Security threats in the region

The United States’ perception of threats in the Middle East and North Africa do affect global military and security outlook in the MENA region.
Sunday 03/02/2019
Director of US National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about "worldwide threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, on January 29. (Reuters)
Director of US National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about "worldwide threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, on January 29. (Reuters)

Even if their views conflict to a large extent with those of US President Donald Trump, leaders of the American intelligence community have highlighted the continuing perils in the Middle East.

Even if he used strong language in his reaction to intelligence chiefs, Trump expressed concerns that are shared by many, including the US public, regarding Iran.

An AP-NORC poll suggested bipartisan concern with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, involving 51% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans. US public opinion seems unconvinced by Tehran’s protestations and arguments advanced by American advocates of accommodation with the Iranian regime.

On the other hand, it is important that US intelligence chiefs are expressing stances that look at security threats in the Middle East beyond rationale provided by the White House for withdrawing US troops from Syria.

US National Intelligence Director Dan Coats described the Islamic State (ISIS) threat in Syria and Iraq as evolving and not going away.

“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.

There is also the al-Qaeda-linked threat. Although it has formally claimed to have cut its affiliation with al-Qaeda, the extremist group rebranded as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham includes many fighters from the terrorist organisation. It controls about 5% of Syrian territory.

Whether they are acting on behalf of ISIS, al-Qaeda or more obscure groups, organised extremists or lone wolves continue to strike everywhere, be it in the Philippines, Kenya or elsewhere. A report by the African Union Commission noted 614 terrorism-related deaths recorded in Africa from January 1-15.

Concern about the threat of extremism is not subsiding among US intelligence experts or public opinion. “Terrorism remains a persistent threat and, in some ways, is positioned to increase in 2019,” said Coats.

The AP-NORC poll said most respondents in the United States said there is reason for concern about the danger posed by extremists, with 58% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans asked saying they were wary of the threat.

The United States’ perception of threats in the Middle East and North Africa do affect global military and security outlook in the MENA region. Of course, the threat perception is unavoidably tainted by US considerations, biases and interests, the main one being the prism of US national security.

Very often there are common interests between the Arab world and the United States in the fight against terrorism or in thwarting Iranian designs but for Arab populations on the receiving end of terrorist attacks, sectarian agendas or of smart bombs at ground zero, there is bound to be a different perspective about what constitutes a security threat.  A common Arab national security doctrine could help assess such threats and flesh out regional counter-strategies.

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