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This is the fourth in a series of reports on the House Armed Services Committee’s effort to augment the Pentagon’s 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. Panel Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) launched the Committee Defense Review on Sept. 14. (DR, 09/15/05)

September 30, 2005The CDR’s Threat Panel continued its hearing with a review of the security threats emanating from the Middle East, a region panel co-chair Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) introduced as “one of the most challenging regions in the world.”

None of the region’s threats have any short term answers, she noted, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iranian support for regional terror organizations (not to mention its efforts to build a nuclear reactor) to the continuing situation in Iraq. However, Tauscher expressed the belief that the panel’s work might “come up with a reasonable set of answers on where and when our military can help advance our interests or shape outcomes in the Middle East.”

Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, questioned the panel’s approach because, he said threat driven defense planning has “acute limitations” and is often wrong. “In retrospect, the focus many such efforts placed on war fighting undercut their value because they did not address what was in fact, the need to focus on what would most deter a conflict while serving US strategic needs,” he said.

In the specific case of the Middle East, said Cordesman, “Our ability to deal with these problems and threats is only partly related to military threats, terrorist capabilities, and the capability of our military forces.”

Looking at the region as a whole, Cordesman said that most of the countries in the area are concentrating their military and security spending on internal conflicts and improving asymmetric warfare capabilities. He noted that Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are fighting significant internal threats, and Iran, Sudan, and Syria are committed to “active support” of extremist movements.

Iran, said Cordesman, is by far the most modern and well-equipped for both symmetric and asymmetric warfare, with an improving military that undertakes exercises frequently and has an elite Revolutionary Guard force that protects the ruling clerics. Then, there is the nuclear issue.

Edward Walker, of the Middle East Institute and former ambassador to both Israel and the United Arab Emirates, said US interests in the region can be broken down three ways: Israel, energy, and fundamentalism. As long as the “Palestinian issue” continues to be a sore point for our enemies, Walker said, a certain level of short-term threat must be assumed for Israel and the US Until now, he said, Palestinian interests have not aligned themselves with the al Qaeda movement, but there is definite risk that such an alignment might take place.

“It would compound our problems immensely if any of the oil-producing countries of the Gulf were destabilized and brought under fundamentalist control as envisioned by Al Qaeda,” Walker said.

Walker also noted the potential for China to expand its influence in the region, where it already has naval berthing facilities at Gwardar in Pakistan. “Competition for oil may turn out to be the gravest threat we face if we cannot moderate worldwide consumption and guarantee reliable supply.”

Daniel Byman, of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, explained that the relative weakness of conventional forces in the region means asymmetrical threats will continue to be the defining threat. However, he noted, “A limited application of US airpower would make it far harder for an aggressive state to use its conventional military superiority to its advantage.”