6 October 2019

Taliban Send High-Level Delegation to Islamabad in Push to Resurrect Peace Deal

by Munir Ahmed and Kathy Gannon

The Taliban announced Wednesday they are sending a high-level delegation to Pakistan’s capital as part of a tour that has included Russia, China and Iran in a push to resurrect an Afghanistan peace deal with Washington that seemed imminent just a month ago.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar, will lead the 11-member delegation during talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special peace envoy, is also in the Pakistani capital for “consultations” with the Pakistani leadership, a U.S. official said. He spent the last year negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, which seemed imminent until Sept. 7 when U.S. President Donald Trump declared the deal “dead.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Khalilzad is not in Islamabad to resume the peace process…

Saudi-Pakistani Relations Enter Tough Times as Both Riyadh and Islamabad Face Challenges

By Hannan R. Hussain

It’s been a tough few weeks for both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Riyadh took a major blow to its Aramco oil facilities earlier last month, paving the way for a “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran, and more U.S. troops in the kingdom. On the other hand, Islamabad’s efforts to globalize the Kashmir crisis are now accompanied by defense guarantees to the kingdom and a rare attempt at Gulf mediation. For Pakistan to maintain its consistent support for Riyadh, without sacrificing neutrality towards Tehran, it must focus its support on Saudi military “capabilities” as opposed to “ambitions,” and tie future efforts to the broader cause of regional peace.

Central to Pakistan’s success with Saudi Arabia has been its fundamental policy distinction: To embrace the kingdom’s external security needs without serving as an inlet for internal convergence. Almost all powers that have had a say in Riyadh’s foreign policy thinking have ended up in action. Washington’s joint military operations in Syria and Yemen, Tel Aviv and Riyadh’s rampant military pursuits vis-à-vis Tehran, UAE’s renewed commitment to containing Houthi rebels, and the Saudi-led bloc’s collective boycott of Iran and allies.

In Afghanistan, the War Goes On

By Ezzatullah Mehrdad

Hawa, a 30-year-old housewife, lived near a USAID-funded well on the side of a dirt road that connects Talkhak village, in Ghazni province’s Malistan district, to the neighboring provinces. As usual, in the afternoon of the fall of 2008, Hawa was pumping water when a convoy of U.S.-led coalition troops passed by on the way from Uruzgan province to Ghazni City, the capital of Ghazni province. 

She waved at the soldiers; in return they dropped a package in her arms. 

The long convoy of trucks and armed vehicles passed, but Hawa was frozen still and screaming. Habib, a 35-year-old farmer, approached her and asked why she was yelling. “I had heard when you move, an explosive device explodes,” Hawa told him. “Please take this package away from me.” 

Habib took the package to a corner and opened it. He knew it was food and shared only portion of it with Hawa.

‘We Shouldn’t Be Buying the Taliban’s Excuse


The Afghan national security adviser wants his government to take over after a failed year of U.S. negotiations. But now the country has an uncertain election to contend with.

“Peace is our common objective, and terrorists are our common enemy,” Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib told the United Nations yesterday. “We must not rush the former at the risk of empowering the latter.”

Mohib, who has in the past made headlines with his blunt critique of American policies in his country, came to New York with an explicit message for the Taliban and a subtler one for the United States government. To the Taliban, he said: “Join us in peace, or we will continue to fight.” To the United States, which until talks collapsed in September seemed on the verge of concluding its own deal with the Taliban that did not include the Afghan government: “The next step belongs to us Afghans.”

Mohib spoke with me shortly after the speech, and a few weeks after President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he was calling off a roughly yearlong negotiation with the Taliban following the death of a U.S. soldier and 11 others in Kabul. (The soldier was the 16th U.S. service member to die in Afghanistan in 2019, while negotiations went on; a 17th died a little over a week later.) Mohib was a figure in that drama, although not one as central as he might have liked—the Afghan national security adviser in March accused U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad of “delegitimizing” the Afghan government by conducting separate negotiations with the Taliban, which still refuses to recognize the Kabul government. As if to prove the point, Mohib himself was sidelined when U.S. officials refused to meet with him following those remarks.

Why China’s Big Military Parade Is Nothing To Be Afraid Of

Craig Hooper
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On the first of October, China held an enormous National Day military parade in Beijing, jam-packed with missiles, tanks and other new gear. To drum up international interest, China ran previews–complete with “accidental” reveals–before the big show, holding mysterious, canvas-shrouded “rehearsals” under cover of darkness, pushing Western observers into a rapture of existential hand-wringing over the revelations to come. And it worked. The fearful message got through, and the news of China’s hypersonic glide vehicles and other new gear were met with alarming headlines.

Excessive Western pearl-clutching over new Chinese military technology is exactly what the Chinese regime wanted.

China’s hope is that reflexive Western fear mongering will drive poor policy decisions all over the globe. Yes, the Chinese military is certainly strong and getting stronger, but America’s chronic over-hyping of China’s military prowess only serves to make the Chinese military look stronger than it is. China reaps great geopolitical benefits from maintaining that perception.

What Is the Belt and Road News Network?

Eleanor Albert
In April, China quietly launched a new media group: The Belt and Road News Network (BRNN). The BRNN’s mission is to boost “understanding, friendship and cooperation, and form a normalized mechanism for collaboration,” across the participating countries and regions of China’s multi-billion dollar connectivity project. Concepts of dialogue, the exchange of ideas, information, and products, and innovation feature prominently in BRNN materials. 

The BRNN is likely an outgrowth of ideas posited by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the first Belt and Road Forum in 2017. In the concluding portions of his address that year, Xi said “We will also develop a network for cooperation among the NGOs in countries along the Belt and Road as well as new people-to-people exchange platforms such as a Belt and Road news alliance and a music education alliance.”

Two years on, the platform is headquartered in Beijing and chaired by the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper group and the official outlet of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. According to the network’s charter, the BRNN’s council consists of 14 members from China and 26 others from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eurasia (Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Tanzania, U.A.E, U.K. and Zambia).

China at 70: The Growing Pains of a Rising Power

By Xie Tao

This year marks the 70th birthday of the People’s Republic of China. To a 5,000-year-plus civilization, 70 years seem like the blink of an eye. Yet within that blink the Middle Kingdom has experienced a miraculous rebirth. 

In 1949, China was poor, backward, and isolated by the West. Today, it is the world’s largest trading nation and second largest economy, a global leader in technological innovation, and a major actor in many regional and international institutions. No other country in human history has achieved such a dramatic transformation within such a short period of time.

As China’s wealth and power have changed, so has its foreign policy.

Two major aspects of Chinese foreign policy over the past seven decades are worth close examination. The first is China’s evolving relationship with the beautiful country — the Chinese translation of “America.” Now that China is fast becoming a global power, its policy toward the United States seems to be undergoing a subtle but important shift, and this shift is viewed by some as the major contributing factor for the current difficult state of the bilateral relationship.

Trump, Rouhani agreed 4-point plan before Iran balked: French officials


PARIS — Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani agreed on a four-point document brokered by Emmanuel Macron in New York last week as a basis for a meeting and relaunching negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, according to French officials.

While the U.S. and Iranian presidents agreed on the document, which has been seen by POLITICO, they ended up not meeting after Rouhani insisted that Trump first declare he would lift U.S. sanctions, according to the officials. A phone call that Macron tried to set up between the two leaders as an alternative to the meeting did not take place because Rouhani declined to participate.

The document was the result of days of shuttle diplomacy by Macron on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, with the aim of defusing tension between Tehran and Washington. That tension has been rising since Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal under which Iran accepted controls on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Drone Technology Proliferation in Small Wars

Scott Crino and Andy Dreby

The recent drone attacks targeting critical components of Saudi Arabia’s energy sector, highlighted by the September fourteenth attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Khurais oilfield and Abqaiq refinery, demonstrate the strategic effect small drones can make in conflict zones. While initially attributed to the Houthi‑Movement, officially Ansar Allah, the attacks on Khurais and Abqaiq originated from Iranian territory. The fiery videos of the attacks and their impact on Saudi oil production brought international attention to the Arabian Peninsula where the Houthis and the Yemeni government are locked in five-year-old civil war.

With Iranian technical and material assistance, the Houthis have conducted dozens of UAS attacks in recent months against targets deep inside the Saudi Kingdom who are leading a coalition against the rebels. The Houthis drone war against the Saudis supports a propaganda strategy of theirs which aims to create the impression the Houthis are strong and the Saudis are unable to contain them. While the Houthis have on occasion scored hits against their intended targets, most of the Houthi attacks either miss their marks or are defeated by Saudi air defenses. While the Houthi rebels have an undeniable drone capability, the Khurais and Abqaiq attacks were an Iranian operation, likely carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with the direction of the attack coming from outside Yemen, behind Saudi radars.

Mission Accomplished? The Perils of Declaring a Premature Victory Over ISIS

by Elena Pokalova 

In July 2019, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, a mechanic working for American Airlines, attempted to tamper with a plane’s navigation systems at Miami International Airport. Alani allegedly super glued styrofoam inside the plane, but the pilots detected the malfunction in time before the plane took off. While the offense was serious enough, what is even more worrisome are the links that were discovered between Alani and ISIS. Investigators found that Alani had videos of ISIS murders on his phone and made statements indicating he was hoping Allah would harm non-Muslims. Alani’s act is a harbinger of what might be coming: further ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in different places across the world. ISIS might have lost most of its territories in Syria and Iraq. However, the group is far from being defeated. Believing otherwise places international security at risk and provides a false sense of protection against future acts similar to those of Alani.

US President Donald Trump has issued multiple declaration of victory over ISIS. Back in December 2018, Mr. Trump stated: “We have won against ISIS.” He subsequently initiated US troop withdrawals from Syria. The administration has equated the loss of physical territory with ISIS defeat. By the summer of 2019, ISIS no longer wielded control over its territorial caliphate in Syria and Iraq, as the last stronghold of Baghouz fell in Syria in March. In July 2019, President Trump reiterated his belief in the triumph over ISIS: “We have 100 percent of the caliphate, and we’re rapidly pulling out of Syria. We’ll be out of there pretty soon. And let them handle their own problems. Syria can handle their own problems—along with Iran, along with Russia, along with Iraq, along with Turkey. We’re 7,000 miles away.”

Can ISIS Make a Comeback?

By Seth J. Frantzman – The National Interest

U.S. forces in northern Iraq, working with partners on the ground, are confident that the remnants of the Islamic State can be confronted, two years after ISIS lost the last pockets of land it held. It has been five years since Washington committed forces to Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. Today, operating with a relatively small footprint across central and northern Iraq, the operation is continuing but there are questions on the ground about what comes next and whether an ISIS resurgence is in the works.

Lt. Col. Jace Neuenschwander, a battalion commander in Task Force Nineveh which is part of the U.S.-led coalition effort, says that ISIS has tried to adapt to finding new places to exploit gaps in security in Iraq to stay alive. Located near Mosul, Neuenschwander and several hundred personnel are part of the tip of the spear in terms of identifying an ISIS resurgence. “[ISIS have] had a hard time staying alive,” he says. ISIS keeps a low profile and is losing ground, safe havens and smuggling routes. His sector, which stretches around the city of Mosul towards the Syrian border is “not as active as it once was” and the Iraqi Security Forces are doing a good job…

Iran Opens a Second Front Along Israel’s Border

by Jonathan Speyer 
Israel is fighting off Iranian expansion across the Middle East, but danger for the Jewish state lurks near its own borders. Painstaking work by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and their loyal proxies has succeeded in laying the groundwork for a second Iranian front with Israel in the Golan Heights.

The first front is to Israel’s north in South Lebanon. The Golan, which Israel won from Syria in 1967, lies further east. Though Israel rules the skies, the Syrian land adjoining Israel’s border appears increasingly to belong to Iran. Reports from both Israelis and Syrian opposition groups have revealed glimpses of the methods the Iranians and their allies have employed to build a military infrastructure on the Syrian side of the Golan.

One is “The Iranian Conquest of Syria,” a report published last month by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The authors are two retired senior Israeli military intelligence officers, Brig. Gen. Shimon Shapira and Col. Jacques Neriah. They explain how Iranian and Hezbollah fighters have crept methodically westward from the Syrian lava field of Lajat, 40 miles from the Golan Heights in Syria’s southwest, to the broken nation’s Quneitra province, which is even closer…

Diverse, layered missile defense is key to killing drone swarms

By: Steven P. Bucci 
On Sept. 14, 2019, the Aramco oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia were attacked by drones and possibly cruise missiles. While the rebel Houthi movement in Yemen claimed responsibility, few believed this canard. American, British, French, German and Saudi intelligence officials all point to Iran as the culprit. This is just the latest of Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region.

The oil field attack was significant, as it cut Saudi oil production in half — a significant hit to the world’s production. Tensions in the region have been higher than usual in the face of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, the American diplomatic and trade pressure on Iran, Iran’s hostile actions against shipping (mining two vessels and highjacking others), and most recently “offering” at a U.N. General Assembly meeting to take over regional security responsibilities to get the West to leave the region.

Beyond all that, the West needs to learn some lessons from the attack. Missile defense critics quickly deemed Saudi Arabia’s use of the American-made MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system as insufficient protection for this attack. Perhaps it was, but we don’t yet know enough to make that call. Western leaders should not jump to premature conclusions of which weapons and technology were even used or if any of the current defense systems “failed.” This helps no one, is opportunistic and could lead to dangerous decisions going forward.

Iran and Saudi Arabia flags.

By James M. Dorsey

Fears of a potential military conflict with Iran may have opened the door to a Saudi-Iranian dialogue against the backdrop of a rethink of US military logistics, involving at least a gradual partial relocation to the United States of command and control operations based in the Gulf for almost four decades.

The relocation does not necessarily signal a reduced US commitment to the defense of the strategic energy-rich region even if it comes amid Gulf suspicions that the United States is gradually withdrawing from the Middle East.

Nonetheless, the move, officially intended to reduce the vulnerability of US military assets to a potential Iranian strike without decreasing the United States’ operational capability, is bolstering a rethink in capitals across Eurasia, including Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh about possible alternative, more collective and multilateral security arrangements in the Gulf.

The arrangements would involve the Gulf states, Russia, China, the US, the European Union and India as well as other stakeholders, a likely reference to Iran. By necessity, it would require a lowering of tension in the region and a degree of accommodation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Geoeconomic Superstorm Threatening the Globe’s Three Financial Hubs

Michael B. Greenwald
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For close to four decades, New York, London, and Hong Kong have dominated the international financial system as first among equals relative to their peers. All three cities are characterized by extensive financial services, ranging from boutique advisory to liquid capital markets, attracting firms from across not only their respective continents, but the globe as a whole. Since the early 1980s, the reputation of these cities has been bolstered by an iron-clad rule of law and stable political environments that has underpinned their financial prowess. Yet of these cities, London and Hong Kong are increasingly threatened by not only external trends, like the rise of China, but also internal political strife, best encapsulated in the Brexit debate and the Extradition Bill protests. In the long-term, it is clear that while these cities will continue to play outsized roles in international business, their current privileged status may be more precarious than it seems.

Since China’s early market reforms, Hong Kong has served as the go-to financial hub for the Mainland. Early on, Beijing listed many of its behemoth state-owned enterprises, including Sinopec, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, and China Telecom, on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The exchange’s owner, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX), has also played a vital role in facilitating foreign access to Mainland markets. To preserve its system of capital controls, Beijing tightly regulates foreign access to the country’s financial markets but has allowed for some regulatory schemes to be developed in Hong Kong. Through HKEX’s Stock Connect and Bond Connect programs, foreign investors can trade Mainland debt and equity markets, subject to some limitations. All in all, Hong Kong has made a fortune facilitating access to the Mainland.

The Unwanted Wars: Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever

by Robert Mally

The war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’ entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in recent memory. 

A conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies, an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq. Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility…

America’s Answer to Huawei

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The U.S. military is used to being ahead of the curve. In the 1980s, the Pentagon’s investment in breakthrough technologies like stealth and the internet helped win the Cold War with the Soviet Union and cemented the United States’ status as the world’s sole superpower.

Today, the United States is at a similar inflection point in its competition with China. But this time the U.S. government—which has grown clunky and risk averse in its dealing with innovation in the commercial sector—is ill equipped to lead in a number of key technology areas that are going to define the future of warfare.

One of those key areas is fifth-generation wireless networks and technology, known as 5G. 5G will offer exponentially faster data speeds and volume than today’s mobile networks, enabling a host of new technologies that promise to revolutionize the entire global economy, in such fields as self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. 

October 1944: Remembering One of the Largest Battles in Naval History

By Robert Farley

For four days in late October 1944, the United States and Japan fought one of the largest battles in naval history. The United States brought over 300 ships to the invasion of the island of Leyte in the Philippines, which the Japanese attempted to prevent with nearly 70 warships of its own. The battle resulted in the decisive defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the beginning of the U.S. reconquest of the Philippines. This is the first in a series of posts examining how the battle is remembered by the nations it affected, primarily the United States, Japan, and the Philippines.

The people of the Philippines are often consigned a minor role in treatments of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese armed forces conquered the Philippines in the months following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The campaign began on December 8, 1941 and ended with the surrender of U.S. troops on Corregidor in May 1942. Filipinos mounted a bitter insurgency in response to the Japanese invasion, encouraged both by Japanese depredations and the promise of independence from the United States.

The Tyrannical Mr. Trump

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No use kidding ourselves any longer. Donald Trump’s response to the impeachment probe into his documented attempt to use U.S. foreign policy to advance his political fortunes reveals, more than anything else he’s done so far, that this president has little use for the Constitution or the traditions of American democracy. He sides with the autocrats of the world because he himself is one—or, at the very least, aspires to be.

And that extends to the constitutional provisions for his removal: Based on what he has said in recent days, even if Trump is impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, he may well reject such a verdict as illegitimate. Trump has already warned that a “civil war” might ensue. On Tuesday night he tweeted: “I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP.” 

The U.S. constitutional crisis is, in other words, only in its beginning stages.


Lauren R. Rublin has a feature article in this weekend’s (September 30, 2019) Barron’s, “The Future Of Biotech,” which is quite lengthy/several pages long — so, I will do my best to highlight the key points/takeaways. I refer you to this weekend’s Barron’s for the full article.

Ms. Rublin begins, “recent advances in biotechnology, from data-driven diagnostics, to game-changing gene therapies, suggest we’re on the cusp of a golden age in which many feared diseases will become treatable, or even cured.” Ms. Rublin interviewed five members of Barron’s first biotech roundtable of analysts and investors to discuss “what excites them about the coming disruption in health care — and, how to invest in and profit from them, too.”

How Can Nonspecialists Identify The Industry’s Disruptive Innovators? 

Ziad Barki, [fund] manager of the $12.5B T. Rowe Price Health Sciences Fund (ticker: PRHSX), told Barron’s/Ms. Rublin that “It’s difficult to differentiate among early stage opportunities. We look for therapies that have achieved some level of proof of concept, whether in terms of survival benefit, or other clinical benefit. If they are without competitors, that is the holy grail. Recently, there has been so much innovation that multiple companies are coming to the market to treat the same conditions. When that happens, you see new competition. The migraine space is a good example,” he said.

What Would Happen If Facebook Was Turned Off?

There has never been such an agglomeration of humanity as Facebook. Some 2.3bn people, 30% of the world’s population, engage with the network each month. Economists reckon it may yield trillions of dollars’ worth of value for its users. But Facebook is also blamed for all sorts of social horrors: from addiction and bullying to the erosion of fact-based political discourse and the enabling of genocide. New research — and there is more all the time — suggests such accusations are not entirely without merit. It may be time to consider what life without Facebook would be like.

To begin to imagine such a world, suppose that researchers could kick a sample of people off Facebook and observe the results. In fact, several teams of scholars have done just that. In January Hunt Allcott, of New York University, and Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer and Matthew Gentzkow, of Stanford University, published results of the largest such experiment yet. They recruited several thousand Facebookers and sorted them into control and treatment groups. Members of the treatment group were asked to deactivate their Facebook profiles for four weeks in late 2018. The researchers checked up on their volunteers to make sure they stayed off the social network, and then studied what happened to people cast into the digital wilderness.

Cyber Risk Scenarios, the Financial System, and Systemic Risk Assessment


Cyber risk has become a key issue for stakeholders in the financial system. But its properties are still not precisely characterized and well understood. To help develop a better understanding, we discuss the properties of cyber risk and categorize various cyber risk scenarios. Furthermore, we present a conceptual framework for assessing systemic cyber risk to individual countries. This involves analyzing cyber risk exposures, assessing cybersecurity and preparedness capabilities, and identifying buffers available to absorb cyber risk–induced shocks.


Internet usage is globally expanding at a rapid pace. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 1.5 billion new users accessed the internet between 2010 and 2016.1 Although internet access fosters digital, social, and financial inclusion, the ever-expanding digitalization of life increasingly provides opportunities for adversaries. These opportunities range from criminals conducting financial fraud and information theft to sophisticated hackers conducting disruptive and even destructive cyber attacks.

Regional Power Struggles Explain the Rationale Behind Cyber Operations

Alexandra Paulus is a PhD candidate at Chemnitz University of Technology and Dr. Sven Herpig is Head of International Cyber Security Policy at Stiftung Neue Verantwortung.

While traditionally most discussion on cyber operations has focused on great powers, the reality is more nuanced. Aspiring regional powers and their competitors also increasingly employ cyber capabilities. Recent events have made us painfully aware of this reality as Iranian cyber forces allegedly infiltrated multiple targets in Bahrain, a close ally of Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia. It is timely to take a closer look at how regional power hierarchies motivate smaller states to conduct cyber operations and how these cyber operations could trigger conflict.

The Middle East has a long history of geopolitical cyber conflict. Aspiring regional powers conduct cyber operations for at least four reasons: 1) to punch above their geopolitical weight, 2) to signal claims to regional leadership, 3) to advance their regional interests below the threshold of armed conflict, and 4) to gather intelligence on rivals. In all four cases, the contenders for regional powers develop and use cyber capabilities to change regional affairs in their favor.

Is a Middle East Cyberwar Looming?

The recent attack against Saudi Aramco, which both the Saudi and US governments has claimed was the work of Iran, has generated many headlines. It has also brought renewed focus on the long-simmering cyberwar between the two countries.

The attack, in fact, can be seen as a real-world spillover of a cyberwar that has been going on for decades. The recent US cyberattack on Iran, and Trump’s accusations of “treason” against the NYT over releasing details of US attacks on Russia, are just two examples of the kind of attacks that will become more common in the next decade.

In this context, some are fearful that the Middle East could become a new theater in a worldwide cyberwar that will draw in many of the world powers.
The Long War

It’s important to realize that the recent attacks, both physical and cyber, are just the most recent examples of a silent war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The conflict arguably started back in the mid-2000s, when the Stuxnet virus infected systems that Iran was using to enrich uranium. 

NSA activates Cybersecurity Directorate to protect weapons, industrial base

Oct. 1 (UPI) — The National Security Agency on Tuesday launched a Cybersecurity Directorate to bring the agency’s foreign intelligence and cyberdefense missions together.

The new directorate will focus initially on the defense industrial base and the weapon’s security improvement, the agency said, calling it an effort to “unify as a nation against our threats.”

“The Cybersecurity Directorate will reinvigorate NSA’s white hat mission by sharing critical threat information and collaborating with partners and customers to better equip them to defend against malicious cyber activity,” the agency said in a statement.

NSA Director General Paul Nakasone tapped Anne Neuberger, who has been leading the NSA’s “Russia Small Group,” a joint NSA-Cyber Command task force to combat Russian election interference, in July to head the new cybersecurity arm.

“Integrating all of our cyber mission so there’s one focus,” is the goal, Neuberger said regarding the new directorate. “Sharing all our unclassified information as early as possible, as quickly as possible, so we can target that sharing to the right entity and then partner with DHS [Department of Homeland Security] on critical infrastructure … to build the security of that sector.”