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International shield

Here’s a good word: systempunkt. It’s a concept described by the military theorist John Robb in a 2007 interview with Wired:

“The term systempunkt is based on the concept of the schwerpunkt (a German term for the point of greatest emphasis or concentration) in mechanized warfare. The schwerpunkt is the place in the enemy’s battle line you would focus your efforts to get a break through (think the Ardennes in the battle for France during the early days of WW2). The systempunkt is similar except with networks. The systempunkt is the node in a network that will cause a cascade of failure if removed.”

Robb warns us against dependency on systems that can be attacked in this way – especially in an age of what he calls “open source guerrillas” i.e. decentralised, flexible and overlapping terrorist networks capable of inflicting huge amounts of damage with relatively little in the way of resources.

The rapid advance of ISIS in 2014 was a vindication of Robb’s warnings. In this case, the systempunkt was the catastrophically weak leadership of the official armed forces in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq.

In a post on his Global Guerrillas blog, Robb argues that Saudi Arabia could be next:

“ISIS would pivot forces from Syria and Iraq for a push south (indications are that this is apparently already underway), and then use these forces to rapidly overwhelm numerous border posts to create widespread confusion within the Saudi security forces. If done correctly, the rapid advances of black flags will cause a mass rout that will yield significant equipment and a considerable number of new jihadis (as troops flip to join the ISIS jihad).”

This wouldn’t be a conventional war, but an “open source war to win a moral victory”:

“Simultaneous with the drive south, cells of ISIS jihadis and lone sympathizers will activate across the Kingdom, causing disruption and confusion. With this, lines of authority and communication within the kingdom will begin to break down.”

One might assume that the Saudi armed forces are better organised than their Iraqi counterparts; but then we all assumed that the latter – trained and equipped at considerable expense by the West – were massively more robust than they in fact turned out to be.

Furthermore, there’s an important point on which Saudi Arabia is more vulnerable than Iraq:

“The advancing jihad will connect with local forces along a massive front moving south, jumping from city to city.  The speed of this will depend on how willing the population is to accept ISIS.  However, since Saudi Arabia has already indoctrinated its population with a religious ideology that is sympathetic to ISIS, the speed of the advance may be very rapid.”

Saudi Arabia’s systempunkt is an ideological environment deliberately created, but not fully controlled, by the Saudi state.

Robb theorises that the primary aim of an ISIS advance would be the capture of Mecca and Medina, but any substantial incursion would also pose a potentially devastating threat to the world’s most important source of oil:

“In desperation, US ground troops would be deployed to defend the oil fields in the east (Ghawar, etc.). This deployment would radically increase the ability of ISIS to recruit and potentially turn this into a regional jihad.”

This, to be sure, is an extreme scenario, but not one that can be entirely discounted.

Our dependency on the fossil fuel reserves of the Middle East is a systempunkt for the entire world; and as long as that remains the case we are all acutely vulnerable.

12 comments for: After the ISIS takeover of northern Iraq, how sure can we be that Saudi Arabia is safe?

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