The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Islamic terrorist organizations

On Sun April 22, Dr. Yoram Kahati spoke on the subject “The Arab Spring and the Islamic terrorist organizations,” at AACI-Netanya. Dr. Kahati is a very experienced expert in this subject, being a fluent speaker of Arabic. He started out by telling how, because he is dark-skinned and looks like an Arab, he is often mistaken for one. This proved to be very helpful at various stages in his life when he was working for IDF intelligence. He told how when he sits down in a London Underground train people avoid sitting near him, and how Arabs come up to him and chat in Arabic. This way he made many Arab friends and received unsolicited information that in some cases helped in intelligence analysis. Often he was asked by Arabs, where is your accent from, but of course he never told them that his family were Jews from Yemen.

Dr. Kahati earned his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics (LSE). He retired from the IDF with the rank of Major, having served as Senior Intelligence Analyst in IDF Military Intelligence. Dr. Kahati works at the The Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC) and is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. He is also Deputy Director and Senior Researcher at the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) of the IICC. He is an expert on radical Islam, global Islamic terrorism and the history of the Arab Middle East and has lectured on these subjects in Israel and abroad. This is my summary of his talk.

In analyzing the current situation in the Middle East, Dr. Kahati pointed out that things are in a state of flux. In Egypt they are still trying to decide who will run in the the Presidential race, and a lot will depend on who wins that election. The truly difficult question to answer is will the military give up their current control to any kind of elected forces, particularly the Moslem Brotherhood (MB)? This is not only because politically the Armed forces are the enemies of the MB, but also they control much of the economic life of Egypt and they will not give this up without a struggle. So it is likely that there will be further strife in the future of Egypt. Because of that one can expect chaos rather than an organized campaign against Israel.

The international Islamist terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda were caught napping by the Arab uprisings in the Maghreb and Egypt. They were supposed to be leading the violent overthrow of the dictatorial Arab regimes, but instead they were left behind. Now they are making a late attempt to infiltrate into the revolutionary forces, but for example the MB have rebuffed them, since they don’t really need them and see that unrestrained anti-western violence is not in their interests. Billions of US dollars and other aid is at stake.

In Syria there is effectively a civil war, and neither the masses of Sunnis not the Alawite regime can give up the struggle. Particularly Assad and his followers know that their very lives are at stake. SInce the Alawites are Shia sympathizers this struggle is of vital concern to Iran. The loss of Syria would be a major strategic loss to Iran, because it would sever their supply lines to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. That is why the Saudis and Gulf countries are supporting the opposition to the regime in Syria. Hamas is split between those who want to retain their connection to Assad’s Syria and Shia Iran, particularly the ruling Hamas party in Gaza under Ismail Haniyeh, and those who want to sever that tie and switch whole-heartedly to the Sunni MB in Egypt, particularly the exiled Hamas leaders such as Khaled Mashaal who have moved their HQ from Damascus to Cairo. At present Hamas is trying very hard to pretend that there is no such split and are focusing on the illusory unity with Fatah.

In general it can be said that the Arab uprisings have left the terrorist organizations in a deep quandary. Why do they exist if the Arab revolutions happened without them? They are trying to find out what is happening and what their future role might be. During this process it is unlikely that the terrorist organizations can take any concerted action. How long this state of flux in the Arab world will last is difficult to tell, but it could take decades before we can draw any substantive conclusions.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.