From STUXNET to ISIS: Exploring Cyber-Conflicts in the Middle-East

Dr. Amit Sheniak, Dr. Daniel Sobelman, Dr. Yehonatan Abramson

Governments around the world are recognizing and grappling with the manner in which cyber-attacks impact their national security and vital interests. This is true both for western democratic developed countries and for those who do not answer these criteria. Cyber-related activities are associated with a number of core security issues, including in areas that are of direct relevance to the conflict in the Middle East and the research agendas surrounding it. These include such topics as the competition for regional dominance and hegemony, and the stability of local autocratic regimes. However, cyber-conflicts in the Middle East have yet to receive proper attention in the social sciences. To date, no substantial academic attempts have been made to analyze the normative dimensions, the local discourses or the motivations of the primary middle eastern actors in the cyber domain. Moreover, there is no academic or scientific database recording the policy decisions, laws, statements and actions that are made in the Middle East in regard to the cyber domain. Moreover, absent are any studies of local statements, interviews and publications regarding cyber conflicts in the Middle East. Whatever research does exist tends to analyze the regional cyber conflict from a Western perspective. 

Against this background, in May 2018, we established a research group whose aim is to explore the effect of cyber conflicts and cyber weapons, on the forging of national security policy and politics in the Middle East, striving to highlight the different effects of cyber conflicts in different regional setting. The researchers in the group bring with them a range of relevant expertise; spanning from cyber-attacks and the effect of cybersecurity on national security policy in general, to experts on different middleeastern test-cases equipped with the necessary local language proficiencies (Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, and Turkish).
The group’s over-arching goal is to establish a database, comprised of qualitative analyses, with the capacity to identify trends that would add to the emerging study of cyber-conflicts in general, and shed light on the Middle East’s constant cyber conflict and its regional and international ramifications, in particular. We believe that the study of cyber conflicts has the potential to improve our understanding of the recent regional instability and its implications for deterrence, national coercion abilities,
international involvement and security regimes. Achieving this goal will enable us to narrow the gap between the existing research on cyber-security and the academic research on the regional implications of cyber-conflicts in the Middle East.
After a year of activity we are happy to report that we have managed to execute our plans according to the proposed plan: we forged a cohort of relevant talented researchers (assistant professors, post-docs, and graduate students);  we re-explored our research objectives and focused our joint investigation on specific unique issues in the study
of cyber-conflicts in the Middle East, such as the cyber-attacks between states and sub-state actors; most importantly we composed five specific research tracks, that will enjoy the seed money that we received from the generous contribution of the Polonsky Foundation, the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations and the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace.