Event Report – Terror, Asymmetric Conflicts and Failing States

The Library recently attended the conference “Terror, Asymmetric Conflicts and Failing States: European-Israeli Dialogue on National Security and Regional Stability” in Bibliothèque Solvay. Michael Gahler, a sitting MEP and a member of the EPP, opened the first panel of the afternoon, “New and old conflict zones: Strengthening regional stability on European and Israeli borders”, by criticizing the EU’s role in the Middle East. His view is that rather than the problem being over-zealous action, there has been far too much passivity, citing a lack of political will as the main reason behind this. In particular, he heavily criticized the EU’s inactivity when dealing with the Syria crisis, arguing that it aggravated the situation. Nevertheless, he believed that the EU has been excellent on the humanitarian front and that their support of the Jordan refugee camp has been exemplary. Speaking on the topic of Iran, he said that he is “confident in the [Iranian] people but not in the regime”. Nevertheless, he still sees the Iran deal as a positive step forward, as it allows more moderate political groups to gain ground in Iran.

Dr Anat Hochberg-Marom, an expert on terrorism and the Middle East, continued the discussion by analysing the marketing dimension of Daesh. She argued that Daesh’s global jihad is far different to the situation in Israel, as it is an ideological war over the minds of 1.6 million Muslims rather than a regional conflict. She strongly advocated that the EU needs to contend the jihadi discourse in cyberspace, especially in social networks, in order to win the war of ideas and minds. In order to combat this, EU policies should include the implementation of ideological tools in addition to typical policies so that Daesh will be engaged in a ‘marketing war’. This would involve the EU employing the same tactics that a marketing campaign would use, including audience identification and targeted dissemination of material.2ndPanel

Dr Israel Elad Altman, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, located two separate causes of instability in the region: external causes such as foreign intervention which resulted in fall of regimes and subsequently more violence, and internal causes such as the droughts in Syria, Yemen and Egypt. He also called attention to the fact that many states in the Middle East are not cultural entities with natural borders, but are countries with artificially drawn partitions. There is also a notable absence of civil society organisations acting as intermediates between society and state, and that there is a huge amount of religious influence in these states’ machinery. In order to aid these flagging states, he said that Europe should improve water infrastructure, empower women, stop trying to unify countries when it’s an impossible task, and attempt to balance power between different cultures and regions.

Dr Jamie Shea, a deputy assistant secretary general from NATO believes that the situation in the Middle East is the ‘great tragedy of our age’, and that it most certainly get worse before it gets better. He proceeded to list some startling figures from the world bank: it estimates that it would cost over 180 billion dollars to reconstruct buildings in Syria, and that it would cost 12 billion dollars to reconstruct only one city.

While acknowledging that the future model of Arab statehood is as much a philosophical problem as it is practical one, he laid out the following as current objectives: Domestic stability, instigating a dialogue with Russia, and eliminating Daesh in the context that it won’t resurrect. He echoed Gahler’s sentiments about passivity in Syria. However, he underlines that there are positives to be drawn from how Daesh has been dealt with thus far. Formerly, they had nine million people under their control but the current figure is now inhabiting around six million. The number of foreign fighters entering has been reduced from 1500 every month to 300 due to increased intelligence. To conclude, he stated that we need the diplomatic process to begin as soon as possible. If the civil war doesn’t stop, rebuilding won’t be possible, but he confessed that unity will probably not be the solution.

Cristian Dan Preda, an MEP and member of the EPP, was part of the discussion for the second panel, “Terrorism from the Centre of Society: Joint strategies against a hidden enemy.” He said that there’s a national dimension to these attacks and it’s not just a European concern, but a domestic problem too. As Mr Preda notes, foreign fighters are educated in our schools. The total number of foreign fighters in Syria is somewhere between 27,000-30,000. Of this number, 5,000 of them are from the EU. To further break it down, 3700 are from only four member states, Belgium, Germany, France and the UK. In order to combat this, Mr Preda believes that states have to monitor movements of some citizens, drain their resources and monitor commanders. He believes that PNR is a positive step, as it improves information and intelligence, and can also prevent radicalisation.

Dr Peter Spoor, advisor to the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator at the European Council, closed the panel by questioning previous assertions that terrorists are at the centre of Muslim communities, instead arguing that they’re frequently marginalized and are even lacking a solid grip on Islam. Spoor argued that we need a supranational response to these threats, despite terrorism being a national competency. For an example of the type of practices that would occur, he explained how Europol has a unit dedicated to ringing Facebook to remove offending content. He also believes it’s necessary to create civil society narratives and help them get them on social media in order to counteract the terrorist narratives, and that the EU has to be stricter with how weapons are decommissioned. He forsees the EU having a key role to play in order to bridge the Sunni and Shia divide.

The event came to a close with David Walzer, the Ambassador of Israel to the EU and NATO, giving a speech. He urged closer ties between the EU and Israel, and wished that the EU would not just come to Israel when they are struggling with terrorism. Instead, he wished the EU would welcome Israel’s citizens with open arms.

To learn more about international terrorism, we invite our readers to visit our catalogue and discover a recent selection of books and articles on this topic.

The Library is open to all staff of the Council of the European Union and the European Council, trainees, Permanent Representations of Member States, staff of other EU Institutions and bodies, as well as to researchers and students (upon appointment by e-mail at library@consilium.europa.eu). Access to some Library holdings might be restricted to on-site consultation.

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