HERZLIYA, ISRAEL. Emergence of a nuclear Iran; turmoil in Egypt and destabilization of secular, pro-Western Middle Eastern states; blurring of the lines between unconventional, conventional, and low-intensity conflicts; explosion of information challenges in and around the battlefields—all of these concerns will increasingly challenge U.S. and regional policymakers and military commanders in the Middle East and beyond. These were conclusions at Israel’s flagship national security event, the Herzliya Conference, which ended February 9.
The prestigious conference, organized by Interdisciplinary College Herzliya, attracted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen; U.K. Defense Minister Liam Fox; U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow; former U.S. National Security Advisor General (Ret.) Jim Jones; foreign and finance ministers from the Netherlands, Italy, and the Czech Republic, and Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the outgoing Israeli Defense Forces Chief of General Staff.
The rise of Iran and its rush to acquire nuclear weapons shifts the balance of power in the Gulf and beyond, as Tehran gains power to strike European capitals from Athens to Moscow by 2014. U.S. intelligence assessments recognize that Iran could gain intercontinental ballistic missile capacity by 2015. Iran is becoming “the neighborhood bully,” said Tzipi Livni, the leader of the main opposition Kadima party and the former Israeli foreign minister. “Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” Livni said.
Iran uses proxies in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, to establish a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, defeating its traditional rival Saudi Arabia. Iran undermines the Palestinian Authority through support of Hamas and meddles in Egypt’s revolution by expressing support for Islamist forces. Yet the pragmatic Arab states, Israel, and the West should boost their conventional military capabilities and not be distracted by the ambitious Iranian nuclear/missile program, says General (Ret.) Danny Rothschild, the Herzliya conference organizer and a former commanding officer of the Israeli Military Intelligence.
Due to international concerns and pressures (a lesson learned from the lengthy 2006 second Lebanon war), Israel’s future conflicts will have to be shorter and more intensive. Israel still has no effective answer to the threat of 40,000 short-range missiles and rockets deployed in Lebanon and Syria.
Eytan Ben-Eliyahu, the former commander of the Israeli Air Force, suggested that to prevent massive strikes against the Israeli civilian targets, Israeli Defense Forces would need to be ready to retaliate against high-value state institutions in Syria (such as military headquarters) and, to lesser degree, in Lebanon.
In the future, many confrontations will occur in cyberspace. In fact, Israeli experts say, the lines between cyberwarfare and “3D” operations are increasingly blurred. While speakers avoided discussion of the Stuxnet computer virus attack on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, they viewed WikiLeaks, al-Jazeera leaks of Palestinian negotiations with Israel, and mass mobilization in Tunis and Egypt through the Internet as formidable information warfare tools. Their importance, according to Israeli and Western experts who spoke at the conference, will only increase. Yet today’s generals, who are in their 40s and 50s, understand Internet 2.0 much worse than their 20-something terrorist adversaries. Several gray-haired generals in their 50s have admitted that the West needs to play catch-up with terrorists and extremists in using social media.
Information, especially online presence and social media, are used to mobilize global pubic opinion against U.S. foreign policy, the West, and the Jewish state. They are becoming crucial to Israel’s effort to combat delegitimization from extremist Muslim and leftist organizations worldwide. Similarly, the U.S. is fighting al-Qaeda and other extremists’ massive online presence, including propaganda, recruitment, online training, and even operation management.
Despite a 10-year conflict, many in the U.S. are still lacking clear understanding of who the enemy is. Boaz Ganor, the founder of Institute to Combat Terrorism at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and one of the world’s leading experts on counterterrorism, quoted a senior U.S. official, who told him, “A Sharia law state is not necessarily going to be anti-democratic.” He also quoted John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, who said that “Islamism and terrorism is not our enemy.”
The conference provided a chilling panorama on the rising storm in the Middle East almost 10 years after 9/11. The U.S. and its allies should heed the warnings that the world’s policymakers and leading security experts sounded in Herzliya before it is too late.