In Other News – Israel and Hamas Provide a Distraction for Putin and Xi

October 27, 2023

Countervailing forces are at play in the Israeli strategic decision about when and how extensively to execute its ground invasion in Gaza. Over two weeks after the brutal Hamas massacre, the Israelis are strategizing how to best decimate Hamas while saving as many hostages as possible. In a small country like Israel, that has historically been willing to make substantial concessions to bring home even a single Israeli hostage, the impact of several hundreds being held in Gaza should not be underestimated in their collective calculus. In the past two days, Israel has conducted two significant incursions into Gaza in preparation for the much-anticipated invasion.

Growing international pressure to allow aid into Gaza and preserve civilian casualties, while essential from a humanitarian perspective, could also be delaying the ground invasion even further. And it seems that with every day that Israel delays, it loses some of the initial support and political momentum that it had immediately after the Hamas attack.

What’s more, there is growing instability in the West Bank where clashes between Palestinians and both Israeli settlers and Israeli security forces are increasing. Border skirmishes and missile attacks from Hezbollah are also threatening Israel’s northern front, further distracting IDF efforts against Hamas targets in Gaza, and threatening regional security for its part, Hamas also continues to bombard Israel with rockets- most of which, thankfully, are intercepted, but some of which still make it through.

In addition to these challenges, there has been a significant increase of drone and missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and Washington has been trying to calibrate its response to avoid further escalation. On Friday, U.S. fighter jets conducted precision airstrikes on IRGC targets in eastern Syria, but the extent of the damage is unclear- as is what Iran might do next. And Hamas is openly making calls for others to join their war and Iran, as well as other proxies including the Houthis in Yemen, say they would join if there was a ground invasion into Gaza.

Further, there are growing tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Israeli military. There’s also the question about what thee diplomatic aftermath will be for Gulf States and other Arab States with regards to Israel- some say that the Arab Street will force governments to reverse course on efforts to normalize relations with Israel, while others believe these tragic and violent developments open an opportunity to advance a permanent two-state solution.

Tensions are high, implications are wide-ranging, and behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts are in full force - but just as Hamas surprised so many with its initial onslaught, it remains to be seen what comes next. For more on the current crisis, listen to Arkin Group President Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio: Bloomberg Radio – Jack Devine on The Tape – Israel-Hamas War.mp3

Putin and Xi are both delighted by these developments as they bring a welcome distraction from the War in Ukraine and China’s domestic leadership upheaval as well as its faltering economy. That American attentions are now divided between two critical matters is seen as a strategic opportunity for disruptive action- whether it be Chinese sabre rattling in the South China Sea and launching China’s first nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine or expanding the budding Russian alliance with North Korea and Russia’s simulating of a catastrophic nuclear retaliatory strike. What’s not lost on either of these leaders – who are both intent on undermining the Western-led democratic order- is that there is an opportunity to try and exacerbate cleavages between allies with conflicting priorities.

Indeed, at the first public meeting of the “Five Eyes,” an alliance of intelligence officials from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, officials gave numerous examples of how China is deploying cyber-active measures to propagate misinformation, exert oppressive tactics overseas, steal intellectual property, and disrupt domestic politics in the West.

Russia will also be almost singularly focused on disrupting the expansion and growing strength of NATO, which will soon count Sweden as an official member now that Turkish President Erdogen has finally given his approbation. Putin will see the next series of elections in the West as existential and will deploy all possible means to influence the outcomes and policies. What’s clear is the knock-on effects of the War in Ukraine and Crisis in Israel are having unforeseen and complicated downstream effects.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

Jack Devine’s Opinion in the Wall Street Journal

How Hamas Caught U.S. and Israeli Intelligence Unaware

The Hamas attack requires Washington to take a hard look at our current intelligence strategy, and to refocus our spying priorities and methods to meet the present threat. In this Op-ed, I share some insights on the Hamas attack from the intelligence perspective and offer some suggestions for how to bolster our collection efforts moving forward. Most importantly, we need to expand and better fund our human intelligence programs and adapt our spying methodology to be effective in today’s tech-driven counterintelligence environment.

How Hamas Caught U.S. and Israeli Intelligence Unaware – WSJ

In Other News – Hamas and Israel

October 19, 2023

The catastrophic aftermath of Hamas’s attack on Israel continues, resulting in extensive loss of civilian lives and exceedingly complicated political calculations. Hamas and Israel are now engaged in both a physical and information war, as demonstrated by the response to this week’s al-Ahli hospital explosion in Gaza where multiple social and traditional media mistakenly blamed an Israeli airstrike for the destruction.

On October 18, the day after the explosion, US President Biden arrived in Israel to express solidarity with the victims of the Hamas attack, and to negotiate humanitarian aid deliveries for Gaza’s civilians through Egypt’s border with Gaza. Biden was supposed to meet with Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian leaders on his visit, but they pulled out of the summit in the aftermath of the reporting on the hospital and the corresponding widespread outrage of the greater Muslim world.

What happened to the hospital- and the world’s reaction to it, are indicative of the broader security and political implications of this regional conflict. Several hours after the hospital explosion, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) determined the attack was not attributable to an Israeli airstrike- which US intelligence has since confirmed. But by then, it was too late to control the narrative. Instead, misinformation and disinformation immediately spread like wildfire and have been threatening political discourse and the security of Muslims and Jews worldwide ever since.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been going on for decades, is only further exasperated by inaccurate reporting – making verified information more critical than ever. While the world wades through a slew of disinformation and misinformation regarding the Middle East, it’s also worth highlighting that some global war crimes are irrefutably true.

For example, we can say with certainty that since February 24, 2022, Russia has regularly and deliberately attacked hospitals in Ukraine. The WHO’s surveillance system for attacks on health care (SSA) recorded 1,147 attacks on health care, including hospitals and other facilities, in Ukraine from February 2022 to August 2023. And yet, Putin is rarely held to account for this by the press or many of the world’s leading autocrats– who are opportunistically decrying events in Gaza.

Instead, the autocrats appear to be exploiting the instability to advance their own agendas. President Xi is cozying up to Putin at this week’s Belt and Road summit and shoring-up China’s budding alliances with the principle Middle East autocrats. It’s going to be important to watch how Xi tries to further exploit the instability in the Middle East and Ukraine to propel forth his vision for an alternative to Western hegemony and whether he will change his calculus of if and when to invade Taiwan.

Further, what we just witnessed through Hamas’s violent onslaught serves as a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to sort through troves of disinformation or misinformation to see what’s happening: it’s been clearly articulated to us through the very words of our adversaries. They are who they say they are. For years, Putin has expressed his view that territorial sovereignty means nothing, and Ukraine belongs to Russia. Putin made no mystery of this with his 2014 invasion of Crimea and in nearly all the subsequent speeches and proclamations that he’s made ever since. But it was still easy to dismiss or underestimate the threat Putin posed to Ukraine – especially as economic relations normalized between Russia and much of Europe – even while he was speaking it to us right there in plain language.

Likewise, for years, Hamas has been motivated by its mission to wipe Israel off the map. Although over the past two years relations between Israel and Hamas had seemingly normalized, or at least normalized enough for Israel to drop Hamas further down the list of its multiple security concerns, Hamas was never hiding what it was truly aiming for – it’s articulated right there in the Hamas doctrine.

Dismissing an adversary’s stated or written goals has implications for our assessment of President Xi as well. Throughout his rule, Xi has consistently espoused the One China principle whereby Taiwan is an “inalienable part of China.” Last March, in four separate speeches, Xi delivered consistent messaging about China’s preparations for war, further amplified by conducting extensive military exercises and more generally expanding his defense budget which has been steadily increasing for years.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – Crisis in Gaza

October 13, 2023

Hamas’ terrorist onslaught made a hard landing in Gaza inevitable. Last Saturday, Hamas launched a seismic and devastating attack on Israel- killing at least 1300 individuals and holding over 100 more hostage. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had no recourse but to declare war, and the Israeli Defense Forces are now actively targeting and attacking Hamas operatives in Gaza- even tracking and identifying some through the social media postings uploaded by the terrorists themselves. Over 1000 Gazans, many of them civilians, have already been killed during Israel’s retaliatory attack, and Israel has called for mass evacuation of northern Gaza in preparation for a ground offensive.

While some immediate developments like the newly formed Israeli unity government and the presence of now two US aircraft carrier groups offer potentially moderating forces against further escalation – and an important deterrence for further conflagration with Iran and Hezbollah – the intensity of the conflict has increased the risk of growing violence and terrorism across the world. Just as Azerbaijan and a series of African military coup-leaders seized on the vulnerabilities caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to make their move, others – including many non-state players- will be looking to leverage this latest crisis to reset the balance of power to their advantage. The conflict between Hamas and Israel is likely to be a galvanizing event for many extremists to react with more violence.

Further, this crisis, in addition to the ongoing war in Ukraine, is going to widen the distance and competition between forces of autocracy and democracy. There’s now likely to be an even sharper demarcation between these two visions of governance on the global scale. These crises, combined with the self-reinforcing nature of autocracy, are also likely to empower extremists who are trying to deepen ideological and nationalist divisions in favor of autocrats. We’re already seeing this in the longstanding, theocratic governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the entrenched autocracy of Putin’s Russia, the emergent autocracy of Xi’s China, the metastasizing military autocracies spanning Africa from Guinea to Sudan, and the waning democracies of India, Turkey, and Hungary.

There are also sharp internal divisions and efforts to reduce democratic processes within some of the world’s most longstanding democratic nations, which are likely to be amplified by ongoing conflicts and discussion of resource allocation and prioritization. NATO, the West, and allies, will be pressed to respond both forcefully and diplomatically to an increasing number of fronts and potential conflicts, and it will be complicated. But this effort is essential, and our support and promotion of democratic rule worldwide is what will determine our future political and economic security.

For more on how the ongoing crisis will impact intelligence and geopolitics, listen to Jack’s interview on Bloomberg Radio – starting at minute 38:26: Israel, Geopolitical Risks, and Market Response – Bloomberg

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – Russia, China, and Western Influence

October 6, 2023

US adversaries use multiple strategies to counter Western influence around the world – some more successful than others- but either way, it’s worth paying attention. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine jolted the established world order and cracked open an opportunity for global realignment. Since the war began, we’ve been watching as nations like China, Russia, and Iran have adopted a variety of approaches to gain allies and influence in regions like Latin America, Africa, and Central Asia. Like the Ukraine-Russia battle itself, these influence efforts adopt both traditional and modern tactics and offer examples of both increased collaboration and animosity.

Over the past few decades, China’s been deliberately expanding its efforts in Latin America, with Chinese stakes in everything from critical infrastructure in Peru, to telecom with Brazil. What’s notable in the way that China’s operating now, however, is that it’s trying to develop new structures and institutions instead of operating within the established ones. For example, China wants to create a new China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) space cooperation forum – looking to collaborate with CELAC instead of the established Organization of American States (OAS) that boasts US participation. Softer efforts are also apparent, like the prevalence of the Chinese Covid vaccine in the region, which was substandard but still viewed favorably by recipients, and educational exchange initiatives.

Likewise, Iran has long adopted soft power means for influence in regions like Latin America- at times accompanied by direct, physical threats to anyone standing in the way. While often ineffective, Iran understands that Latin America holds special geostrategic significance to Washington and tries to employ the influence of its local Shi’a clerics to deliver and encourage anti-American sentiment. Over the past few months, for example, Tehran has been actively propagating a new Spanish translation of its state-sponsored text Cell No. 14 that bolsters the image of the religious leadership of Iran. This softer effort appears to complement Iranian President Raisi’s summer trip to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba where the focus was largely on energy and defense.

Similarly, Russia also seems to be taking the hard/soft approach when it comes to Latin America. In late September, Moscow hosted the first Russia-Latin America International Parliamentary Conference under the theme “Russia and Latin America: Cooperation in a fair world for all.” In his welcoming remarks, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov highlighted that trade, economic and cultural exchanges never stop, and scientific and educational ties are strengthening between the two regions.

But while Russia might be trying to maintain influence in places like Latin America, in other areas it’s seemingly losing it. Indeed, while the regional conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is longstanding, complex, and politically fraught, Russia’s relinquishment of its peacekeeper role – and failure to maintain calm in the tumultuous region- is being viewed by most Armenians as a betrayal. Putin was apparently either too preoccupied with Ukraine or trying to send a broader message about what happens when his friends start to look West. Either way, Armenia isn’t going to be quick to rejoin the fray.

Further, while Moscow might have hoped that his inaction would punish Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan for his outreach to Western partners, it will be instructive to see what happens next. Putin might be hoping that Armenians will push Pashinyan out, potentially making room for a more Russian-friendly successor. But right now, Armenia seems to be doubling-down on its Western-facing efforts more broadly by moving to join the International Criminal Court- which has an open arrest warrant out for Putin.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.