Understanding Hybrid Warfare: a caged lion case – by Marco Maiolino

The presence and activity of IS in Iraq and Syria has demonstrated an uncomfortable reality, we live in a multipolar world and a single hegemonic power is not enough to successfully face the challenge.This crucial understanding has been demonstrated, again and since the Anglo-Ottoman War, by one of the most complex and uncontrollable international context, the Middle East.

One of the key tenets provided by the NATO accepted Hybrid Warfare definition focuses on the “diversity and interconnectedness of the threats” that need to be faced, and the Middle East is a clear example of a net of diverse actors, intents, beliefs, and interests, interacting to each other, and quite limpidly interpreting the innovative role of a Hybrid battlefield, deserving deep attention.

The current international situation, witnessing the increasing and leading Russian role in Syria, to support the Assad regime and fight against the Islamic State, and the inconsistency of the American and European foreign policy, must be understood under the light of the old Middle Eastern Cold War, for the dominance of these lands.

The Middle East has historically been contended by local authorities, whose power was and is legitimated by Shia and Sunni ideologies, having an ancient and strong ability to play foreign Great Powers games (as demonstrated during the Cold War). Those competitors, are currently represented by the leading Shia Iran and its allies (Syria for instance) and the Sunni Saudi Arabia, heading the Gulf states.

Nowadays, the Middle Eastern conflict risks to become extremely hot, with the ongoing Yemeni turmoil being only an early taste. The closing of the Iranian nuclear deal and the relative sanctions lifting, had the consequences to unleash a hungry competitor, Iran, chain up the hegemonic power, the US, being locked between a fragile nuclear agreement and the monopoly of security provision to the whole Gulf, and mix the cards on the table, at the expenses of the unhappy Sunni counterpart (right today Qatar’s foreign minister rose the issue http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/29/us-un-assembly-qatar-idUSKCN0RT01120150929 ).

Interestingly, within this chaotic framework, many stakeholders are playing their interests, Russia (being in the area since long before), taking the lead of counter-terrorism efforts and sending troops and weaponry to Latakia and the Tartous port, took the glutton occasion to reaffirm itself as a great power (a weak perception of a mental Narcissus). China, apparently heading warships through the Suez Canal to support comrade Putin, a realistic move, more practically justified by trying to defend its own stakes in the area and more broadly serving its Grand Strategy of pushing the eagle’s influence (the US) out of South-East Asia, in a moment of economic torpidity, political insecurity and American consternation and weakness. Israel, that, after a rush costs and benefits calculation understood how evil Iran might not be a so undesired dining companion, and the Anglo-Franco axe, playing a confused carrot and stick game, joining air-strikes over Syria and leaving space for a possible future short-term role of the Assad regime.

As it is clear, complex and interesting moves and alliances are emerging and we will follow and analyse new developments.

However, I want to underline the importance to connect the dots and critically inserting and analysing events within a bigger picture.