Saudi Arabia Steps Away from, but Does Not Repudiate, Religious Extremism

For its entire history, the Saudi state has been wedded to an austere and stringent form of Islam known as Wahhabism, and has used its wealth and influence to disseminate it among Muslim communities the world over. In doing so, Riyadh did much to abet the rise of radical Islam in the 20th century. The kingdom began to shift gears in 2003, after it became a victim of jihadist terror. But greater changes have come since the reforms of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, which began in 2016. Ilan Berman writes:

Today . . . the Saudi government appears to be making a major effort to strike a more moderate religious tone globally. This is visible in the kingdom’s attempts at dialogue, with Saudi religious officials taking pains to engage other Muslim governments and movements that they had previously ignored or denigrated. It can also be seen in Saudi religious authorities’ official interfaith outreach, such as the recent delegation of imams, headed by the Muslim World League’s Secretary-General Mohammad al-Issa, that traveled to Auschwitz to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp by Allied forces at the end of World War II.

These overtures, however, do not constitute an outright repudiation of Wahhabism on the part of the House of Saud. Indeed, in his now-famous April 2018 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, the crown prince refused even to acknowledge the existence of this creed, let alone its role as a driver of the kingdom’s foreign policy in decades past. Similarly, Saudi academics and officials are uniformly defensive when discussing the country’s role in the promotion of extreme Islam abroad, describing the kingdom’s well-documented exportation of Wahhabism over the past several decades as a “misunderstanding” or a conspiracy theory cooked up by the country’s enemies, like Iran.

Given these circumstances, the Saudi government’s recent turn on religion falls short of a fundamental change of heart or ideological reorientation. It is, rather, best understood as what scholars have termed a “course correction”—one designed, above all, to show the world a kinder, more inclusive side of the regime. Yet, whatever its limitations, this shift is nonetheless exerting a pronounced influence on the country’s domestic counterterrorism efforts.

Read more at Center for Global Policy

More about: Mohammad bin Salman, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, War on Terror

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security