Shmuel Bar: The Demise of the Arab State, Re-Tribalization, and the Emergence of “Jihadistans” in the Next Five Years

The Demise of the Arab State, Re-Tribalization, and the Emergence of “Jihadistans”
in the Next Five Years
(Shmuel Bar March 15, 2017)

Transcript available below

Watch his speaker playlist here

About the speaker

Dr. Shmuel Bar served for thirty years in the Israeli government, first in the IDF Intelligence and then in the analytic and operational positions in the Israeli Office of the Prime Minister. Since the mid 1980s he has specialized in the ideology and operational codes of Islamic fundamentalist movements and particularly the Jihadi movement that later evolved into al-Qaeda.

He is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad. He holds a Ph.D. in History of the Middle East from Tel-Aviv University. From 2003 and June 2013 Dr. Bar served as Senior Research Fellow and then Director of Studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Herzliya, Israel and on the steering team of the annual “Herzliya Conference”.

In addition to being an Adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, he is also a Senior Research Fellow at International Institute for Non-Proliferation Studies, has been (2007) Distinguished Koret Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has lectured at various academic institutions on issues relating to Israeli national security.

Dr. Bar has headed over 25 research projects – many of them for US government agencies – and published over 40 books, monographs and articles in professional journals on issues relating to the Middle East, including strategic issues in the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, deterrence (both nuclear and vis-à-vis terrorist threats), radical Islamic ideology, Iran, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians.

He heads “Shmuel Bar- Research and Consultancy Ltd.” and is also Senior Research Fellow at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at the Technion University in Haifa. Dr. Bar is also founder and CEO of IntuView Ltd – an Israeli based software company in the area of natural language processing.

He also spoke at Westminster on the subject of: The Fertile Crescent After ISIS – Between Russia, Iran and Israel. For more on governance and reform in the Arab world, see Mansour Al-Hadj’s Westminster talk, What are the Prospects for Real Reform in Saudi Arabia?, and Kenneth Pollack’s Westminster talk, Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness.


Robert R. Reilly:

Our speaker tonight is an old friend, Dr. Shmuel Bar, who served for thirty years in the Israeli government. First, in the Israeli Defense Forces intelligence and then in the analytic and operational positions in the Israeli office of the Prime Minister. Since the 1980s, Dr. Bar has concentrated on the ideology and operational codes of Islamic fundamentalist movements and particularly the jihadi movement that later evolved into Al Qaeda. He’s adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and he’s author of Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad, one of the best books on that subject. I couldn’t recommend it to you highly enough.

I do have to tell you that when I asked Shmuel what he would like to speak on tonight, he gave my the longest topic that anyone has submitted at Westminster. I’ll just read it for you, so you can get the full flavor: “Scenarios for the Middle East: The Next Five Years Demise of the Arab State, Re-Tribalization, the Emergence of Jihadistans and Proxy-stans, and the Contemporary Great Game.” If you had to take a breath while saying that, I would understand. And he agreed to that elide down to the topic tonight, “The Demise of the Arab State, Re-Tribalization, and the Emergence of Jihadistan in the Next Five Years.” Please join me in welcoming Shmuel Bar.

Shmuel Bar:


Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. So, since you already read out the entire title, I don’t have anything left to say. I think that we have a tendency to look at the Middle East and to say, you know, we are looking at what’s happening now, and it is always the things that happened yesterday, and so we say this happened in Aleppo, this happened in Iraq, and this, and we lose sight of the trends. We lose sight of the big picture.

I’ve been doing for quite some years, scenario-izing of the Middle East. In May 2010, I was asked by the U.S. Department of Defense to offer scenarios for the Middle East and I offered a number of scenarios. Two of them were the fall of the Egyptian regime as a result of protests when Mubarak is ill and cannot control it. His aides and his deputies are not able to take decisions because they’re not used to making decisions because they’re used to a charismatic and centralist leader. The regime falls and the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power.


At the same time my scenario for Syria was that I described Syria being like King Solomon in the story in the Qur’an of King Solomon. King Solomon was old and he was about to die. He beseeched allies and said, “How can I, the wisest man in the world, die in bed?” He said, “No, you can die standing up on two staffs, commanding the world of the djinn,” the genies. So he does and he dies. The genies see him and they think he is still alive. They continue to obey his last order until earth worms eat up his two staffs, his body falls, and only then do the genies realize that their fear of his last order and they start behaving, doing what they want.

And I said this is Syria. It is beginning to erode and it will erode into an Awali-stan, a jihadistan in the north, a tribal-istan, and the area in the south. Now, these projections, at the time that I made them, there was potential for these things to happen, and we have to divorce ourselves from the current event and to look at the underlying features of theater or the underlying features of an entire area in order to try and understand where they can lead. We are, therefore, looking at dramas, Syria and Iraq, and we have to look far beyond. So what I want to talk about tonight is the far beyond, another five years ahead and more.

First of all, Daesh, the idea that defeating Daesh militarily in Mosul or in Aleppo means the defeat of Daesh in general or what we would call the jihadi-Salafi movement is wrong. The ideology which feeds on the sense that the Sunnis in Iraq, for example, are the natural rulers, this is the cradle of the caliphs, and it is unacceptable that the Shiite Rafid, the Shiites, will rule that country.

They feel oppressed by the Shiites. The Shiite government of Iraq will not be able to restore its control over all of the Sunni areas. They will be able to do quite a lot of ethnic cleansing and massacres if the Iranians are willing to bring in as much firepower and military power as they need for that, but this will have a cost of exacerbating the sense of oppression by the Sunnis. So the jihadi movement itself we will see the end of like we saw the end of Al Qaeda. We got Al Qaeda 2.0 and we get Al Qaeda 3.0, and then we get ISIS 2.0 and ISIS 3.0. We have to understand this is an ideological movement, this is not a military movement.

I think the underlying feature of this region is something which I call strategic entropy. Entropy as everybody studied in school, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, says that the amount of energy which is expended from a system in moving from order to chaos is not enough to bring it back into order, and anybody who has ever tried to make an egg out of an omelette is aware of that. Try it.

This means that if we look at what has happened today, the disintegration of the Middle East, first of all, Iraq will not be a country again. Syria will not be one country again. Libya will not be one country again. Yemen will not be one country. As we see, I think a very good case is that Somalia, which turned into a non-country many, many years ago, continues to have a representation in the United Nations, etc., but it is not one country. So this is going to be the situation.

Now the question is what do we have instead? We have a tendency to think that everything must be replaced by something similar to what it was. This is I think because in orderly societies if a government falls in a parliamentary system, there is another government formed. If a president dies, there is a vice president who takes his place. There is always something that comes instead.

But let us imagine that a regime can fall in Syria without a regime taking its place. A country can disintegrate and no country can take its place. It can just remain disintegrated for many, many years. Now, if we look back at history there are quite a few cases of that, of very fluid changes in borders, of warlordships which are in flux and always moving around, etc. It is not something which is alien to human history, but for some reason we are too focused on the Westphalian states that we do not understand that for most of history there were not strict borders but tribal frontiers.

I was involved in a project for DIA and we had a number of days of discussions and this was about three years back. It was actually the advent of ISIS, and a woman from Langley said to me do I understand you right? Are you trying to say that Sykes-Picot is dead?

See the rest of his talk…