Valdai Club Debates Evolution of Terrorist Threats in the Middle East
Moscow, Valdai Discussion Club, Conference Hall

On December 14, the Valdai Discussion Club held the presentation of a report titled “Countering the Threat of the Globalization of Middle Eastern Terrorism. A Perspective from Russia and Israel,”dedicated to the internationalization of terrorism and the cooperation of Russian and Israeli state bodies in the solution or minimization of issues.

Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev began the discussion with an overview of issues outlined in the report. He also reminisced about a meeting with the former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, who said that the Taliban is an internal threat of a much lesser magnitude than ISIS.*

Dr. Tatiana Karasova, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Oriental Studies Institute Department for the Study of Israel and Jewish Communities outlined three main issues that the report is based around. The first is the difficulty of cooperation between Russia and Israel because the two countries’ interests and threat levels are very different. For example, Israel faces considerably greater external threats than Russia.

The second part of the report was dedicated to the specifics of the terrorist threat in Russia. The greatest threat is in the Caucasus region (where the fight against terror is rather successful), after that is the threat of radicalization in Muslim areas of Ural and the Volga region (discussed in Valdai Paper #48), and lastly, the spread of radicalism among migrants from Central Asia.

“The experience of combatting internal threats has been developed meticulously in Israel. We taking the same path rather successfully, but using this experience is very important for us,” Karasova noted.

The third part of the report was dedicated to operational tasks in the fight against terrorism. Karasova noted that while the bulk of the fight is against ISIS, a separate issue is the “fluid association” of radicals to various terrorist groups, as extremists can easily change their affiliations.

Countering the Threat of the Globalization of Middle Eastern Terrorism. A Perspective from Russia and Israel Report
Terror began spreading internationally in the late 1960s and early 1970s through the actions of secular ideological and separatist terrorist organizations. In the late 1980s, many radical Islamist organizations pledged their allegiance to a new force – al-Qaeda, one of the largest ultraradical international terrorist organizations of the Wahhabi branch of Islam. Salafi jihadist terrorism fully positioned itself in the international arena with the terrorist attacks of 2001 in the United States.

Karasova also noted the role of the Hamas movement in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which Russia, unlike Israel, does not consider to be terrorist groups. She noted that currently, Israel is also trying to establish contacts with Hamas through back channels. The main goal is the politization of the group, as was done with the Palestine Liberation Organization decades earlier. In only a few years, the PLO went from a terrorist group to a political organization with UN observer status, and currently fights the right-wing Islamist groups in Palestine.

Discussing forecasts and prospects with Timofeev, Karasova noted that the US is pursuing a policy of “offshoring” the fight against terror by directly aiding states in the region. She stressed that Russia does not seek to replace the US as the main force in the Middle East. Karasova also distinguished the separate issue of the “population bubble” in the region, which led to the emergence of a large number of youth without clear economic opportunities.

Elena Suponina, advisor to the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, noted that disagreements between Russia and Israel on Hamas and Hezbollah are more substantial than described in the report. She also gave her view on the overall political situation in the region when it comes to fighting extremist groups such as ISIS.

“These are common enemies not only for us and Israel, but also for us and the Americans and many other Western countries. Unfortunately, disagreements between Moscow and Washington do not allow us to unite our efforts, but it is simply impossible to deal with terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida* without such coordination,” Suponina said.

Suponina also noted that besides the large number of terrorist organizations, there is a multitude of “lone wolf” terrorists, fighting whom is even more difficult. According to Suponina, in Syria alone there are between 100 and 200 small extremist groups that join larger groups or go underground. Suponina concluded, saying that the Russian operation in Syria may be only the first chapter of interventions into countries overwhelmed by terrorism on Russia’s southern borders.

During the question and answer session, a series of issues were noted and discussed, including the internationalization of terrorism, including ISIS’ use of children in combat, execution of captives and terrorist attacks. Participants also discussed the threat of export of terrorism, the situation in Palmyra, the coordination of parties to the conflict in Syria and the general political situation in the region.

*Terrorist organization, banned in the Russian Federation.