The international and regional security cooperation is the cornerstone of combating extremism, terrorism and organized crime in the world. It comes in line with the diplomatic, development, security and humanitarian efforts and serves as an actor to achieve stability.
According to the European Union (EU), any external action by its member states is essential for promoting its interests and values at the global level and protect its citizens’ life style.
Security is not only the basis of personal safety but also protects basic rights and provides confidence and dynamism in the societies’ economies and democracies.
Nowadays, the world, and especially European countries, are suffering from the continuous change in the security situation, affected by evolving threats as well as other factors, including climate change, demographic trends and political instability.
Globalization, freedom of movement and digital transformation continue to bring prosperity, facilitate our lives and stimulate innovation and growth. However, citizens are exposed to terrorism, organized crime, drug and human trafficking and all other direct threats that come together with the rise in cyber-attacks and cybercrimes.
The security threats further complicate the issue as they thrive on the ability to work across borders and on interconnection and break the boundaries set between the physical and digital worlds. Extremist groups and organized crime networks exploit vulnerable groups and socio-economic differences.
Counterterrorism efforts begin by addressing the root causes of extremism. These may include recruitment and other psychological and social factors that make individuals vulnerable to the radical discourse. Therefore, policies to address extremism come in line with bolstering social cohesion at the local and national levels.
Soft policies, such as education, culture, youth and sports may also contribute to preventing extremism, creating opportunities for the youth who are at risk and achieving social cohesion. It is important to work on detecting and managing the risks at early stages, as well as building resilience, disengagement, rehabilitation and integration into society.
preemption for protection
Security cooperation between the EU and countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is vital to protect EU territories from terrorist attacks. This has prompted the EU to develop cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism with its partners in the MENA region, thus enhancing societal resilience, in line with its broader approach towards this region.
It is considered a preemptive step to combat extremism and terrorism even if the threat is geographically remote, as terrorism has become stateless and cross-border.
There is an urgent need for an international and regional security framework in the Middle East. The United States’ approach, which relies on outsourcing security to regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appears to have stimulated those countries to be more optimistic in their foreign policies and military actions. The US has resorted to regional and external parties to create regional security in the Middle East.
The region suffers from major security challenges, topped by the expansion of terrorist groups across the borders, in addition to Iran’s direct threats or its proxies in countries of the region. Since terrorism and extremism have no limits, security cooperation and information exchange have become necessary at the regional and international levels. It is important to underscore the need to take advantage of the regional countries’ “data bank” to track wanted persons, reduce money-laundering activities and address Iran’s threats in the region.
There is also a dire need of a regional security framework to alleviate tension, resolve conflicts and reduce regional competition across the Middle East.
According to those concerned with regional security, stability must be attained through discussion, de-escalation, conflict resolution and the involvement of all regional actors, supported by influential foreign partners.
They suggested issuing a declaration that addressed all regional parties and calls for banning all forms of violence as a means of resolving conflicts, while maintaining a clear definition of the right to self-defense.
Security experts consider it necessary that the declaration clearly includes rejection of all forms of terrorism (with an unambiguous definition of terrorism) and violence against civilians and determines the moral, financial, logistical and political support for such acts as a violation of the principles of the system. It should be followed by “mobilizing” the means of direct communication among all parties in the region, they argue.
The US should continue providing the needed appropriate support for the Palestinian Authority and Israel, in line with its laws and regulations, in an attempt to enhance the legitimate governing authorities’ ability to protect all people, especially the most vulnerable who are exposed to the current conflict.
There is no sustainable solution as long as people feel threatened by violence. The US plays a role in promoting security and stability and encouraging measures that support democracies, serving both Israelis and Palestinians.
In late 2020, many major developments were made in the long-lasting Arab-Israeli conflict, the most important of which was the official signing of the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization between the UAE and Israel in the White House. The agreement aims to ensure lasting peace, stability, security and prosperity and boost development through cooperation in various sectors, including health, agriculture, tourism, energy, environment and innovation. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco later joined the Accords.
“For the Abraham Accords, the Middle East conflict played an indirect role, at best,” said Kerstin Müller, a former minister of state in Germany’s Federal Foreign Office and a senior associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “Economic relations and joint alliances against Iran were much more significant,” she added
The Accords signed between the UAE and Israel could be used to combat extremism and terrorism and address Iranian threats. Israel has a database on radical groups and information on Iran’s threats and nuclear and missile arsenals. It also has a very high capacity in the field of cybersecurity, the most prominent of which is Unit 8200. It is the largest single unit in the army responsible for collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption and can be comparable to the US’ National Security Agency or the UK’s GCHQ. It is referred to as the Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps that is capable of addressing the challenges posed by the digital ecosystem. For instance, it currently provides the Ministry of Health with data science expertise to analyze the evolution of the COVID-19 situation.
Reality of terror in Europe, MENA
Terrorism has become a global trend that is re-emerging due to the coronavirus pandemic’s after-math. There have been active efforts in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, in addition to the restrictions imposed on al-Qaeda, which previously posed a major threat in the MENA region.
Although the Sahel region, West Africa, Somalia and Afghanistan represented a fertile ground for extremist groups, yet “lone wolves” in several European countries carried out many terrorist operations.
It is estimated that this year will see a hike in the levels of risks and security threats at the international level due to COVID-19. Drivers include the deteriorating economic situation in many of the countries that are most affected by terrorism, international distractions that mitigate effective responses to threats, and the ability to take advantage of competitions among world countries.
Lone wolf operations are expected to continue taking place, especially in Europe and the West. In the fields of cyber, internet and social media, they are seizing every opportunity to spread hate speech and extremism within societies.
Estimates indicate the ongoing threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism against energy and mining resources in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia in particular.
While the escalating insurgency in Mozambique increasingly threatens the gas industry, violence of local armed groups and ISIS in Iraq threatens to disrupt the country’s oil sector. This comes in light of Iran’s efforts to intensify its activities and threaten regional and international security to pressure the US to ease the sanctions imposed against it.
The world has become a global village. The significant advances in technology and communications have intensified the ever-increasing pace of globalization, and the interrelationship between terrorism and globalization is still a matter of debate. Some argue that globalization is not the reason behind the spread of terrorism but rather the exclusion of some people from the process. On the other hand, others argue that globalization may be one of the main reasons since it helps terrorist groups deliver their extremist ideologies and impose their views on people in other parts of the world.
Most prominent resolutions
Resolutions issued by the United Nations and aimed at confronting terrorism and its financing policies are various. For example, resolution 2017 (2013) designated ISIS a terrorist group and demanded that it be combated. The UN also enlisted the group in its arms embargo list and ordered freezing its assets by adding it to its Resolutions 1267 (1999) and 2083 (2012). It further stressed the importance of the immediate and effective implementation of these measures.
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2170 on August 15, 2014, which stipulates imposing sanctions on ISIS. On November 19, 2014, the Council added the Libyan “Ansar al-Sharia” organization to its list of terrorist organizations for links to al-Qaeda and ISIS.
On February 28, 2015, the Council condemned the barbarian terrorist operations carried out by ISIS armed militants in Iraq, including the destruction of valuable historical and cultural monuments.
On November 20, 2015, the Council issued Resolution 2249, which urged world countries to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed by ISIS and Al-Nusrah Front (ANF). The resolution also urged member states to intensify their efforts to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to Iraq and Syria and to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism.
Role played by Europol
This year is expected to be dynamic in terms of pursuing new policy initiatives and implementing emerging tasks under the Europol mandate. The new EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025 and the EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse for the period 2020-2025 will have a great impact on the society.
The EU’s action plan to combat radicalism and terrorism internationally also focuses on firearms trafficking and the Europol’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum. This has already been fully expressed in the Agency's 2021 agenda.
Efforts put in the fight against terrorism will continue to see greater exchange of information between the relevant partners at the EU level, combined with Europol's commitment to provide better and expanded operational support to the investigations conducted by the EU member states. Moreover, the Hague-based European Counter Terrorism Center is preparing to address the emerging trend of right-wing extremism and take steps to establish an EU-wide coordination mechanism to tackle this phenomenon.
The Europol is keen to set priorities for dealing with external partners. It is expected to apply the prioritization criteria discussed by the Corporate Affairs Working Group in 2019 to determine new external partners. The Agency will also continue to serve as a platform for relevant authorities in the EU member states to interact with these parties.
In its fight against the organized crime, counter-terrorism and cybercrime, the Europol will focus in its external relations on developing cooperation in financial investigations, through its newly established European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC), travel intelligence function, innovation, forensics and states’ collaboration with partners.
Assessing cooperation in information exchange
Over the past two decades, the European counter-terrorism cooperation has enhanced the ability of member states to ensure the security of their citizens. Extensive networks for information exchange, backed by interoperable EU databases, as well as enhanced police and judicial cooperation, are now in place, which helps connect the border crossing points.
The EU has succeeded in adopting effective measures to deprive terrorist groups of the means of action, as is the case in restricting their access to firearms and explosive precursors, terrorist financing and the criminalization of travel for terrorist purposes. These efforts have been assessed in reports issued regularly. However, it is needed to double security cooperation and partnership to counter extremist ideologies and better protect public spaces targeted by terrorists.
Relevant security environments should be made compatible and law enforcement and judicial authorities should be provided with the necessary means to combat terrorism by involving the community as a whole, including citizens, communities, religious groups, civil society, researchers, businesses and private sector partners.
Jassim Mohamad is a researcher who focuses on international security & counter-terrorism; his work covers Europe, Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran and Yemen), and African Sahel. He is the Head of the European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies ECCI.