The “Middle East” is no longer just Israel and the countries surrounding it, said retired U.S. General John Abizaid Monday. The region now extends from Asia through to Africa, if by “Middle East” one means an area where Islamists are battling to dominate societies.
Abizaid was speaking Monday at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism's (ICT) World Summit on Counter-Terrorism in the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. In his talk, Abizaid said that “the geographic area in which we are dealing with problems endemic to the Middle East has expanded, and those problems have become very important. The Middle East is no longer the region between Iran and Egypt, but now includes places like North Africa and Indonesia."
Abizaid is former Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees American military operations in a 27-country region including most of the Middle East, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and South and Central Asia. CENTCOM oversees 250,000 US troops.
“There are new threats, and sometimes Americans have a hard time understanding the new lexicon of the battlefield,” Abizaid said, relating to the strong opposition among Americans for a campaign to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Islamic radicalism is getting stronger,” Abizaid said. “Foreign fighters, including citizens of Western countries who have a connection to the countries where fighting is taking place, are showing up on the battlefield. The religious radicals have an opportunity to advance themselves, but there is no one to represent secularism in these places.”
The radicals keep getting stronger and more dangerous, he said, and “in the coming time we are going to have to fight for our values more than once.”
Terrorism is likely to increase as well, he said.
Western allies “must organize and go after our enemies together,” Abizaid said, and they must share information and ideas on how to uproot terror.
“Lack of preparedness to speak about these problems in a clear manner could be the greatest challenge we face” in organizing a response to the new dangers facing the West, he added.
"Until now, we have not succeeded in accomplishing what our combat soldiers call a ‘unity effort’. We live in a world where the enemy is becoming more dangerous and has access to weapons of mass destruction,
“We need to internationally organize in order to deal with our enemy,” Abizaid continued, stressing that “these challenges require international commitment for Counter-Terrorism, which will cast off intense pain on our enemies.”
He also urged governments to work together not only to prevent the funding of terrorism, but to use the sources of their own funding to enable citizens a better future in the parts of the world affected by terrorism.
"Today many of them turn to terrorism because who they perceive they have no better option and have no hope for the future," he claimed.