Middle East, coups in the Sahel, tensions in Asia… we witness at the same time the return of ‘old’ conventional wars and the emergence of ‘new’, hybrid warfare characterised by cyberattacks and the weaponisation of anything, from trade to migration. This deteriorating geopolitical environment is putting Europe in danger, as I anticipated when presenting the Strategic Compass, the new EU Defence and security strategy, in 2022. Four years ago, when we were facing the COVID-19 pandemic, many said that the EU was living a Hamiltonian moment because we decided to issue a common debt to alleviate the consequences of this crisis as Alexander Hamilton did after the US independence war. We are now probably entering a Demosthenes moment, in reference to the great Greek politician mobilising its fellow Athenian citizens against Macedonian imperialism 2400 years ago: we are finally becoming aware of the many security challenges in our dangerous environment. What are we doing to address these multifaceted threats? The month of March marks two anniversaries: the third of the creation of the European Peace Facility (EPF) and the second of the adoption of the Strategic Compass. These tools have been central to our geopolitical awakening during the last years. It is the right moment to reflect on what has been done and where we are heading on security and defence. Supporting Ukraine militarily in an unprecedented way The European Peace Facility (EPF) is an intergovernmental and extra-budgetary EU fund. It was established in 2021 to allow us to support our partners with military equipment, which was not possible via the EU budget. We started with €5 billion, today the financial ceiling of this fund stands at €17 billion. While it was not originally created for this purpose, the EPF has been the backbone of our military support to Ukraine. So far, we have used € 6.1 billion from the EPF to incentivise the support to Ukraine by EU Member States and, with them, the EU has delivered in total € 31 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. And this figure is increasing every day. Thanks to these funds, we sustained our military support to Ukraine. Among other actions, by this summer, we will have trained 60.000 Ukrainian soldiers; we have donated 500.000 artillery shells to Ukraine and by the end of the year it will be more than 1 million. Additionally the European defence industry is also providing to Ukraine 400.000 shells through commercial contracts. The Czech initiative to buy ammunition outside the EU comes in addition to these efforts. However, it is far from being enough and we have to increase both our capacity of production and the financial resources devoted to support Ukraine Last Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council, we have decided to create a new Ukraine Assistance Fund within the EPF, endowed with € 5 billion, to continue supporting Ukraine militarily. I have also proposed last Wednesday to the Council to redirect 90% of the extraordinary revenues from the Russian immobilised assets into the EPF, to increase the financial capacity of the military support for Ukraine. Reinforcing our global security and defence partnerships But the European Peace Facility does not only help Ukraine. So far, we have used it to support 22 partners and organisations. Since 2021, we have allocated close to €1 billion to operations led by the African Union and regional organisations, as well as the armed forces of eight partner countries in Africa. In the Western Balkans, we are supporting regional military cooperation, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. We are also supporting Moldova and Georgia in the Eastern neighbourhood, and Jordan and Lebanon in the Southern Neighbourhood. Since the beginning of my mandate, we have launched nine new missions and operations under our Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The last one, Operation ASPIDES in the Red Sea and Gulf region to protect commercial vessels, has been set up in record time. With operations Irini in the Mediterranean, Atalanta near the Horn of Africa and our Coordinated Maritime Presences in the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean, we are becoming more and more a global maritime security provider. We launched also last year two new civilian missions in Armenia and in the Republic of Moldova. However, our missions in Niger had to be suspended due to the military coup and our military mission in Mali has been put on hold. We are currently reconsidering the form of the support we can offer to our partners in the region: in this context, we have set up last December a new type of civilian-military initiative to help our partner countries in the Gulf of Guinea fight the terrorist threats stemming from the Sahel. We have also reinforced our cooperation with NATO in various key domains such as space, cyber, climate and defence and critical infrastructures. We have broadened and deepened our network of tailored bilateral security and defence partnerships with Norway, Canada, as well as countries in the Eastern neighbourhood (Georgia, Moldova), Africa (South Africa, Rwanda), Indo-Pacific (Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia) and Latin America (Chile, Colombia). The first Security and Defence Schuman Forum in March last year, bringing together security and defence partners from more than 50 countries, was a success. We will build on this when we meet for the next Schuman Forum on 28 and 29 May. Enhancing the capacity to react to crises abroad One of the main deliverables foreseen by the Strategic Compass was the creation of a new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity to be able to quickly react autonomously to crisis situations, for instance to evacuate Europeans in case of an emergency like in Afghanistan in August 2021 or in Sudan in April 2023. It will become operational next year, but to prepare for it, we organised the first ever EU military Live Exercise last October in Cadiz, in Spain. It involved 31 military units, 25 aircrafts, 6 ships and 2,800 personnel form Member States’ armed forces. A second Live Exercise will take place at the end of the year in Germany. A new Crisis Response Centre is also now operational in the EEAS to coordinate EU activities in case of emergencies, including the evacuation of European citizens. We are also strengthening our military and civilian headquarters in Brussels. Investing more in defence together and boosting the EU defence industry At home, we need also to invest much more and help our defence industry to increase its production capacities. There is no other solution if we look at the magnitude of the defence needs for Ukraine but also for our Member States that need to replenish their stocks and acquire new equipment. EU Member States are already spending significantly more on defence with a 40 % increase of defence budget over the last ten years and a € 50 billion jump between 2022 and 2023. However, the € 290 billion EU defence budget in 2023 only represents 1.7% of our GDP under the 2% NATO benchmark. And in the current geopolitical context, this could be seen as a minimum requirement. However, the global amount of our expanses is not the only figure we have to follow carefully. To use our defence expenses efficiently, we have also to take care of filling gaps and avoiding duplications. As I have already said in many occasions, we need to spend more but also better, and better means together. In 2022, the European armies have invested 58 billion in new equipment. For the fourth year in a row, it exceeded the benchmark of 20 % of the defence expenses. However, only 18% of these defence investments are currently done in a collaborative manner, far below the 35% benchmark set by EU Member States themselves in 2007. Since the start of the Russian war of aggression, 78 % of the equipment bought by EU armies came from outside the EU. We are also lagging behind in our investments in Research and Development. That is the reason why I presented earlier this month together with the Commission the first-ever European Defence Industrial Strategy. We need to incentivise much more joint procurement, better secure our security of supplies, anchor the Ukrainian defence industry in Europe and organise a massive industrial ramp-up. We also need to catch up on new military technologies like drones or Artificial Intelligence. With its innovation hub, the European Defence Agency will continue to play a key role in these efforts. To succeed, we will need to ensure much better access to finance for the European defence industry, notably by adapting the European Investment Bank lending policies. We should also foresee issuing common debt to help finance the major necessary investment effort in defence capabilities and defence industry, as we did to face the COVID-19 crisis. However, we have still a lot of work to do to reach an agreement on that subject. Finally, we will also need to reinforce our defence when it comes to hybrid and cyber threats, foreign information manipulation and interference and resilience of our critical infrastructure. As detailed here, a lot has already been done in recent years, however I am very much aware that a lot more remains to be done to match the magnitude of the threats we are facing. We need a leap forward in European defence and European defence industry.

Defense & Security
Damaged Crocus City Hall after the attack.

The Crocus City Hall: What We Know and What We Don’t

by Andrey Kortunov

The overall picture of the Friday’s large-scale terrorist attack in a Moscow’s suburb is finally acquiring some clarity. The attack on the Crocus City Concert Hall in Moscow’s satellite town of Krasnogorsk was conducted by four men of Central Asian origin, who were heavily armed with automatic rifles and incendiaries. The attackers started shooting when they stormed through the entrance killing unarmed security personnel and then proceeded through the lobby to the music room itself. There were no political statements or demands; as it later turned out, terrorists were not even sufficiently fluent in Russian. No hostages were taken, the goal of the attackers was quite simple—to kill as many people as possible and to inflict as much damage as possible to the concert hall itself. With more than 6.200 unarmed people caught in the building, this task was easy enough. The attackers were shooting at pointblank range, reloading their rifles and throwing incendiary checkers in all directions. After having put the building on fire they departed through the same central entrance and left the scene in a closely parked car. Many people were killed by the shooting, many suffocated by the smoke in condensed rooms and hallways, yet other perished when the glass-and-steel roof of the concert hall finally collapsed. With rescue operations and fire-fighting efforts still under way, the number of deaths was climbing over the weekend going to 137, including small children. More than a hundred and fifty victims remain in hospitals and the odds are that the final death toll will be higher. The attackers tried to escape in the direction of Russia’s border with Ukraine, but their car was intercepted by special forces and all the four men were arrested already in the morning of Saturday. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin declared March 24 a day of national mourning. However, even now, three days later, there are still some essential parts of the story that remain unclear and open to public discussions. The most important question is about who really stands behind the Friday attack. It is hardly possible to imagine that a few terrorists could have acted on their own, without a strong institution or a network behind them. In course of the first interrogations, they actually confessed that they were essentially nothing more than disposable ‘guns for hire’, that is to say that they were paid to do the job. By the way, the offered price was not that huge—slightly more than US$5.000 per person. However, the detained terrorists turned out to be incapable or unwilling to properly identity their alleged employers and customers. One of the most popular versions regarding the latter, which is now in broad circulation in the West, links the terrorist attack to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, an organization recognized as terrorist and its activities banned in the Russian Federation). This version is based on the assumption that ISIS or, more specifically, ISIS-K (the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State operating in Afghanistan) has very many reasons to be unhappy with Moscow’s activities in places like Syria, Libya or even with Russia’s cautious support for the Taliban regime in Kabul. In September of 2022, ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the suicide bomber attack of the Russian Embassy in Kabul, which fortunately produced no victims. The terrorist organization demonstrated its operational capabilities in early January of 2024, when two ISIS–K attackers carried out twin suicide bombings in Kerman, Iran, during an event mourning the US assassination of Quds Force leader Qassim Soleimani. This version of who stands behind the atrocious terrorist attack is particularly convenient for the United States and its NATO allies since it points at the Western long-term enemies and rules out any, even hypothetical Western responsibility for the tragedy in Moscow. However, there are some apparent soft spots in this narrative. First, the pattern of the attack in the Crocus City Hall was very different from the ‘standard mode’ of ISIS operations. The Friday attackers were not religious fanatics, suicide bombers, or indoctrinated shooters ready not only to kill, but also do die pursuing their ‘holy mission’. The ultimate and uncompromised ISIS fanaticism has been demonstrated on many occasions, for instance, during a large-scale terrorist attack in Paris on the 13th of November, 2015. But this was not the case in Moscow last Friday—the attackers desperately tried to escape and to save their live. Second, it would be somewhat counterintuitive for ISIS to target Moscow at this particular moment, when Russia has taken a clearly pro-Palestinian position on a very sensitive for everybody in the Moslem world issue of the Israeli military operation in Gaza. It would be more logical to look for targets among the staunch advocates of Benyamin Netanyahu. Even if ISIS decided to stage a terrorist operation in Moscow, they would have probably targeted one of local synagogues, as they have already tried earlier. The alternative version, which is floating around in Russia, is that the real sponsors and instigators of the attack should be looked for in Kyiv. The version implies that since Ukraine is currently losing to Russia on the battlefield and has no opportunities to reverse the course of the conflict in its favor, terrorist attacks remain one of the very few remaining options that are still open for the Ukrainian leadership to make its case in an ‘asymmetrical’ way. This version can be also regarded as self-serving, since it unquestionably destroys the international reputation of Ukraine. Still, it should not be dismissed without consideration. After all, the terrorists tried to escape Russia through the Russian-Ukrainian border and were captured only a hundred miles away from the border. It seems that they should have at least secured some advance arrangements with appropriate partners in Ukraine, who would allow them to enter the Ukrainian territory safely and find shelter on the Ukrainian soil. Moreover, in Russia they consider a ‘Ukrainian involvement’ in the recent terrorist attack to be a logical continuation of what Ukraine has already been doing for a long time. On many occasions, Moscow accused Kyiv of sponsoring and even of directly organizing diverse terrorist activities deep in the Russian territory, including acts of economic sabotage and assassination attempts against prominent politicians, journalists and opinion leaders. The ongoing investigation should help clarifying the issue of the customers and instigators. However, it is clear that even if a Ukrainian trace is finally confirmed and proved by the Russian side, the West will still continue to deny any connections between Kyiv and the terrorist act in Moscow. The odds are that the Western leaders will continue to reject any piece of evidence that the Russian side might bring to the table. If so, the terrorist attack in Moscow will remain an open file for a long time—just like the file of the Nord Stream pipeline explosions in September of 2022. Another important question that remains unanswered is about the warning of the terrorist act that the United States sent to Russia a couple of weeks ago. In Washington they now claim that they did their best having informed Moscow of a high probability of a large-scale terrorist attack on the Russian soil a couple of weeks ago. However, in Russia they argue that the information from Washington was very general, unclear and therefore not really usable. There are thousands and thousands of popular public spaces in Moscow, and if the warning did not contain any reference to specific probable targets, the net value of the warning was limited at best. Moreover, in Moscow they accuse the United States and NATO of assisting Ukraine with planning its own sabotage and reconnaissance operations, including multiple strikes against civilian targets, which are defined in Russia as acts of state terrorism. This indirect polemics between Washington and Moscow raises a bigger question: is an efficient international cooperation in fighting against terrorism possible in the era of intense geopolitical competition? Is there any hope for success, when this competition in itself turns out to be a fertile soil for terrorism? The current trends are not very reassuring. Though the world has not recently witnessed terrorist acts similar to 9/11 events in New York and in Washington, hundreds of civilians died in the massive attacks in Paris and in Madrid, in Bagdad and in Berlin, in Beslan and over Sinai, in Gamboru (Nigeria) and in Mumbai (India), with new names added to this tragic list every so often. Large-scale terrorist attacks are now few and far between in the United States, but there have been more of them in Europe, let alone in the Middle East and in Africa. Why, then, is the goal to wipe out terrorism not achieved so far? In the first place, the international community has failed to agree on a common definition of terrorism’s origins, driving forces and character. What some actors explicitly dub as “terrorist” may look like a national liberation struggle for others. Bring up the issue of terrorism in Kashmir in a conversation with Indians and Pakistani, only to see there can hardly be a common denominator in this matter. Talk to Israelis and to Palestinians on how they define terrorism, and you will find striking differences as well. The United States routinely accused the Islamic Republic of Iran of sponsoring terrorism, but looking from Tehran you are likely to define the above-mentioned US assassination of Genal Qassim Soleimani as an unquestionable act of international terrorism. Throughout history, many self-confident leaders have attempted to draw a line between ‘bad’ terrorism and ‘good’ terrorism, aspiring to manage and to use terrorists as convenient foreign policy tools. However, this arbitrarily drawn line between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ terrorists has always got blurred, and former seemingly obedient and efficient servants have again and again revolted against their short-sighted masters. Second, any success in the fight against terrorism entails a high level of trust between the interacting parties—simply because they would have to exchange a lot of sensitive and confidential information. In today’s world, trust is thin on the ground. An apparent and mounting deficit of this resource is not only present in the relations between Moscow and Washington; it also takes its toll on the relations between Beijing and Tokyo, between Riyadh and Teheran, between Cairo and Addis Ababa, between Bogota and Caracas, and the list goes on. It would be tempting to try to somehow ‘insulate’ the fight against international terrorism, separating it from the overall geopolitical competition. However, it is practically impossible since any international cooperation on terrorism is inextricably linked to the very core dimensions of national security. Third, international terrorism is far from an issue that is set in stone. It is gradually changing and evolving to become more resilient, sophisticated, and cunning. The recent events at the Crocus City Conference Hall is a clear indication of how much damage can be inflicted by a relatively small, but well-armed and well-prepared group of militants. Similar to a dangerous virus, the terrorist threat is mutating, generating ever new strains. Another lesson that we should learn is that the modern highly urbanized and technologically advanced post-modern civilization—be it in Russia, in China, in Europe or in the United States—is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Rapidly changing and increasingly complex social and economic infrastructure, especially in large metropolitan areas, is an enabling environment for hard-hitting terrorist attacks. Besides, international and civil conflicts—like the one raging in Ukraine—drastically heighten the accessibility of modern arms for would-be terrorists. Such conflicts inevitably generate large numbers of trained fighters with a lot of combat experience, access to sophisticated weapons and, sometimes, with severe mental problems. These fighters are easy prey for recruiters from international terrorist networks, or they turn into dormant ‘lone wolves’, who could go hunting at any moment. One should not dismiss the kind of terrorism bred by anonymous mavericks and amateurs rather than the sort represented by well-known transnational extremist movements—individualists are the hardest to track and neutralize, while plans of amateurs are harder to reveal. The current progress in military technology, coupled with other trends in the contemporary international arena, portend a new spike in terrorist activities in the coming years Add to this a comprehensive setback in the resilience of global economy, which may be fraught with more social tensions and an inevitable rise of pollical radicalism and extremism in a broad range of countries. An obvious foretelling: In this “nutrient broth”, the virus of terrorism, which has not been wholly eradicated, stands all the chances for an “explosive” growth. Taking terrorism off the agenda is only possible if humanity effects a transition to a new level of global governance. It is either that the leading powers are wise and energetic enough for this, or the tax that international terrorism imposes on our common civilization will be progressively higher. First published in Chinese in the Guancha.

Defense & Security
11.07.2018. BRUSSELS, BELGIUM. Official Opening Ceremony for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) SUMMIT 2018

Home alone: The sorry state of Europe’s plans for self-defence

by Nick Witney

With the possibility of a second Trump presidency looming, it is high time to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans Lest anyone had missed the point, Donald Trump has now provided helpful clarification of his attitude towards America’s NATO allies – and specifically those that fail to spend the benchmark 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. If elected he would, he declared at a campaign rally, “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to underspending NATO allies. Reacting to a storm of protest from European leaders, he was happy to repeat himself: “Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect. OK?”. Nowadays, it is less easy for complacent Europeans to shrug off such observations as typical Trumpisms. They have evidence that Trump redux would be likely to apply his malevolent instincts much more efficiently than he did in his chaotic first term as president. And the chances of him having the opportunity to do so are increasingly likely: he has now steamrollered the opposition in the early Republican primaries, and is ahead of Joe Biden in the polls. No one can any longer ignore the real possibility that in less than a year’s time the occupant of the White House could toss the whole responsibility for keeping Ukraine in the fight against Russia into European laps, whilst insisting that from here on in they see to their own defence. It would therefore hardly be premature if Europeans began to explore how each other views the situation; to make contingency plans; and even to take some precautionary steps. The two key challenges are obvious. The first is how to get more weapons, and especially ammunition and air-defence missiles, to Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion, Europeans have done better at this than might have been expected – but they have not done as well as the need now demands, and not nearly enough to support Ukraine if the United States withdraws its aid. The EU, and especially the European Commission, have played a prominent role here, providing financial incentives for member states to donate from their own stocks and to expand production facilities. But talk of moving European defence industries onto a war footing has yet to be realised; and although the commission will shortly unveil proposals for an ambitious European defence industrial strategy, this can only succeed if member states evince more enthusiasm for collective action than they have so far shown. Only three months ago France, Germany, Italy, and Spain jointly warned the commission to stay off their turf and respect national “prerogatives” on defence. The second key challenge that Europeans should be facing up to is how they would defend themselves without US backing against a Russia that had – the possibility can no longer be discounted – imposed a humiliating ‘peace’ on Ukraine. The “dormant NATO” plans being proposed by right-wing US think-tanks foresee a wholesale withdrawal of US ground forces from Europe. But Europeans have huge psychological difficulties in bringing themselves to discuss the US as they would any other foreign power, even in situations where their own strategic interests are manifestly different from those of the superpower. NATO’s disastrous involvement in Afghanistan, for instance, would never have dragged on for so many fruitless years had not its European members studiously avoided any collective discussion of a campaign which each saw exclusively through the prism of its own bilateral relations with the US. Compounding these challenges is the fact that there is no institutional setting in which Europeans could confer. Their task is, in effect, to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans, but this can hardly be discussed in NATO. That organisation, after all, is where European militaries gather to be told what to do by Americans, but the current US administration can scarcely be expected to lead a discussion premised on its own defeat in the November presidential election. The EU has neither locus nor credibility in military operational matters. The reality is that, if a strategy for defending Europe without the Americans is to emerge, this can only be on an ‘intergovernmental’ basis – through bilateral and minilateral discussion amongst Europe’s main defence players. At the alliance’s 2022 Madrid summit, NATO doubled down on its strategy of forward defence. Russia’s war on Ukraine has demonstrated that we are in a technological era in which defensive systems have the advantage over the traditional means of attack. Destroying massed Russian armour turned out to be relatively easy; getting Russians out now that they have dug themselves in is the devil’s own job. So in Madrid allies resolved to reinforce NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” – boosting in-place forces in eastern and central Europe. But predictably, Europeans have been happy to leave this largely to the Americans, who reinforced their presence in Europe with an additional 20,000 troops. The challenge for European chiefs of staff and defence planners now is to work out how, if the need arises, to substitute for US in-place forces in the frontline states; what capabilities and defensive infrastructure will be needed to halt any assault at the borders; and how to organise the communications and data networks necessary to form an effective system that ties together disparate sensors and missile, drone, and artillery assets. Such planning is now an urgent requirement, not just as a matter of military preparedness, but for psychological reasons. Europe’s frontline states have long felt their western European allies lack not only US military credibility, but also a serious understanding of the scale of Putin’s threat. Europeans will only hang together under a second Trump presidency if they are ready to trust each other, and specifically if the most vulnerable states see a real prospect of western European states putting many more of their bodies on the line as in-place forces. The last couple of years, in which predominantly eastern European states have agreed to purchase an astonishing $120 billion of weapons from American contractors, suggests a fatal tendency to believe that maybe Trump can be propitiated by such largesse. Fortunately, the return of Donald Tusk as Poland’s prime minister has substantially increased the odds of Europeans hanging together even in a Trump 2.0 scenario. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland (the Weimar Triangle) have just met to discuss strengthening Europe’s efforts. If, as expected, the British Labour party returns to government later this year, then the United Kingdom would be an obvious addition to this group. Indeed, a necessary one: it is hard to envisage a credible European defence of the continent that did not clutch in Europe’s second nuclear power. Keir Starmer has made clear his ambition to restore defence ties severed by Brexit. There is no time to waste: the prime minister-in-waiting could usefully make an early trip to Paris to initiate conversations with the UK’s closest continental ally.

Defense & Security
Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Russia: Violence, Power and Another 12 Years

by David R. Marples

Twenty-five years ago, Russian president Boris Yeltsin chose his fifth and final prime minister, Vladimir Putin. In a decade marked by financial crisis, disastrous war, corruption, and Yeltsin’s lengthy illness, the term of the prime minister was always limited. They were the target when anything went wrong in the Russian Federation, as it often did. The latest choice was not expected to last long either. A former head of the Federal Security Services, he had served earlier in a desk job in Dresden for its predecessor, the KGB, a position that ended abruptly with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the East German Communist state. Putin may have remained obscure, but prior to his appointment as Prime Minister he managed to attach his career to the popular mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Putin was appointed deputy mayor, but Sobchak lost his campaign for re-election in 1997 and was later accused of corruption. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2000. Putin’s sudden rise culminated with the unexpected resignation of Yeltsin at the end of 1999. He became acting president until the elections of March 2000, and then won easily with only one serious opponent, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Putin restarted the war in Chechnya, which had ended with a treaty in 1997 that left the status quo in place. The new war was conducted ruthlessly. The Chechen capital Grozny was erased and several other towns were completely destroyed. The Chechens mounted an effective terrorist campaign outside of their territory. In October 2002, about forty Chechen terrorists attacked a Moscow theatre, holding some 700 people hostage. Russian special forces, on Putin’s orders, stormed the theatre after gas was pumped into the auditorium. All the terrorists died, but so did over 100 attendees. Putin’s ruthlessness was evident. There would be no compromise with terrorists. In 2004, the Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated. Putin wanted Kadyrov’s son, Ramzan, who had switched sides in the war and offered his services to Putin, to succeed him but he had to wait three more years for him to reach the minimum age of 30. Domestically, Putin was fortunate. After a disastrous decline in the late 1990s, oil and gas prices began to rise. The Russian economy recovered. Putin accepted the credit. He removed those oligarchs of the Yeltsin era who refused to stay out of politics; the others became part of his regime. He also gradually began to reassert Russian regional dominance. In several former Soviet republics this was the era of “color revolutions” with popular leaders replacing corrupt figures, often holdovers from the Soviet era. In Ukraine’s Orange revolution protests, Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-European leader defeated pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych after a rerun of the third round of the election. To the south, Mikeil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia with similar goals. Putin’s response was to work more closely with Belarus, a reliably ally under Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and to promote the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a counter to expanding NATO. Aside from Belarus, most of the Central Asian states were included. Alongside this, relations with the West began to decline. Though Putin had some common ground with US president George W. Bush – both were faced with terrorism linked to militant Islamic groups – he resented having to kowtow to the United States as the sole world policeman. He believed the West had fomented the color uprisings. In 2008, after NATO forces colluded with the formation of Kosovo, Putin claimed that the territorial agreements that ended the Second World War had been violated. Russia openly backed two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and invaded the small Caucasian state in the same year, occupying Gori and other towns. In that same year, Putin completed his second term as president, the maximum under the Russian Constitution, and switched positions with his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, thirteen years his junior, a diminutive figure whom the West bizarrely regarded as a reformer and a liberal who would moderate Russian policies. The period 2008–12, with Putin in the background, saw one major success. After an insipid presidency marked by foreign travel and symbolic concessions to Ukrainian nationalism, Yushchenko fell from power in 2010 receiving just 1.5% of the popular vote. Yanukovych, the former governor of Donetsk, was finally president. Still, there was strong opposition to Putin’s return to power in 2012 (having amended the constitution to allow himself to do so), led by former deputy prime minister and governor of Nizhny Novgorod Boris Nemtsov. Mass protests took place in Moscow and several other cities. Putin was again triumphant, well ahead of Zyuganov and maverick nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Russia faced another crisis in Ukraine in 2014. After Yanukovych decided not to sign the Association Membership with the EU in Vilnius, mass protests began in Kyiv’s Maidan. Yanukovych tried to break them up by force on November 30, which catalyzed a mass movement. By February, Yanukovych had fled and over 100 protesters were dead. In March 2014, Putin began his invasion of Ukraine by occupying Crimea. Russia also backed a separatist revolt in the Donbas, Yanukovych’s home area, with two small breakaway republics announcing their metamorphosis into “people’s republics.” They were largely unrecognized, even by Russia but they remained in place for the next eight years, after Ukraine’s ramshackle army failed to recapture them. Putin’s third term also saw the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, who was walking outside the Moscow Kremlin with his Ukrainian girlfriend. A Chechen gang was the main suspect, possibly on the orders of Kadyrov. Russian agents had already assassinated several other troublesome figures: the courageous journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who monitored the Chechen war in diary form; and Russian defector Aleksandr Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium-210 in London by a former member of the FSB. After 2014, Putin appeared to cast off any illusions that he was approachable, moral, or confined by the usual protocols of a world leader. He began to regard the West as degenerate and in decline, and democracy as a failed experiment. He became extremely rich through his links with oligarchs, and powerful through his siloviki (those authorized to use force against civilians), a holdover from his days as head of the secret police. A hierarchical structure emerged, Putin, his Security Council (including his powerful Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov), his United Russia party that controlled the Duma, and the masses. Using social media, the Russian leadership disseminated a world perspective that anathematized the Americans, NATO, “Gay Europe,” the West, which sought to control the world and reduce Russia to a second-rate power. There were some followers in unexpected places: admirers in the West, some of whom met regularly in discussions of the Valdai Club, some in academia who refused to shed their earlier admiration for Putin’s strong leadership, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and eventually President Donald J. Trump in the United States. By now Putin had developed a vision for his country and the future: a restoration of empire, the ‘Russkiy Mir’, that would include most of Ukraine, Belarus, and later other lands of the Baltic States, Georgia, and Moldova. But it must start with Ukraine, the sacred heartland of the Russian state and Crimea, where it all began in 988 with Prince Vladimr of Kiev (formerly known as Volodymyr of Kyiv). To ensure a righteous foundation and a renewed sense of identity, Putin turned to the ‘Great Patriotic War’, the time when the Soviet Unon had thrown back the Nazi hordes and liberated democratic Europe. The collaborators of that era were linked to his contemporary enemies: Ukrainian and Baltic nationalists. Russian historians began to revise a narrative of the war centred on the Holocaust of the Jews. In the new version, Russians were the main victims of Nazi Genocide. This delusional and twisted interpretation of the past pushed Putin into an expanded war in February 2022, one calculated to destroy the Ukrainian state founded in 1991. That attempt failed because the Ukrainian army was much stronger and backed by the population. But it is still in progress and has costs tens of thousands of lives. The emperor is now crowned again for another six years. Legally he can remain in office until 2036, when he will turn 84. By then Russia may be even larger, but with fewer people as population decline continues, advanced by wars and with resources depleted as oil and gas supplies dwindle. In such a scenario, Russia will continue to be ruled by a physically declining tyrant, still feared by his timid associates. They have seen what happens to those who cross his path. But Vladimir Putin is not immortal and, in that sense, his time in history is little more than the tick of a clock.

Defense & Security
The Israeli-Lebanese border along the coastal road, south of Enn Naqoura

Between War and Agreement with Lebanon: The Conflict Over the Land Border

by Orna Mizrahi , Stephane Cohen

Demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon is an important and necessary step—but is it right to do under fire? In this document, INSS researchers provide an answer to this question and detail the background and points of disagreement between the two countries on this issue As part of the American-led efforts to use diplomatic means to end the fighting that has been ongoing for nearly five months between Israel and Hezbollah, the need to demarcate an agreed-upon border between Israel and Lebanon was also on the agenda. The Lebanese government is eager to include border demarcation in any ceasefire agreement and has adopted the same policy on this matter as Hezbollah, linking an end to the fighting to the cessation of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip and presenting a hardline maximalist approach to border demarcation. Negotiations over the land border between the two countries are likely to be exhaustive due to the complexity of the issue and the wide gaps between the sides. It would be wrong, therefore, to conduct them under fire. At the same time, as part of an agreement to end the conflict, it is feasible to include an agreement over the establishment of a mechanism to discuss the issue at the next stage—once the fighting on the Israel–Lebanon border has died down. Increasingly concerned that the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could escalate further and turn into an all-out war, the United States is working to advance a diplomatic move that would lead to a ceasefire. France, and more recently the United Kingdom and Germany have joined the Americans in this effort. The Americans have entrusted the task to US President Joe Biden’s close adviser, Amos Hochstein, who successfully brokered the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, which was signed in October 2022. At the behest of the Lebanese, Hochstein has been trying over the course of the past year to recreate this success and to get the parties to agree to a permanent land border. Thus far, he has not been successful. Beirut recently raised again the issue of demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon in the framework of efforts to secure a ceasefire between the IDF and Hezbollah, which have been engaged in limited combat along Israel’s northern border since Hezbollah initiated the conflict on October 8. The fighting has been ongoing since then, in parallel to the war in Gaza. In their discussions with American officials, acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, have been pleased by the Biden administration’s willingness to help broker a ceasefire and to restore quiet to southern Lebanon. They say that they are committed to a diplomatic solution and to international decisions, with an emphasis on UN Security Council Resolution 1701. At the same time, they have taken a hardline position and have been forced to toe the Hezbollah line. They have done so not only in terms of linking an end to the fighting on the Lebanon border with a cessation of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip but also in terms of their demands when it comes to demarcating the land border. Their opening position is intransigent. In their diplomatic meetings and in interviews they have given to the media, both Mikati and Habib have raised the demand that Israel withdraws from every inch of Lebanese territory and, at the same time, they speak about the Mandate-era border, which was adopted as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, as the reference point rather than the Blue Line, the line of withdrawal identified in 2000 by the United Nations, without prejudice to any future border agreement. Reports in the Israeli and Lebanese media suggest that the issue was also raised during Hochstein’s recent visits to Israel (on January 4 and again on February 4) and Beirut (on January 11), but for the time being, Hezbollah and, in its wake, the Lebanese government are adamant that they will not pursue a diplomatic channel as long as the war in Gaza is ongoing. Milestones in the Demarcation of the Border between Israel and Lebanon The border between Israel and Lebanon, which is around 120 kilometers in length,[1] was demarcated more than a century ago as part of the Franco–British Agreement on Mandatory Borders that was signed in Paris in December 1920. That agreement saw the two European superpowers divide up the territory of the Ottoman Empire between them and agree on the borders between both Lebanon and Syria (readers must understand that it was not between Lebanon and Syria specifically, but between the territory of both and Palestine), which were under the French Mandate, and Palestine, which was under the British, from the Mediterranean Sea to Hama (which now makes up the border triangle between Israel, Syria, and Jordan). The agreement drew out the general path of the border, and the sides agreed to set up a joint commission to demarcate the exact path of the border. The commission was headed by two officers—French Lieutenant Colonel Paulet and British Lieutenant Colonel Newcombe. The commission demarcated the border, and in March 1923, the final agreement was approved by both countries. It was ratified in 1935 by the League of Nations. The system used by the commission to demarcate the border—a process that took an entire year and which left behind meticulous documentation of its work—was old-fashioned and problematic; it led to huge inconsistencies in the border. The border they drew up did not fully correspond to the border that was agreed on in Paris in 1920, but it was marked on the ground using piles of rocks. These piles were eventually replaced by 71 posts known as boundary pillars (BPs), of which 38 were placed along the Israel–Lebanon border. It should be noted that most of these BPs disappeared or were destroyed, making later demarcation difficult. Throughout the Mandatory period, right up until Israel and Lebanon gained their independence, the boundary drawn up by the commission was recognized as the international border. It was also the boundary that was used for the March 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Lebanon. That agreement, which the Lebanese are citing as their reference point for demarcation today, was not a detailed demarcation of the boundary. Rather, the agreement merely stated that the “armistice line will run along the international border.” In other words, along the border that was drawn up by the two Mandatory powers and approved in 1923.[2] Following the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000 and as part of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425 (1978), the United Nations tried to demarcate the IDF’s withdrawal line using a team of its own cartographers. They drew what became known as the Blue Line, which deviates in several points from the Mandate-era boundary, and they based it on cartographic data and the interpretation thereof by members of the team. Israel and Lebanon both accepted the Blue Line as the line to which IDF forces would withdraw from southern Lebanon, but Lebanon submitted reservations that turned into points of contention between the sides. The UN approach is to recognize a border line upon which both parties will agree, although it is doubtful that Lebanon will agree to the Blue Line as the basis and likely will insist on the 1949 line. After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel and Lebanon agreed to physically demarcate the Blue Line on the ground, and to this end, a professional committee was formed. This committee determined the exact location of 470 reference points along the Blue Line—around four such points for every kilometer. The goal of marking the border using blue barrels was to make the border clear to the local population, to military personnel, and to the United Nations—and to prevent any inadvertent Blue Line crossings or violation. Thus far, however, barrels have only been placed on around half of the reference points (more than 270). Each of them was only placed after Lebanon and Israel had examined its exact position and given their approval. Points of Contention between Israel and Lebanon Along the Border Region After the delineation and demarcation of the Blue Line, Lebanon presented reservations regarding 13 points along the Blue Line, covering an area of 485,000 square meters (not including the territory in the triangle of borders with Syria beyond the 1949 Armistice Line). To this day, this remains the main point of contention between the two countries. According to the Lebanese, these points deviate from the boundary that was determined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement (see the map in Appendix A). These points have been discussed at length over the years in contacts between the sides as part of the tripartite meetings and coordination mechanism established by UNIFIL. On a number of occasions, there were even reports that they have reached understandings about a solution for seven of them (although there has been no official announcement that they have been resolved). In July 2023, before the outbreak of the current conflict, the Lebanese foreign minister claimed that of the 13 contested points, agreement had been reached over seven, and that there were only six left to be resolved. Two months later, however, the Lebanese army issued an official statement in which it said that it still sees the 13 as being violations by Israel (the Lebanese see the territory on their side of the 1949 Armistice Line and the Blue Line as having been occupied by Israel) and that nothing had been finalized on the matter. Moreover, the army said representatives in the tripartite coordination mechanism did not have the authority to approve this. Recently, against the backdrop of negotiations, the issue was again raised in an interview given by Mikati. On February 1, he claimed that seven of the 13 points had already been settled, but that there were still major gaps in the positions of both sides with regard to the remaining six. Five days later, the foreign minister made a similar argument. The table below shows the 13 contested points, most of which could be resolved with some good will from both sides. At the same time, a number of points of strategic importance will be hard to resolve—primarily the first point close to the coast at Rosh Hanikra (B1), given its strategic location and its importance to both sides. This was one of the reasons that Israel demanded within the maritime agreement to preserve the status quo at this particular point, which was initially intended to be the starting point for the maritime demarcation, and to postpone the discussion on it until negotiations took place over the land border. >> Table: Lebanese reservations over the demarcation of the Blue Line    According to some recent reports, in addition to the 13 familiar points, Lebanon has already presented more Israeli violations and has demanded that Israel withdraw from 17 other areas beyond the Blue Line, some of which correspond with the 13 previous areas of contention. This is in contrast to the recently stated position of the Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister, both of whom referred only to the 13 contested areas. Details of these points, as published by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper, appear in Appendix B. In addition to the points of contention along the Israel–Lebanon border, there are also a number of substantial contested points on the Golan Heights. The Lebanese have laid claim to areas that were captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War in the border triangle between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. According to Beirut, Israel must return these territories, which it claims as its own, before any resolution of the conflict with Syria, which has opted not to deal with the issue at the current time. Further complicating the situation in these areas is the Golan Heights Law that Israel passed in 1981, which formalized the change in the legal status of the Golan and determined that the area fell under Israeli law, jurisdiction, and authority. These disputes form a major part of Hezbollah’s narrative. The organization argues that it is fighting for the liberation of more Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, while exacerbating the already intense disputes between Beirut and Jerusalem and using them as part of its struggle against Israel. Therefore, it is no coincidence that many of Hezbollah’s military attacks during the past nearly five months of fighting have also been directed at the areas of Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms. There are two main areas in question: The northern part of the village of Ghajar: Lebanon claims sovereignty over the northern part of the village, which is located on the original border between Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon’s claim is not entirely groundless, since the Blue Line dissects the village, in accordance with the findings from 2000 by UN cartographers, who worked according to maps in their possession. The northern part of the village, therefore, is in Lebanese territory, even though it was captured by Israeli forces from Syria in 1967 and its residents are Alawites. Lebanese complaints intensified after September 2022, when Israel erected a fence to the north of the village to prevent infiltrations from Lebanon. The erection of this fence was done in coordination with the IDF, which took into account the residents’ suffering from having their village split in two and the fact that entry was only possible via a border police and military checkpoint. Closing off the village from the north allowed it to open to visitors. In addition to the northern section of the village, Lebanon is also demanding territory to the east of the village. The Shebaa Farms: This is an unpopulated agricultural area on Mount Dov (the foothills of Mount Hermon), between the village of Ghajar and the Lebanese village of Shebaa (in the border triangle), which Beirut claims belongs to the village. From an Israeli perspective, this strategic area is vitally important in order to monitor a hostile region. Evidence of this was provided in October 2000, when three Israeli soldiers were abducted in a cross-border raid. It is no coincidence that Hezbollah’s first attack during the current conflict, on October 8, was against Mount Dov, which has become a key target over the past months. In contrast to the official Lebanese position, Hezbollah also has claims to more Israeli territory, which it wants to “liberate from occupation.” There are seven Shiite villages in the Upper Galilee which were abandoned or evacuated, and then captured by Israel during the War of Independence in 1948. It should be stressed that in official statements from Beirut about the border dispute with Israel, these villages are not mentioned. However, it is likely that, even after the resolution of the dispute over border demarcation between the two countries, Hezbollah will continue to refer to these villages as occupied Lebanese territory. This is an integral part of its efforts to maintain its status as “defender of Lebanon” and it will be used to incite hostility toward Israel. From an Israeli perspective, it would be wrong to negotiate the border demarcation under fire. The issue of border demarcation has, as mentioned, come up as part of the diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel; the Lebanese side (and, it seems, the mediators) raised it as one of the things that Israel could offer in order to promote a ceasefire. However, given the ongoing escalation and the possibility of all-out war, it appears that it would not be the right course of action for Israel to include negotiations over the future land border in talks aimed at securing a ceasefire—notwithstanding the importance of an agreed-upon resolution of the issue. There are several reasons for this: The time element: Negotiations are likely to be long and complex, given the profound disagreements that exist, especially over three points: Rosh Hanikra (B1); the village of Ghajar; and the Mt. Dov/Shebaa Farms. Such talks will not be completed quickly and will not lead to a ceasefire any time soon, especially given that the Lebanese side is currently presenting a particularly hard line. Israel, on the other hand, is interested in an immediate end to the fighting, so that the evacuated residents of the North can return to their homes as soon as possible. This argument is also supposed to convince the Americans, who are also keen to secure a ceasefire sooner rather than later and to avoid regional conflagration. An achievement for Hezbollah and the loss of a bargaining chip: If Israel were to hand over territory to Lebanon—no matter how little—as a result of the current conflict, it would inflate Hezbollah’s sense of accomplishment, as well as its claimed status as the ‘protector of Lebanon.’ It would also strengthen its argument to remain an armed organization, against the wishes of those citizens in Lebanon who want it to turn over its weapons to the Lebanese army. Moreover, Israel would lose a bargaining chip in the anticipated negotiations over the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, especially in terms of its desire for Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River. The same is true of a partial solution, regarding, for example, the seven border points over which there is agreement in principle. While Hezbollah would portray this as a “victory,” the disagreements and the reasons for continued conflict would remain unaddressed. There is no official address on the Lebanese side with which Israel can sign any agreement, given the political vacuum that exists there. Since the last election in Lebanon, in May 2022, a transitional government has been in power and, since the end of President Michel Aoun’s term of office in October 2022, Lebanon has yet to elect a replacement. As per the constitution, it is the Lebanese president who has the authority to sign such agreements; indeed, it was Aoun who signed the maritime border agreement with Israel on his last day in office. Similarly, opponents of any agreement with Israel could challenge the authority of the current interim government to engage in negotiations on any issue with Israel. In conclusion, reaching an agreement on the route of the land border between Israel and Lebanon would be an important element in forging a new reality in the region. However, it would not be right to hold a complex discussion on the issue, and certainly not to accept a partial agreement that would include Israel’s surrendering of territory, as long as Hezbollah has not agreed to cease the current fighting, which it initiated. Therefore, Israel must reject the inclusion of the issue in the preliminary understandings over a ceasefire and must insist that negotiations over the demarcation of the land border only take place at a later stage. Appendix A Map of the Disputed Areas According to the Lebanese Side  Appendix B Lebanese Claims of Israeli Violations Along the Blue Line    Note: These are areas that Israel currently occupies and which the Lebanese claim violate the Blue Line. This list was published on September 7, 2023, by the Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah. [1] “It’s time to talk about the Blue Line: Constructive re-engagement is key to stability,” March 5, 2021, https://unifil.unmissions.org/it%E2%80%99s-time-talk-about-blue-line-constructive-re-engagement-key-stability [2] Haim Srebro, True and Steady: Mistakes in the Delimitation of the Boundaries of Israel and Their Correction (Tzivonim Publishing, 2022), p. 143.

Defense & Security
A miracle glass on the Yemen of the world map

The impact of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea on the Yemen crisis

by Sergey Serebrov

The U.S.-British coalition’s military intervention in Yemen has become the most dangerous expansion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (PIC), taking a heavy toll on the security in the Middle East and creating a parallel hotbed of military standoff in the Red Sea. There is no consensus in the region’s countries on the root cause of the current escalation, with some governments blaming the terrorist sortie of the Qassam Brigades militants from Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood (known as Toofan in Arabic) on October 7, 2023, while others—the abnormal situation of the decades-long occupation and blockade of Palestine by Israel, mentioned by UN Secretary General A. Guterres in October 2023. Yet they are all united in extremely negative assessments of the humanitarian consequences of the Iron Swords operation by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip. The final document of the LAS and OIC summit in Riyadh on November 11, 2023, attended by 57 heads of state, had the most pacifist tone possible, but it clearly condemned Israel’s war crimes campaign and demanded “an immediate ceasefire along with the opening of humanitarian corridors.” While rejecting the adoption of collective non-military measures of pressure on Israel proposed by the so-called Axis of Resistance and a number of other states, a caveat was made that they could be applied individually: “The resolution calls on the members of the OIC and LAS to use diplomatic, political and legal forms of pressure as well as deterrent measures to stop the colonial occupation administration’s crimes against humanity.” Russian scholars V.V. Naumkin and V.A. Kuznetsov attribute the strategy of the Israeli government and the militarist policies of the U.S. and UK as the main reason for aggravation of the PIC: “Rejecting the draft settlement by founding an independent Palestinian state (within the borders as of June 4, 1967 with the capital in Eastern Jerusalem), prescribed by resolutions of the UNSC, which would exist side by side with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is driving the problem into a dead end. And pumping American and British weapons into Israel only prolongs the bloodshed. Continued attempts to resolve the Gaza conflict by force are disastrous for the future co-existence of the two peoples.” Discussions at the UN showed that this conclusion is shared by most countries in the region, i.e. the fuse for spontaneous outbursts of resistance to the existing order remains unextinguished. Yemen is one such hotbed. Deep political divisions, an unfinished nine-year war with the Arab Coalition (AC) and a massive humanitarian disaster affecting 80 per cent of the population did not prevent the country’s inhabitants from voicing their attitude to the Gaza tragedy. Political activism and anti-Israeli sentiments rose everywhere. The epicenter was 14 of the country’s 22 most populous provinces, controlled by the authorities of Sana’a, where an alliance between the Houthi movement Ansarullah and the core of the country’s former ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), formed a coalition regime in 2016 that recognized Yemen’s current constitution. These provinces are home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population (about 23 million people) as well as the largest cities, such as Sana’a, Ibb and the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The internationally unrecognized regime in Sana’a, targeted in March 2015 by a massive AC military operation at the request of the legitimate Yemeni authorities to neutralize it, has suddenly become one of the main centers of the region’s current political dynamics. The Ansarullah leadership’s public support of the Palestinian resistance has become a powerful springboard for strengthening of its status and authority both within Yemen and at the regional level, consolidating the ideological foundations of the Houthi movement as a new national symbol and political platform for the country. Castigating the U.S. and the UK for aiding Israel with its war in Gaza as “complicit in crimes against humanity,” the movement’s leader sayyid Abdul Malik al-Houthi placed an explicit emphasis on the importance of involving the peoples and governments of all Arab and Islamic states in the Palestinian struggle, while underscoring the vanguard role of Yemen. The Ansarullah leader condemned the Arab states that continued to pursue the course of normalizing their relations with Israel, calling on them to abide by the moral principles of Islam, which do not allow tolerance for the “usurper who clearly violates the rights of the Palestinian people.” He described Hamas’ Toofan operation as “a game-changer due to inflicting tangible losses on the Zionist enemy,” and Yemenis’ support for it as their “religious and moral duty.” Sana’a announced joining the Palestinian war on Israel and its readiness to send “hundreds of thousands of soldiers” at the right moment. The authorities organized the collection and transfer of money to Gazans, and they switched to active military support of the Palestinians in mid-October 2023 by launching missiles and drones towards the Israeli port of Eilat in an attempt to divert Israeli forces and hamper the port’s operations. On November 19, 2023, they arrested the ship Galaxy Leader, owned by an Israeli businessman, enforcing a ban they had imposed in mid-November on the navigation of Israeli ships and cargo through Yemeni territorial waters. Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Nebenzya said in early January 2024: “It is impossible to deny what is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been going on for three months,” while the U.S. “has turned the UN Security Council into a hostage by vetoing resolutions on an immediate ceasefire.” Since October 2023, the leader of Ansarullah has personally called on the people to participate in regular mass solidarity actions almost weekly, as part of a campaign he called “The Battle of Allah’s Promised Victory” and the Holy Jihad. To coordinate the mass demonstrations, which often involved more than 2 million people, and to provide ideological guidance, the authorities in Sana’a established the “Support for Al-Aqsa” committee, which turned those protests into weekly grand-scale political actions. The slogans of these marches, especially after the launch of Military Operation ‘Prosperity Guardian’ against Yemen on January 12, 2024, took on an increasingly militant tone: “You are not alone... we stand together with Gaza!”, “From the faithful people of Yemen—help, help Toofan,” “the Flood of al-Aqsa has already come—it will defeat the insolent countries,” “Al-Aqsa Flood, come and wash away the barriers and walls!” The Houthi ideology is based on the concept of the “Quranic path” proclaimed by the founder of this movement, sayyid Hussein B. al-Husi (1959-2004). The key tenet is that the consciousness of each Muslim believer and the Islamic community as a whole needs to be reformed and entrenched upon the rails of spirituality and morality as dictated by the holy book, which will make “ummah”, the entire Muslim community, exemplary and advanced. This progress towards the ideal should be led by a spiritual leader, personifying the selfless service to the faith and having genetic affiliation to the descendants of the Prophet’s house—the sada (hence the singular—sayyid). Among his main functions, as the doctrine has it, is to take care of the community’s readiness to defend the moral values of Islam against its worst enemies. Sayyid Hussein listed their names in his cliché (Arabic: sarkha), which he first uttered in a lecture to a youth audience in January 2002: “Allah is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse to the Jews! Victory to Islam!” This clarion call has become a distinctive marker of the Houthi and the Ansarullah movement, and posters with this text have been a permanent feature of meetings, marches, and wall decorations in public institutions and schools since 2016. After the Prosperity Guardian coalition’s bombings commenced, a new term of the “evil trinity” (ash-shir al-thulathi)—Israel, the U.S. and the UK—appeared in the Houthi narrative. In the expert community, the autonomy and authenticity of the Houthi ideology and socio-political movement with deep Yemeni roots are generally not in doubt. The Houthi were not and are not “agents” or “proxies” of Iran, despite their growing cooperation in recent years. In the Houthi movement, as was correctly noted by the well-known orientalist B. Haykel, the influence of not only Shiite but also Sunni currents of modern political Islam, as well as secular ideologies, including “nationalism and anti-colonialism” [1], is quite conspicuous. The Houthi movement also purports to protect Yemen’s sovereignty, rebuild its economy on the basis of its own resources and modern technology, improve its education system and restore its historical glory as the heart of the entire Islamic world and one of the main hubs of Islamic civilization. Helen Lackner, the British researcher of Yemen, said: “The charge of acting as Tehran’s proxy serves as an insult to an organization that has its own motivations and ideological position.” After 2016, Ansarullah shares equal seats with the General People’s Congress (GPC) on the Supreme Political Council (SPC) representing in a binary coalition government the central executive authorities in a full-fledged state-type republican system that encompasses provincial and local levels. The regime is based on the old bureaucracy created by President Abdallah A. Saleh, remaining loyal to the coalition authorities in Sana’a after Saleh’s death in December 2017 and retaining the same structure and core, with Ansarullah members added as managers and employees. The SPC is spearheaded by one of the movement’s leaders, Mahdi Mashat, while the government of national salvation is headed by GPC member Abdul Aziz bin Habtoor, a former rector of the University of Aden. The shibboleths of external propaganda characterizing the Houthi as “militias,” “jamaat,” “rebels,” “insurgents,” or “tribes” do not correspond to the socio-political nature of the movement, nor do they agree with the contemporary Yemeni realities. Beside the executive branch, the Houthi are represented in parliament, the judiciary and all security agencies, including the army and intelligence. Together with the GPC, they define the regime’s foreign policy as well as cooperation with the countries of the so-called Axis of Resistance that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This comes precisely as a result of the Decisive Storm, a foreign military operation launched nine years ago. According to formal criteria, the Ansarullah organization since 2015, in the situation of a protracted crisis related to the division of the Yemeni nation and the foreign AC intervention, having retained the signs of a socio-political movement, functionally made a leap into the category of transitional actors moving from quasi-state to the state type body. It should also be noted that under the extreme conditions of war and blockade, the coalition regime in Sana’a achieved consolidation, which was not the case (for objective reasons) in the camp of the internationally recognized Government of Yemen (GoY or IRG), which received major military and financial support from the Arab Coalition. Organizationally, since the very beginning, the IRG has been in a state of chronic systemic disintegration that sparked direct armed clashes between its factions. Mass popular demonstrations in support of Palestine in the IRG-controlled part of the country, which covers about 75% of its territory, were sporadic and less crowded. Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), attended the November summit in Riyadh, where he expressed his condemnation of Israel’s military operation in Gaza and Yemenis’ solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, he distanced himself from the hostile stance to IRG policy of the unrecognized regime in Sana’a, especially on the military blockade of Israeli shipping and navigation. “The terrorist attacks by the Houthi in the Red Sea are harming the freedom of global trade and the peoples of the region, doubling above all the suffering of the Yemeni people, whose survival is 90% dependent on imports,” he said. Opinions were divided among the leaders of other factions within the IRG, but most of them supported the establishment of the American-British Coalition (ABC) and the listing of the Houthi as global terrorists by the U.S. on January 17, 2024, which signaled a possible setback of the Yemeni conflict. The most likely scenario for the conflict, which promises to be protracted and extremely unsavory to the ABC, is for the Anglo-Saxon partnership to exploit the complex military and political environment for a further instrumentalization of existing rivalries. The above analysis of the Sana’a policy shows that the ABC command could not expect Sana’a to lift the maritime sanctions against Israel through military blackmail, as this would mean a backdown on the entire ideology of the regime, defined by the mentioned Houthi concept of the “Quranic path.” The lifting of the ban on Israeli shipping was promised by the Sana’a authorities only after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza and the opening of humanitarian corridors, which was officially voiced at all levels even before the launch of the ABC military operation in Yemen. Official spokesman of Ansarullah, Muhammad Abdulsalam, warned the ABC command about this intention immediately after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the ABC establishment in December 2023: “the ABC mission is to provide a cover for Israel and to proceed with illegal militarization of the Red Sea that will not stop Yemen which will continue to provide legitimate support to the people of Gaza.” U.S. claims that Operation Prosperity Guardian is designed to “undermine and degrade the ability of the Houthi to endanger seamen and threaten global trade on one of the world’s most important waterways” are questionable as well, as the AC’s attempt to accomplish a similar task militarily for nine years is known to have been unsuccessful, ending with a transition to a de-escalation phase in April 2022. Since March 2015, U.S. and UK officers have been represented on the AC command staff, contributing to the Decisive Storm operation by using the same methods, the same weapons and the same intelligence sources as the ABC currently relies on. One of the major military outcomes of the AC’s “old” campaign was the emergence of a localized industrial base at the Sana’a disposal to build and maintain the kind of modern-day arsenal that made the transition to a political settlement of the crisis the most expedient choice for all sides. Finally, the proposition of the ABC command that the operation in the Red Sea was designed to protect the safety of commercial shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which accounts for about 14% of the world’s commercial cargo turnover, also proved to be completely untenable in the first month and a half. Already at the stage of the Anglo-Saxon coalition formation, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, suggested: “They have assembled a so-called ‘international coalition’ (which quite characteristically consists mainly of American ships), which is supposed to ‘ensure security’, although in reality the legitimacy of its actions raises the most serious questions in terms of international law. We should not have any illusions about the true goals of the authors of the resolution. This is not about ensuring the safety of navigation in the Red Sea at all, but an attempt to legitimize (post factum) the actions of the aforementioned ‘coalition’ and have Security Council’s endorsement for an unlimited time.” Operation Prosperity Guardian per se was the main cause behind the escalation of tensions and a threat to the navigation of all other carriers. It is no coincidence that neither the littoral states of this subregion nor the leading foreign states that use this route have yielded to the pressure or expressed any willingness to join the coalition. Egypt, 10% of whose budget depends on Forex earnings from Suez, saw the ABC action as “a dangerous acceleration of events in the southern Red Sea and Yemen ... with potential risks of a wider conflict in the region due to Israel’s ongoing attacks in the Gaza Strip.” His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, said even before the ABC attacks in Yemen, the “from Qatar’s political perspectives, no military action leads to a resolution. We are closely watching developments in the Red Sea, but our greatest fear is the consequences of being drawn into an endless loop of region-wide tensions. We hope for an early end to what is happening to the civilian ships via diplomatic means. That will be the best way possible.” Essentially, all countries in the subregion agreed that the best way out of the military conflict in the Red Sea would be to fulfill the Sana’a demands to the Israeli authorities, i.e. putting an end to a devastating war in Gaza. Of all the countries in this subregion, only Bahrain, home to U.S. and British naval bases, joined the ABC. Objective data on the ship traffic through the Suez Canal shows that the drop was only about 2% in the first thirty days after the seizure of the Israeli ship by the Yemeni military. A deeper dive began only after the U.S. announcement of the ABC on December 18, 2023, reaching a record 50% by the end of February 2024, after the strikes on Yemen commenced, when the Sana’a authorities added to their sanctions list the U.S. and UK military and their merchant ships, which became the main targets of their attacks starting in mid-January 2024. A summary of the first month of Operation Prosperity Guardian was over 400 air and missile strikes by ABC forces on Yemeni territory and more than 25 retaliatory attacks by the Sana’a authorities against ABC and Israeli naval targets with the sinking of the British merchant ship Rubymar carrying ammonia fertilizers in February 2024. Nor has it been possible to stop the Houthi from launching missiles toward Israel. Besides the military risks to shipping, the ABC operation also threatened the ecology of the Red Sea waters, which is an important traditional source of income for fishermen in the coastal states. The true strategy of the ABC in Yemen can only be judged by the further course and results of the campaign, which promises to have far-reaching consequences for the entire region. Its most likely development will be an attempt to torpedo de-escalation, which has defined the downward dynamic of the “old” military crisis in Yemen involving the AC since April 2022. There are several reasons for this conclusion. First, the decisive move by KSA and Sana’a to remove the regional component of the Yemeni crisis has been highly successful in bringing it out of the stalemate it hit after the failure of the Kuwait round of UN-sponsored talks in 2016. The de-escalation process was accompanied by exchange visits of official delegations from Riyadh and Sana’a in April and September 2023 and their preparation of a compromise settlement formula that would satisfy both sides. The Houthi surrender as the only scenario for ending the war became a thing of the past, and the consolidation of the Ansarullah political alliance with the GPC core within the ruling regime in Sana’a finally appeared to get a sort of recognition. This shift removed the main motive for the AC to continue the war and meant a reorientation of the regional leader, Saudi Arabia, to deep readjustment of the entire system of subregional relations and to zero out its involvement in external military conflicts. To finalize the process, all that remained was to sign a ready-made roadmap and start preparing a national dialogue in the Yemeni format with the participation of Ansarullah under the auspices of the UN. Second, de-escalation was largely achieved due to the normalization of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations in March 2023, mediated by China. For the U.S. and the UK, this change meant, among other things, undermining their fundamental long-term geopolitical construct, which had been used for decades to structure the system and dynamics of regional relations across the Middle East. It was based on the exploitation of Sunni-Shiite and Iranian-Saudi contradictions, into which anti-American and anti-Israeli manifestations were also implanted as a sign of “Shiite” (aka “Iranian”) influence in the countries of this region. The conflict in Yemen has long ago proved its complete unsuitability for analyzing the Yemeni realities. The sociocultural ground in this country has ruled out the transformation of Yemeni contradictions into sectarian ones, as the relations between both dominant autochthonous religious communities of Yemen—Shafi’i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shia)—have remained traditionally tolerant and friendly. The religious framing employed has been much more influential in sharpening their dichotomies with the proselytizing radical version of the Salafi ideology of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood* operating within the Islah Party. The attribution of the “Iranian agent” label to the Houthi has generally remained very superficial to Yemeni political discourse proper and has not become a fully effective tool for manipulating this rivalry. Third, the very fact that Riyadh entered direct negotiations with Sana’a, mediated by Oman, signaled the increasing role of sovereignty in the system of subregional politics and the process of its transition to a more friendly architecture of relations, less dependent on the military presence of extra-regional superpowers in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Back in the summer of 2019, the UAE unilaterally announced the end of its military involvement in the AC operation in Yemen. The KSA’s new strategy toward Yemen has been heading in the same direction. Various attempts by the U.S. special ambassador to Yemen, T. Linderking, to slow down and derail this process were not quite successful. The U.S. emissary either inspired the KSA with mistrust of Iran’s intentions after the restoration of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations, or warned the Arabian countries that the U.S. would not leave Yemen out of its control anyway, saying, in particular, that the final stage of “an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni political process [should] take place under U.S. auspices” instead of the UN format recognized by all parties. The UN mission in Yemen, which played an important and very positive role in the success of the “Oman track,” may also have been a source of discontent for the Anglo-Saxon partnership. A roadmap to end the KSA's military involvement in Yemen within three years was prepared by late 2023, which Hans Grundberg, the current head of the mission, publicly announced on December 23. This marked a de facto major step toward the final international legitimization of Ansarullah as a full-fledged participant in the political process. The struggle to keep the roadmap for a Yemeni settlement afloat, albeit in a postponed mode due to the ABC military intervention, is of fundamental importance for the future status and security systems of Arabia and the Red Sea. This is evidenced, in particular, by the KSA’s choice to consolidate the agreements reached with Sana’a after the Western coalition began bombing Yemen. At a meeting with T. Linderking in February 2024, KSA Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to “provide assistance to Yemen in facilitating a dialogue between the parties to reach a political solution under the auspices of the UN.” In addition to the KSA’s own experience of waging war in Yemen, there is a solid scientific basis for this choice: following a comprehensive analysis of the genesis and state of the Ansarullah organization, the authors of The Houthi Movement in Yemen, a fundamental monograph recently published by the KSA, conclude that “regardless of the final result, it seems that the Houthis will remain a key player in Yemen’s cultural, social, economic and political scenes for the foreseeable future [2].” Over the years of war, the leading Yemeni centers of political influence (CPIs) within the IRG and both active participants in the AC—the KSA and the UAE—brought about an amalgam of interests, which, in the context of a military intervention by the powerful ABC, risk being manipulated by the neocolonial project of the Anglo-Saxon partnership. By playing up intra-Yemeni contradictions and staging the pulling of certain Yemeni CPIs to their side, the two leading players of the ABC may try to turn them into an instrument of their policy both in the crisis zone and in the entire subregion. Unfortunately, they have serious and objective prerequisites for this attempt at sowing discord. The success of the “Omani track” within the Riyadh-Sana’a bilateral format in achieving sustainable de-escalation in the conflict zone was achieved almost without the participation of all the other CPIs in the IRG. This narrower format created a ground for their dissatisfaction and natural concerns about the current situation. The Emirati actors on the IRG’s Emirati flank, represented by General Aidarus al-Zubaidi’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) and General Tareq M. Saleh’s Political Council of the National Resistance Forces, were particularly wary, directly criticizing certain provisions of the roadmap that, in their view, provided excessive economic advantages to the hostile authorities in Sana’a—for example, their right to a share of the proceeds from the export of Yemeni oil to pay off debts on the salaries of civil servants. The ABC’s operation against Sana’a provoked something of a revenge attempt on the part of these CPIs within the IRG. President Rashad al-Alimi and the leaders of the Emirati flank of the PLC were quick to express their willingness to cooperate with the ABC, although each of the three CPIs had very different perspectives and goals in mind, both for themselves and for the future of the country. All the old political science constructs introduced to launch and accompany AC’s military campaign began to rapidly return to the Yemeni narrative: the diminutive labeling of the Sana’a authorities as “Houthi,” “militia,” or “rebels”; the reanimation of the Iranian expansion bugaboo through the Ansarullah movement, ostensibly willing to bring the Red Sea under Iran’s heel, etc. At the same time, the political reasons for the rivalry between the CPIs of the Saudi and Emirati flanks in the IRG camp have not disappeared. The probable supply of arms by the ABC to one of the flanks in the AC camp, or even to one of the CPIs on either flank, will inevitably lead to imbalances in the fragile configuration of forces, not only along the IRG-Sana’a Alliance (SA) axis, but also within the IRG camp. The risk of these CPIs clashing with each other is sometimes not lower, and in some scenarios even higher, than with the SA. Suffice it to mention the fact that the official policy of the leading faction on the Emirati flank, the Southern Transitional Council or STC, to withdraw the South within the 1990 borders of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), enshrined in the National Charter of Honor of the South that adopted in May 2023, is emphatically denied by most of the other Yemeni CPIs within the same IRG, as well as by both SA members. The ABC’s military involvement in the internal Yemeni tangle is difficult to coordinate and predict. It carries the risk of completely transforming the situation and ricocheting into the camp of the IRG itself as well as the AC partners backing it. This is exactly the scenario that the Qatari leader warned about, speaking of the endless loop of conflicts into which Arabia is being drawn by the aggression in Yemen recently unleashed by the ABC. *** In conclusion, we should emphasize the importance of historical and socio-cultural factors, underpinning the notion of identities that play a primary role in conflicts both in Yemen and in the region in a broader sense. Especially because these are particularly visible and instrumental in the current escalatory ladder. Amar Bendjama, Algeria’s representative to the UN, described what is happening in the Red Sea as a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, reminding that “the primary responsibility for maritime security rests with coastal States — best positioned to ensure the safety of crucial waterways — and underscor[ing] that any collective effort lacking the active involvement of such States is likely to fall short of achieving the desired results.” He also noted that “the Red Sea is more than just a trade route — it is steeped in civilizations and communities with legitimate aspirations and hopes.” * This organization is declared terrorist and banned in Russia. 1. The Houthi Movement in Yemen Ideology, Ambition and Security in the Arab Gulf / Ed. Abdullah Hamidaddin, I.B. TAURIS, King Feisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies Series, KFCRIS, 2022. P. 21. 2. Ibid. P. 3.