Social Media, Security and Israel

April 17, 2012

We don’t often dip into journals like the Joint Forces Quarterly of the U.S. National Defense University for items to share in SUSRISblog but the April edition of the quarterly brought an interesting article by Brigadier General Naef Bin Ahmed Al-Saud of the Royal Saudi Army. He wrote at length about “The Evolution of Saudi Security and Enforcement Policies on Communication,” in particular about social media. Naef linked these communications as “vital to Saudi policy concerns.. ..both national and internal security, with such policy “being derived to a significant extent from recent external precedents, particularly government actions in the United States and Great Britain, as well as India, Israel, and other countries.” The abstract for General Naef’s JFQ article lays out his thesis and points to irony of the countries that “applauded” social media in disrupting other governments who now have their own internal troubles controlling communications.

“Like a number of countries, Saudi Arabia has found that social media and the Internet can strengthen antigovernment activity or thwart it. Saudi government policies have addressed economic development and other citizen concerns successfully enough to somewhat defuse large-scale, social media-organized unrest. Meanwhile, nations that may have applauded the role these assets played in weakening other governments have now seen such protests within their own borders. Saudi Arabia has watched such polities as Israel and Great Britain deal with unrest and gathered lessons learned for its own approach. The Kingdom now invites other governments to learn from its experience in using social media for criminal rehabilitation and counterterrorism. It hopes that, among other things, where protests succeed, they can bring needed change. For instance, greater awareness of Palestinian economic hardship under occupation, made possible by protests in Israel, may lead to more Israeli compassion and contribute to Middle East peace.”

Brigadier General Naef concluded with an exploration of social media as useful to advancing Palestinian objectives and, by extension, Saudi interests, “Tangentially, given the importance of Palestinian welfare to Saudi national security, the Kingdom’s policies may develop in the direction of supporting social media to provide similar success in encouraging Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs to get to know each other at least initially over the Internet while discussing sports, photography, and other common interests—including peace prospects.” He concluded:

“It is worth noting that social media are increasingly being used by Arabs and Israelis to promote communication toward peaceful coexistence. Such efforts deserve support as an evolving part of Saudi security policy on social media, particularly if some of the many Israelis now protesting their government’s economic deprivation also use social media to help Palestinians under occupation travel to Tel Aviv to protest economic deprivation without access to meaningful careers, decent housing, world-class health care, or education. Ultimately, further development toward well targeted Saudi-supported social media policies could catalyze profound achievements toward Middle East peace.”

Amir Oren writing in Haaretz picked up on what he thought might be an “opening” in the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia in General Naef’s journal article. Writing on April 15, 2012 ["For Saudi Arabia, Israel is turning from foe to friend"], he said, “There is a thread here that is begging to be followed. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a mutual enemy, Iran, and a mutual buttress, the United States. Dialogue between them, perhaps beginning with military people like Naef, will help both countries and promote a diplomatic agreement in the region.”

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