A Global Assessment of the Confrontation

Date: 11 Jan 2008


A Global Assessment of the Confrontation
- by Dr. Walid Phares
January 2, 2008

The conflict we call the War on Terror still continues
at the end of 2007 and all indications are that its
battlefields are expected to spread further, and
escalate, in the upcoming year. 

The following is a global assessment of the
confrontation that has taken place since 2001, though
the systematic war waged by the Jihadi forces against
democracies and the free world began at least a decade
before 9/11. This evaluation isn’t comprehensive or
definitive, but a collection of observations related
to major benchmarks, directions and projections.

Global Cohesion Lacking

The main powers and allies involved in the War on
Terror still lack global cohesion. While the US
integrates its efforts in the ongoing wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq with its efforts globally to
defeat al Qaeda and contain nuclear proliferation of
rogue regimes like Iran, other powers and blocs of
countries have different outlooks and plans. While
Britain and other U.S partners in Europe espouse
common views on the global scale, France, Germany,
Spain and Italy agree on the Afghan theater but still
are uninvolved in the Iraqi theater. 

All Atlantic partners, however, pursue al Qaeda and
consider it — along with other Salafi networks — as
the principal threat. Also, most Western partners
perceive the Iranian threat as serious, although
differ in the ways in which to respond. 

Non-Western powers fighting Jihadist forces do not
necessarily unite in the international arena against a
common foe. India is targeted by Islamists but doesn’t
associate with the US-led efforts in the Middle East.
Russia is also at war with Jihadi terror, yet it
distances itself from the Afghan theater, opposes the
US in Iraq, and worse, backs the two terror-spreading
regimes in Tehran and Damascus.

In the region, Western-inclined governments claim they
fight “terrorism” but only the terrorists who threaten
their own regimes, not the worldwide Jihadi threat.
The current Turkish government fights the
terrorist-coined PKK, but isn’t concerned with the
growth of Wahhabism and Khomeinism in the region.
Saudi Arabia dismantles al Qaeda cells inside the
Kingdom but still spreads fundamentalism worldwide.
Qatar hosts the largest US base in the region, and at
the same time funds the most notorious indoctrination
programs on al Jazeera. In short, there are several
“wars” on terror worldwide. Surely America is leading
the widest campaign, but efforts around the globe are
still dispersed, uncoordinated, and in many cases,


Many critics asserted in 2007 that the Taliban were
returning and that NATO wasn’t providing full
stability yet. In my assessment, this is a long war:
the neo-Taliban weren’t able to achieve full enclave
control anywhere in the country. The government of Mr.
Karzai should take advantage of international backing
to achieve a breakthrough in the counter-ideology
campaign, because the US-led mission will be
successful as long as it provides space and time for
Kabul to win the war of ideas. Efforts in 2008 must
focus on coordination with Pakistan against the
Jihadists, and on civil society political gains.


Finally, General Musharraf’s government widened its
military offensives during 2007 in the neo-Taliban
zones, prompting terror counter strikes in various
cities and a major Jihadi uprising in Islamabad. The
escalation opened a window among political opposition
to make gains against Musharraf. By the year’s end,
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif came back to the
country and were leading the opposition in the next
elections. The assassination of Bhutto was a setback
to the political process. Musharraf and the secular
forces need to coalesce around a platform of national
security and democracy and move forward with elections
and anti-Terror campaign in 2008. But for
international security, the priority is to preserve
Pakistan’s nuclear assets and keep the Jihadists at
bay. Will secular opposition and the President
understand this higher national priority in 2008? 


An important, but still temporary, victory was scored
in Somalia against the Islamist Mahakem, the Taliban
of the Horn of Africa, and it took Western support to
the Somali Government and an Ethiopian intervention to
accomplish it. Denying a state sanctuary to al Qaeda
in Africa is a plus, but the future will depend on Bin
Laden’s advances or defeats across the African
continent in 2008.


The main international concern in Africa is
undoubtedly toward Darfur. The Sudanese regime was
able in 2007 to stall Western intervention for one
whole year, allowing the Janjaweed to strengthen and
perform additional atrocities. Playing the Arab League
and the African Union roles to delay a UN action,
Khartoum is battling African resistance movements on
two fronts: Darfur, but also the south. The regime,
similar to other Jihadi powers in the region, is
gaining time to crumble its previous commitments and
unleash counter campaigns. The international campaign
in Darfur must begin in 2008, otherwise the Jihadi
counter offensive in Africa will strike deep in Chad
and across the Saharan countries by early 2009.

North Africa

Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian counter terrorism
efforts increased in 2007 but so did Terror attacks by
al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The North African battlefield
is now wide open after the combat Salafists have
joined Bin Laden officially. U.S and European support
need to target the Sahara region as a whole from
Mauritania to Chad in 2008 before it slips to the
Jihadi forces. If al Qaeda entrenches itself in the
area, West Africa will be threatened by 2009. 


The surge by US forces and allies has worked and al
Qaeda plans have been impacted and delayed in 2007.
The goals of the combined enemies of Iraqi democracy
(al Qaeda and the Syrian and Iranian regimes) were to
crumble the Coalition’s role and to interdict the rise
of a Government in the country. US military action
eliminated al Qaeda’s attempts to create enclaves. The
rise of Sunni Tribes against the Terror groups in the
center is a major development in the Iraq Theater.
Furthermore, the rise of Shia tribes in the south
against Iranian influence and in solidarity with the
central Sunni tribes is the beginning of a strategic
shift in the country. However the persistence of
Damascus and Tehran in supporting Terror forces can
eventually reverse these advances. Hence, during 2008,
it is important for the US-led Coalition to counter
the moves by the Iranian and Syrian regimes in Iraq
and set up a national Iraqi capacity to deter the
Pasdaran activities. 


On the negative side, confusing messages issued by US
Congressional leaders regarding a so-called “dialogue”
with the Iranian regime during 2007 weakened the US
containment strategy and harmed efforts by the Iranian
opposition. Furthermore the American NIE findings
during the Fall of this year gave Tehran’s Mullahs
additional room to maneuver. On the positive side, the
sanctions issued by the US president against the
Pasdaran and the Quds force reverberated throughout
the country, encouraging an escalation by the
opposition inside the country. President Sarkozy’s
strong attitude reinforced the Western coalition
against nuclear weapons sought by the Khomeinists.
However if by end of 2008, no further containment is
achieved, by 2009, the (Iranian-Syrian) “axis” will be
achieving a regional offensive. It is advisable that
significant efforts to support Iran’s civil society
uprising during 2008. 


During 2007 the Syrian regime continued to back Terror
activities in Iraq, Lebanon and in the Palestinian
territories without significant responses from the
international community. In Lebanon, the Assad regime
was successful in weakening the Government and the
Cedars revolution to a tipping point. In Gaza, it
backed Hamas coup along with Iran. And it was able to
dodge the Hariri international tribunal for one more
year. Furthermore Damascus continued to strengthen its
missile capabilities and programs of weapons of mass
destruction. As for Iran, if no serious containment
strategy is applied to the Assad regime as of 2008, by
the following year a domino effect would be taking
place in the region against the rise of democracies
with Syria playing a significant role. During the
present year both US Congress political messaging
towards “dialogue” and the Russian backing encouraged
Assad to pursue his policies and created harsher
conditions for the Syrian opposition.


The year 2007 witnessed a series of tragedies with
terror assassinations directed against legislators
from the majority in Parliament and a senior general
in the Lebanese Army. Hezbollah and its allies were
successful in intimidating the Government and the
Cedars Revolution with violence and threats. The
United States public position stayed the course in
support to the democracy movement while French
initiatives further confused the Lebanese. In 2008 the
fate of Lebanon will be centered on the election of a
new President. The US, the European Union and their
allies in the region have about 9 months to back free
Lebanon, otherwise the following year could witness
the fall of the country back into the hands of the


The inevitable dragging of the Turkish Army in
incursions against the PKK in northern Iraq during
2007 indirectly serves the interests of the
Syro-Iranian “axis.” It also deflects the attention
from the ideological change performed by the Islamist
Government in Ankara. 

Saudi Arabia

During 2007, the Saudi Kingdom continued its efforts
against the al Qaeda cells inside the country. It
developed additional tactics to wage theological
pressures on the organization. But at the same time,
Saudi funds were still made available to
fundamentalists around the world.


Although Russia continues to be a main target to
Wahhabi and Jihadist terror and incitement,
ironically, the Putin government during 2007 staged
three moves to the advantage of terror regimes:
opposing the US missile defense system in Europe,
meant to protect Europe from the Khomeinist threat;
shielding Tehran from Western pressures; and
protecting the Assad regime. In 2008, the current
direction taken by the Kremlin should be addressed
seriously by the US and Europe through a historic and
open dialogue on the future of Terrorism. Russia’s
current policies, if not corrected, can backfire
against its own national security in view of the
Jihadist rising activities in Chechnya and the
Caucasus as well as in central Asia. 


India continued to be targeted by the Jihadists in
2007. As a nuclear power, and the largest democracy in
the world, this country should be further included in
the international coalition against Terror and granted
a more important role in south Asia in 2008. 


During 2007, Chinese technology and weapons continued
to flow to Terrorism-supporting regimes including
Sudan, Iran and Syria. As for Russia, China’s own
security within its own borders can be affected by a
growing Jihadi network in its north Western provinces.


The election of Nicholas Sarkozy in 2007 is a positive
development as the new President intends to increase
French participation in the War against Terrorism.
Continuous incitements by Jihadists networks against
France also escalated projecting forthcoming
confrontations in France. 

Europe and the West

Developments and arrests made in Great Britain, Spain,
Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and
Belgium in 2007 all indicate that Jihadi warfare in
Western Europe is to be expected in 2008 and beyond.
Similar trends were detected in Australia and Canada
during the same year

The United States

During 2007 several arrests and dismantling of cells
within the United States demonstrated the spread of
the Jihadi networks at various levels and in different
areas. A Projection of these developments and of the
type of infiltrations already in place in this country
shows that the map of the Jihadi web is much wider and
deeper than anticipated, even by Government agencies
and estimates. The diverse nature of the Jihadi
activities in America lead me to believe that the next
waves will be more sophisticated and better inserted
in the institutions and society. 

The 2007 arrests and reports show that the Jihadists
had interest in penetrating the US defense
system.However another type of threat has also
appeared: the Jihadi ideological penetration of
various spheres of education and decision-making,
including at the strategic level. Both Wahhabi and
Khomeinist funding and influence have been spotted in
2007. The US Congress and the Administration should be
spending time and efforts during 2008 to develop a
national consensus on the definition of the threat
doctrine, Jihadism. Short of achieving a minimal
understanding of the Terror ideology, 2009 and beyond
will witness a faster mutation of the Jihadi threat
inside the country.

Dr Walid Phares is the Director of Future Terrorism
Project at the Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies in Washington, a visiting scholar at the
European Foundation for Democracy and the author of
the War of Ideas. Dr Phares was one of the architects
of UNSCR 1559. He is also a Professor of Middle East
Studies at Florida Atlantic University.