The Shape of Conflicts to Come

17 July 2017

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

UAE Allegedly Hacked Qatari States News, Social Media

The Washington Post has reported that hackers backed by the United Arab Emirates attacked and altered information on the state news website of Qatar along with various official social media accounts. The attack made it look like Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, had called Iran an Islamic power and described his nation's relations with Israel as good. These statements sparked the disruption of relations among the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain on the one side and Qatar on the other. The UAE denies the report. This is a foreshadowing of future conflicts.

Qatar has been the difficult one in the Gulf Cooperation Council, to be sure. It does have better ties to Iran than the others, and Saudi Arabia views Iran as its regional nemesis. It doesn't make anti-Israeli statements as a reflex action. And its fairly independent Al Jazeera network broadcasts a lot of stories that the others would rather it did not -- at the same time, the network ignores some of the shenanigans of the Qatari regime.

In other words, the other powers in the region had reason to want Qatar taken down a peg or two. US investigators are now helping Qatar figure out exactly what happened. One of the lines of investigation suggests that Russian hackers took on the Qatari contract at the behest of the UAE. Even without Russian interference, the fact that this attack is plausible, even likely, gives a sense of how things are going to look in the region in years to come.

Sending troops into Qatar is an option, of course, but in a region so important to the world's energy supply, that would be bad for business. An attack on news websites and social media accounts creates a pretext for the use of diplomatic tools to bend Qatar to the will of the others. So far, it has not worked, but it did create the conditions that allowed the crisis to start and to shift the blame to the emir.

Naturally, the big concern is the use of cyberspace weapons to disable vital infrastructure. It is more than likely that both the Russians and the Americans (and probably others) have the capacity to turn off the electric grid of other nations, to undermine the communications systems and to otherwise create "computer error" havoc. However, because these are so dramatic, one feels reasonably sure that a kind of mutually assured destruction, balance of terror arrangement is preventing anyone from pushing the cyber-button.

What the UAE allegedly did was far more subtle in that it didn't cause any material damage to Qatar. By creating what appeared to be real Qatari news that served the interests of the UAE, the hackers gave a major advantage to the anti-Qatari coalition. Then, normal international behavior that pre-dates the internet by a couple hundred years kicked in -- a 13-point ultimatum and an economic blockade.

This is troubling in two ways. If the UAE truly did arrange for the attack, then it will likely do the same thing in the future if it gets away with it. Or if the UAE did not, then it's quite possible a non-state actor has managed to cause a major international problem in a very sensitive part of the world with nothing more than a few false stories in the news.

One recalls the Zimmerman Telegram, a telegram sent by Imperial Germany to Mexico urging the Mexicans to attack the US during World War I in exchange for the southwest of the US (territory taken from Mexico after the Mexican-American War in 1848). The US was enraged, and it contributed to the US intervention in the Great War.

The difference is that the Zimmerman Telegram was real. Today, there are loads of Zimmerman's running loose without any check or balance, capable of sowing discord with a keyboard and nothing else.

© Copyright 2017 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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