Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Saudi Arabia's activist heir/ Salafi-jihad ideology after ISIS

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Update from AIJAC



Update 07/17 #01



With the Saudi led stand-off against Qatar continuing, changes in Saudi leadership hierarchies, and challenges to ISIS domination, this Update takes a look at what impact the changes in internal and external power dynamics of leading Arab nations can have on the region. This is coupled with what can be expected after the downfall of ISIS—which may not be too far off.
 
First up is Ambassador Dennis Ross, distinguished American diplomat and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  Ross discusses what the shake-up in the Saudi royal hierarchy, which now puts the King’s son Mohammad bin Salman as the new heir to the throne, means for the transforming nation. With this change coming in the middle of the crisis with Qatar, the West has a clear “stake in the successful transformation of Saudi Arabia, and finding the right way to work with the Crown Prince is the place to start.” For more of his arguments, CLICK HERE.

Next up is retired IDF Major General Yaakov Amidror who provides another outlook on Mohammad bin Salman’s ascension to Saudi Crown Prince. He discusses the changes that bin Salman hopes to make as well as the challenges that stand in his way. It is clear to him that in order for Saudi Arabia to take the position of leadership it is clearly aiming for, it cannot do so alone. For more of his analysis, CLICK HERE

Finally international terrorism expert Yoram Schweitzer analyzes the declining influence of the Islamic State as an entity and compares this decline with its influence on the Salafi-Jihad movement. As Schweitzer sees it, the Islamic State is failing as it continues to lose ground and finds its influence waning. Where it has succeeded however has been through its growing influence on the Salafi-jihad movement. For more on how and why this must be addressed, CLICK HERE.

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Article 1

The path to a new Saudi Arabia


Where the new crown prince wants to take the critical Gulf state, and the obstacles in his way



Dennis Ross
 
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, Thursday, June 29, 2017, 5:00 AM


Meet the crown prince (Charles Platiau/REUTERS)
 
Saudi Arabia has a new crown prince. Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, is clearly now slated to succeed his father, King Salman. At 31, the kingdom has never seen anyone like him. He has been given very wide responsibilities as defense minister and overseer of the Saudi economy and its transformation. As one Saudi minister said to me shortly before I met him, “You are about to meet our force of nature.”

There is no question that he is driven. He believes that Saudi Arabia must diversify its economy and modernize the state, its governance and even its sociology. He knows that in an age of rapid technological change, Saudi Arabia must create a knowledge-based economy.

Visit the college of entrepreneurship in King Abdullah City and it feels like being on the Google campus. But it is not just the layout, it is the coed students, who exude an energy and sense that they can reshape the country. And there is little doubt that MbS is their inspiration.
Whether they and the new crown prince can succeed remains to be seen.

Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative country where social change in general, and particularly for women, will not come easily. The religious establishment will resist change and a diminution of its role. It has taught — and exported — an austere, deeply intolerant strain of Islam.

They have controlled education and social mores, and done so as part of a deal with the royal family. Significant parts of the royal family may also resist as the crown prince cuts off the moneys that have always been available to them.

In an era of reduced oil prices, the crown prince’s task becomes more difficult still. Already some of the salary cuts he imposed to reduce the budget deficit have been rolled back given the opposition they engendered.

Still, he is pushing forward, promising to diversify the sources of revenue, working to change the culture — bringing concerts and dance troupes to the kingdom, even as he seeks to transform the Saudi educational system. His minister of education wants, for example, to do away with the old textbooks, replacing both their content and changing the rote style of instruction by introducing interactive digital tablets in place of books.

The challenges are not only internal. External threats start with Iran. The crown prince sees Iran as an existential threat and is determined to counter it. Saudi Arabia drew a line in Yemen when it saw the Iranian hand in the Houthi overthrow of the Yemeni government (and was convinced the Obama administration would never act against Iranian aggression).

Its intervention has proved costly for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — not to mention the price it is imposing on an already impoverished Yemen.

In addition, the kingdom, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, is now embroiled in an effort to force Qatar to change its policy of double-dealing — being a putative partner to these states and the U.S. while it also provides material support and a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Taliban and Al Qaeda affiliates.

Like the Saudis, we have endured this double game for far too long. And while President Trump initially applauded the Saudi pressure campaign against Qatar, his administration now seems to have altered its course.

In an unprecedented way to speak about a friendly country, the State Department spokesman said the administration was “mystified” by what the Saudis were doing toward Qatar, saying that it had not provided clear conditions that the Qataris had to meet and seemed to be trying not to change Qatar’s behavior but its regime.

Well, the Saudis have now conveyed 13 conditions through Kuwait, which is acting as a mediator with Qatar. There are surely some, like seeking “reparations and compensation” for damages caused by Qatar’s policies, that go too far, but there are others that do not.

For example, expelling Iranian Revolutionary Guard members from Qatar, severing ties to terrorist groups, and stopping the funding of organizations and individuals that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia as well as the United States and other countries are appropriate and necessary.
Maybe it is too much to ask the Qataris to shut down Al Jazeera, but isn’t it time to stop its subsidizing the network when it gives a platform to those like Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi who legitimize terrorism?

It is easy to understand why the Trump administration wants the imbroglio between the Saudis and Qataris to stop. But it should be supporting the effort to get Qatar to change its ways. Berating the Saudis is not the way to produce that.

We have a stake in the successful transformation of Saudi Arabia, and finding the right way to work with the crown prince is the place to start.

Ross is counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship From Truman to Obama.”

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Article 2

A young, determined heir

 

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror

Israel Hayom, June 22, 2017

I recently heard from a foreign expert that the Saudi royal family is undergoing a process of change -- a process that gathered steam after the recent visit by U.S. President Donald Trump. The visit demonstrated to the Saudis that they had the support of the U.S. -- something they did not get from the last president. Indeed, naming the king's son the new heir to the throne on Wednesday represented both the reform process itself and its growing momentum.

It was clear that the process wouldn't be easy, since this is the first time since the founder of the dynasty died in 1953 that the next generation, the grandchildren, are taking over. Thus far, the kings have been the sons of the first king -- six half-brothers who inherited the crown from one another, which naturally led to an increasingly elderly leadership. There are no more of these brothers left, and it was unclear which grandson would become the crown heir. The family decided on Wednesday that it would be Mohammed, the son of the current king, Salman. The man he has displaced as heir publicly swore allegiance to him that very day, a sign that he accepts the new heir's authority even though he himself had been the leading candidate to inherit the throne and is 26 years older than the new 31-year-old heir.

It will be interesting to see whom the new heir to the throne selects as his right-hand man, a role he himself filled until his unexpected promotion. His selection will shed light on the coalition that was recruited to secure a large majority in support of the new nomination in the family council. If the appointment passes quietly, as it appears likely to, it will be a great victory for the king and his son, who wish to enact reforms in at least three key areas:

First, the heir has announced a large-scale plan to overhaul the Saudi economy, which, among other points, includes reducing its dependence on the price of oil, practically the kingdom's only export, and to bring many more Saudis into the job market, which currently rests on foreign workers.

Second, the immense amounts the Saudis are about to spend on weapons should put them in an entirely different position when it comes to their ability to confront the Iranian threat. Saudi Arabia will have to change its approach to the military challenge to ensure that the efforts bear fruit and don't just end up an expensive and useless endeavor.


While Saudi spending on weaponry can put them on a different footing in confronting Iran, they will have to change their military approach to make their military effective with them.

Finally, Saudi Arabia wants to change its regional and international status. It realizes that this will hinge on the kingdom's domestic success in the other two areas -- overhauling its economy and refocusing its military efforts.

It is clear to Saudi Arabia that it cannot lead the Sunni Arab world on its own and needs to cooperate with other countries. It appears that the new heir to the throne gets along well with the leader of the United Arab Emirates, and they have already consulted with each other on taking action in the war in Yemen, as well as on the decision to boycott Qatar.

 




New Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his meeting with Egyptian President Sisi in 2015: The Saudis aspire to lead the Sunni Arab states in confronting their many serious challenges.

The Sunni Arab nations, including Egypt, are facing big challenges that have to do with a combination of the dramatic drop in oil prices, the rising threat from Iran, the growing strength of Sunni Muslim extremism -- such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group -- and, until recently, diminishing American involvement in the region. The new crown heir is seen as determined to meet these challenges head-on. He will be tested on the results, because he now has all the requisite authority to take them on.

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Article 3

The Islamic State: Down - The Salafi-Jihad Movement: Up



Yoram Schweitzer
 
INSS Insight No. 947, June 29, 2017
 
At the close of three years since the announcement of the Islamic State, it is clear that al-Baghdadi’s gamble in declaring his establishment of an Islamic empire has failed, but his influence on the Salafi-jihad movement in the Middle East theater and other regions has grown. In order to prevent the strengthening of this movement, whose forces are spread throughout the world, a sober understanding is required of the intention of the Salafi-jihad movement to temporarily suspend the caliphate idea, and replace it with the establishment of emirates in territories where the movement has a presence and there are existing problems with national government structures. Therefore, in addition to a focused military campaign against organizations, networks, and activists who are part of this ideological movement, action involving close international cooperation in political, economic, diplomatic, legal, and educational aspects should be taken, in order to prevent the threat of terrorism by this movement from reappearing and expanding.

In its third year, the Islamic State suffered increasing military defeats and found itself in steady retreat. Nonetheless, in its fourth year, the Islamic State is likely to continue to be a focus of the international public debate about the war against global terrorism. The explosion caused by Islamic State combatants in the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivered his historic inaugural sermon to Islamic State fighters in 2014, is a good reflection of the Islamic State’s dire straits, and at the same time underscores its intention to sow death and destruction and thereby exact a heavy price before its demise. Although the process of collapse has intensified, its ultimate duration is unclear, because the Islamic State still has a strong military presence and much ideological influence in various areas of the Middle East and beyond, and even has the potential capability to return to some of the areas from which it was expelled. Thus at the close of three years since the announcement of the Islamic State, it is clear that al-Baghdadi’s gamble in declaring his establishment of an Islamic empire has failed, but his influence on the Salafi-jihad movement in the Middle East theater and other regions has grown.


Before and after images of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul - once home to ISIS' inaugural sermon, now destroyed by ISIS (Photo courtesy of CNN).

Despite the failure of its ambition to establish a new Islamic empire, the Islamic State has succeeded in rejuvenating the Salafi-jihad movement, after it appeared that the terrorist threat posed by the movement had passed, or at least waned. With the commencement of the Arab Spring events less than a decade after the September 11, 2001 attack, followed by the killing of Bin Laden and many of the leaders of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, it appeared to many, including more than a few Western leaders, that the Salafi-jihad movement, led by al-Qaeda, had suffered a critical blow and was in strategic retreat. The appearance of the Islamic State, however, fostered a new belligerent spirit among many young Muslims. The basis for al-Baghdadi’s declaration of the establishment of the Islamic State reflected his belief that the geopolitical circumstances that sparked the upheaval in the Middle East enabled realization of the vision of a new Islamic caliphate.

The Islamic State leaders chose to base the Islamic State on flagrant, public, and widespread terrorism, in direct affront to universal values and norms, against their many opponents in Arab and Muslim countries, Western countries, and even their former partners in al-Qaeda and its allies in the Salafi-jihad movement. The brutality committed by the Islamic State, including mass executions, beheadings, and ethnic cleansing of minorities, broadcast on the social networks as part of its widespread propaganda, created a smokescreen for al-Qaeda and its affiliates, which they used to recruit many new operatives to their ranks, and even extended their activity to new theaters.

The formation of an international coalition in the war against the terrorist entity founded by al-Baghdadi culminated in the current situation, in which the Islamic State has lost a large part of the territories that it previously conquered, and many of its senior leaders – apparently including al-Baghdadi himself, according to reports – have been eliminated. Whether or not al-Baghdadi survived a recent attack by Russian warplanes, it is clear that his fate is sealed. Yet even without Caliph al-Baghdadi, the wider Salafi-jihad camp includes the Islamic State throughout the Middle East, and the combatants of the terrorist organizations that accepted its sponsorship in Africa, the Maghreb, southern and central Asia, and Southeast Asia, as well as al-Qaeda and its partners. At this stage, all of these groups have profited, because they have grown in numbers and have strengthened their grip on extensive geographic areas in various regions of the world. This buildup has taken place against a background of the destabilization of regimes, the loss of legitimacy among national leaders, and these leaders’ difficulty in enforcing their rule in their countries.

The Islamic State, which acted in the name of Salafi-jihad ideology, found its way to the hearts of many Muslims – even more than those who had joined the ranks of al-Qaeda. This occurred not only in the Muslim countries, but also in the West in general, and particularly in Europe. European countries have been faced with waging an intensive struggle on their home territory against terrorism motivated by a philosophy identified primarily with the Islamic State, which uses terrorism and constitutes a source of inspiration for terrorism carried out in its name in a number of channels. The first of these channels is terrorism initiated, managed, and carried out by the Islamic State. The second is terrorism managed remotely by European operatives who migrated to the Islamic State and joined its ranks, and who encourage local volunteers in Europe and send them to launch terrorist acts in its name. The third is terrorism carried out by those living in Europe who have never migrated to the Islamic State or joined its ranks, but are inspired by it and ascribe their terrorist activity to it out of a feeling of identification. This campaign of terrorism is based on many hundreds of European citizens who are born Muslims or converts to Islam, and is expected to continue in the coming years. Its success or lack thereof, which will determine to a great extent the Islamic State’s ability to remain in Western public consciousness, depends mainly on the ability of the intelligence and security services in Western countries to thwart the Islamic State’s acts of terrorism and cooperation with its allies outside Europe.

Despite the bitter personal and inter-organizational conflict between the Islamic State and its partners on the one hand and al-Qaeda and its affiliates on the other, and the disputes concerning the correct strategy for realizing their shared vision of establishing the Islamic caliphate, as expressed in venomous rhetorical exchanges and sometimes also in violent clashes between the two sides, what they have in common is still much greater than what separates them. Furthermore, it is likely that as the international pressure against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda increases, the chances of a rapprochement between them will also grow. The deaths of Islamic State leaders, particularly Caliph Baghdadi - whose successor can fill a functional role, but will not command the same spiritual authority - raises the possibility that all the organizations in the Salafi-jihad camp will combine forces. Therefore, although a formal reunion between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda appears unrealistic, local ad hoc cooperation between groups and terrorist networks, and even more, movement of operatives or organized units across and within the various groups identified with this ideology, can certainly be expected.


Unconfirmed claims say self-proclaimed Islamic state Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has been killed  - if so, his successors will not command the same spiritual authority  

Against this background, the challenge facing the international coalition formed in order to defeat the Islamic State remains intact. The stage of halting its advance, eliminating the territorial contiguity it achieved in its early years, and uprooting its rule may have reached an advanced stage, but the necessity of preventing it from regaining its strength and weakening the entire Salafi-jihad camp is still of supreme importance. The international coalition against terrorism must therefore aim at achieving the following goals:
  1. The complete uprooting of the Islamic State from its bases in Mosul and western Iraq, and in Syria, mainly in Deir ez-Zor and al-Raqqah. It is also essential to take advantage of the momentum to remove the Islamic State from Libya and other regions in which it has a presence, and to sever the connections between it and local terrorist organizations outside the Middle East.
  2. Preventing the Islamic State from reestablishing itself in places from which it has been driven out.
  3. Strengthening local groups and helping them rebuild, following the destruction and the physical and psychological harm to the population inflicted by the Islamic State.
  4. Extending the momentum of the struggle against al-Qaeda and the affiliates that have gained strength in recent years and are eager to recruit to their ranks surviving Islamic state members looking for an alternative organizational framework in order to continue a violent jihad.
  5. Halting planned terrorist operations in the West aimed at sowing fear among the public and causing governmental destabilization, while causing friction between citizens and Muslim communities and generating hope among Salafi-jihad supporters that their actions and ambitions to reestablish the Islamic caliphate are not in vain. Preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks liable to drag the Western countries into a large scale military response against the perpetrators and supporters of the terrorist attacks is particularly important. Such a response is liable to play into the terrorists’ hands, because it will justify claims that the West is deliberately plotting against Islam.
In order to progress toward these goals, economic, political, and diplomatic efforts should be made in the countries participating in the campaign against terrorism and confronting the jihad movement. Leaders should be encouraged to prefer a policy of cooperation and containment over a policy of exclusion of various movements in their societies. Such a policy is likely to help reduce the motivation of young people to use violence and curb their exploitation by external groups seeking to inspire terrorist activity and cause destabilization.

In recent years, the Middle East has been an important theater for violent friction between the global and regional powers seeking to enhance their influence in the region. The campaign against the Islamic State in particular and against terrorism in general is also part of the competition between them, and is waged in the framework of their efforts to promote their respective particular interests. Although it appears that the danger of the Islamic State’s expansion has passed, there should be no letup in the combined effort against it. The rise of the Islamic State in the name of the Salafi-jihad movement has again revealed the danger inherent in the ideology that guides that movement. In order to prevent the strengthening of this movement, whose forces are spread throughout the world, and to avoid a disastrous error, as occurred in the past in the campaign against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, when it appeared that the campaign had fulfilled its goals, a sober understanding is required of the intention of the Salafi-jihad movement to temporarily suspend the caliphate idea, and replace it with the establishment of emirates in territories where the movement has a presence and there are existing problems with national government structures. Therefore, in addition to a focused military campaign against organizations, networks, and activists who are part of this ideological movement, action involving close international cooperation in political, economic, diplomatic, legal, and educational aspects should be taken, in order to prevent the threat of terrorism by this movement from reappearing and expanding.

Yoram Schweitzer is an expert on international terrorism and head of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at Israel's  Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

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