Saudi Arabia’s Changing Approach to Terrorism, and How to Encourage It

Jan. 17 2018

Over the years, the Saudi government has compiled a highly ambiguous record in its relationship with Islamist terror. But since 2003 it has been cooperating with the U.S. with growing consistency, and even more recently it has moved from combating terrorist groups to trying to counteract the ideology that gives rise to them. Lori Plotkin Boghardt explains:

Recently, the Saudi leadership has expressed a desire to break with the past regarding religious extremism. . . . Muhammad al-Issa, the new secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, echoed these sentiments in a November interview. Declaring that “the past and what was said, is in the past,” he said the organization’s current mission is to “wipe out extremist thinking” and “annihilate religious . . . extremism, which is the entry point to terrorism.” This language is a startling contrast to the league’s past agenda of promoting an extremist interpretation of Islam across the globe, which in turn helped fuel the terrorism problem. . . .

Apparent shifts in the way Riyadh is approaching the terrorism challenge present opportunities for the United States to encourage broader and deeper changes that address longstanding American interests. One area to support is continued tightening of Saudi supervision over religious figures traveling internationally for work, over religious and educational materials sent abroad by Saudi institutions, and over religious figures doing media work—all toward the goal of restricting the export of extremist ideology. A related interest is the accelerated removal of extremist content that remains in Saudi schoolbooks.

Another area to support is added transparency and measurable advancement in new training, supervision, and reeducation of religious figures and teachers (or, if necessary, their dismissal). The kingdom has already registered successes in these areas and is now building on them; further progress could be discussed during the first annual meeting of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Joint Consultative Group expected later this year.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine