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Unpuzzling Terrorism with Dr. Ely Karmon

Dr. Ely Karmon spoke at Counter-Terrorism Today, answering questions by MA students about the current regional conflicts. Dr. Karmon is a senior research scholar at the ICT and a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy Center at Reichman University. He is also an expert in both regional conflicts and Hezbollah.

Dr. Karmon opened the session by tracing the different players in the Syrian conflict and how they influence a war that seems to have no end in sight. He addressed the changing dynamics of groups such as Jabhat al Nusra and how this affects their allegiances to other larger terrorist organizations. In the case of Jabhat al Nusra specifically, it has moved away from Al-Qaeda. Within the conflict in Syria and Iraq some factions have pledged allegiance to ISIS while other factions have not. Dr. Karmon explained that such factions are under the umbrella of larger organizations; each village has between a few dozen to a few hundred fighters under the command of a leader whose allegiance is dependent on receiving money or weapons. Consequently, factions under the same organizations might have diametrically opposed loyalties or goals. Even more so, Dr. Karmon explained that this dynamic is further enhanced by the fact that ISIS often kills the leaders of these factions and takes control of the groups while Jabhat al Nusra cooperates with them. This difference in attitude towards the leaders of these factions is usually a purely strategic decision that is often ideologically justified.

Dr. Karmon addressed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s rhetoric regarding the divine nature of the Caliphate and how it will change as ISIS looses more territory. Dr. Karmon stated that even now, the message being sent to the West if that even if the Islamic State organization loses, they will continue to fight. Furthermore, he explained that if Mosul and Raqqa fall, then foreign fighters will have to either return to their own countries or to other countries as refugees and will likely participate in a large wave of terrorism to punish the West. The fighters that return will not only have the motivation, but also the training, to attack Europe and therefore the continent will have to react much quicker and adapt their laws and constitutions to address this new threat. Furthermore, this changing reality will likely affect the rhetoric coming out of Europe, specifically regarding Israeli counter-terrorism measures, which were often criticized in the past. Already several European intelligence officers and even Ministers of Justice are visiting Israel to learn more about its counter-terrorism techniques and specifically about the resilience of its society. Dr. Karmon also touched upon the possibility of ISIS sympathizers loosing their ideological motivation after the fall of the Caliphate, as the radical leftist organizations in Europe and South America did after the fall of the Soviet Union.

On another note, Dr. Karmon addressed Russia’s involvement in the conflict and its strategic goals on the region. At the moment, Russia not only has air force bases in place but also boots on the ground. Furthermore, he addressed the relationship between Iran and Russia and how this dynamic changed after Russia bragged about using Iranian space for a base and offended internal Iranian political sensitivities. Additionally, this conflict has allowed Russia to change the balance of power that was established after the severe sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine and to strategically penetrate the Middle East.

Similarly, Dr. Karmon addressed the role of the Kurds in the conflict and how it influences their relationship with Turkey and their goals for an independent state. The Kurds have certainly surprised the world with their efficiency at fighting ISIS. However, the fact that the Kurds’ situation varies from state to state complicates their bid for independence. This is specifically true in the case of Turkey, Dr. Karmon explained, due to Erdgan’s changing position as well as the influence of the PKK.

To end the session, Dr. Karmon spoke about Hezbollah and the likelihood of a war against Israel erupting in the near future. Many experts believe that the quiet border between Lebanon and Israel since the war in 2006 means that Israel has created enough deterrence to discourage Hezbollah from attacking again. Dr. Karmon does not necessarily agree with this analysis and considers Hezbollah a very significant threat for Israel. Although Hezbollah currently has a missile arsenal that is large enough to threaten Israel and potentially overwhelm its defense measures, it is unlikely that Israel will launch a preemptive war against them. Furthermore, Dr. Karmon addressed the changing demographic situation in Lebanon due to the 1.5 million Sunni refugees that currently reside there. This demographic change could threaten Hezbollah’s hold on Lebanon and alter the balance of power in the region.

Listen to Dr. Ely Karmon here >>