Threat Assessment:

In April the US Intelligence Community released its annual report, detailing a number of threats to the interests of the United States and its allies around the world. They can be summarized as follows:

Threats Facing the United States Around the World:    

1. China’s ascent to global hegemony. According to the report, the Chinese Communist Party has continued to undermine US interests at a global level, driving a wedge between the United States and its allies. The report finds that China continues its efforts to promote industrial and technological innovations, as well as maintaining economic development and military progress, in order to minimize its dependence on foreign technologies.           

The report suggests that China sees in its current competition with the United States an opportunity to realize a historic geopolitical realignment. In this regard, China promotes its success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic as proof of the superiority of the Chinese model and the strength of its political system.

2. Russia’s continued provocations. According to the report, Russia continues to use a wide array of tactics to undermine US influence, attempting to divide Western states and alliances, and demonstrating the ability to shape global events as a key player in a multi-polar international system.
Russia has continued to develop its military, nuclear, and cyber capabilities, as well as its intelligence capabilities, while increasing its foreign involvement, benefiting from its energy resources to implement its agenda and undermine US interests. 

The report states that, in the foreseeable future, Russia will remain the biggest and strongest competitor to the United States with regards to weapons of mass destruction and in the nuclear sphere, which Russia considers necessary for deterrence and to realize its own goals. With regards to cyber threats, the report considers Russia to be the most significant cyber threat to the United States, as well as already being one the most dangerous intelligence threats.

The report adds that Russia does not want a direct conflict with the United States, but instead seeks opportunities for pragmatic co-operation with Washington on its own conditions. The most important of these is US non-interference in the Russian sphere of influence, which includes the greater part of the regions of the former Soviet Union.

3. Potential renewed development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. The report states that the North Korean leader may take several hostile measures which would disturb the region’s stability, include restarting development of nuclear weapons and testing intercontinental ballistic missiles. The North Korean leader considers nuclear weapons to be the ultimate deterrent against foreign intervention, and believes that as time passes he will gain acceptance, achieving international status as a nuclear power.

4. Increased geopolitical tensions due to the pandemic. The report states that COVID-19 has effects far beyond the field of health, and has also impacted the political, economic, and security spheres. The report predicts that the pandemic will continue to threaten populations around the world until vaccines and treatments have been widely distributed.

According to the report, the pandemic will lead to increased geopolitical tensions in the light of competition between the great powers over medical supplies and vaccines in an attempt to strengthen their geopolitical status. This may lead to political instability in a number of states. Similarly, economic recession, unemployment, and the interruption of supply chains may lead to new waves of migration, turning some countries into furnaces of internal conflict.

5. The growing risks of climate change. According to the report, climate change and environmental collapse will create an array of direct and indirect threats, including economic risks and political turmoil, as well as new waves of displacement resulting from desertification, droughts, and floods. All of this threatens US interests because it threatens infrastructure, health, and water, as well as food and security, particularly in developing countries which lack the ability to adapt rapidly to such changes. This opens the door wide to conflict over natural resources.

6. Serious warnings about the dangers of domestic terrorism. The report suggests that Islamic State and Al-Qaeda remain the greatest Sunni terrorist threats against US foreign interests, despite their reduced ability to carry out major operations. However, domestic violent extremists carrying out attacks for motives of racism represent the only domestic threat.

Threats to US Interests in the Middle East:

1. Increased Russian influence in Syria and Libya.
The report indicates that Moscow has expanded its efforts and its influence in Syria and Libya, with the aim of undermining US interests and presenting itself as an indispensable mediator, as well as gaining military access rights and various economic benefits.

2. Continued Iranian threats to the United States and its regional allies. The report finds that Iran poses a continued threat to the United States and the interests of its regional allies. Iran seeks to impair US influence by supporting Shiites abroad and by consolidating its own influence and projects in neighboring states, despite international pressure and the collapse of the Iranian economy.

According to the report, Iran will attempt to expand its nuclear program through various methods, risking an escalation of tensions, and threatening US interests and those of its allies in the coming year, although Iran remains extremely cautious of reaching all-out conflict with the United States.

3. Continued Iranian disruption of Iraq’s stability and security. According to the report, Tehran will continue its destabilizing activities in Iran, which will be the main battlefield for Iranian influence in the near future. Iranian-backed Shiite Iraqi militias will continue to be the main threat to US personnel in Iraq, and Iran will exploit its strong ties to several Iraqi parties and leaders to circumvent US sanctions.

4. Iran’s plans to maintain political and economic influence in Syria. According to the report, Iran is determined to maintain its influence in Syria. The Iranians are aiming for a permanent military presence and economic deals in Syria after the end of the conflict. The report states that Tehran is exploiting its influence in Syria in order to support Hezbollah and threaten Israel.

5. Iran poses a threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia. The report noted that Iran will remain a destabilizing force in Yemen by supporting the Houthis with ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as other weapons which pose a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies, especially given continuing attacks against Saudi Arabia. Iran also represents a threat to Israel, both directly, through its advanced missile power, and indirectly, through support for its proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

6. Iranian integration of conventional and non-conventional military capabilities. The report indicated that Iranian military capabilities are based on a combination of conventional and non-conventional weapons, which pose a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies in the near future.

Tehran’s traditional strategy rests on deterrence by launching a huge quantity of ballistic missiles. Iran possesses the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, which it will seek to develop and make more accurate despite the country’s dire economic circumstances. Iran likewise depends on a wide array of powerful proxies, which help to achieve its interests, provide it with strategic depth, and guarantee Iran’s ability to respond by widening its options.

7. The severity of Tehran’s cyber and intelligence threats. According to the report, Iran has significant capabilities to carry out cyber and intelligence attacks, and in July 2020 it carried out coordinated attacks against Israeli infrastructure and water networks. It also has the capability to influence and interfere in elections. The report states that Iran’s expertise and readiness make it a significant threat to the network and data security of the United States and its allies.

8. Various challenges to Libya’s political trajectory. According to the report, Libya’s Provisional Government of National Unity faces political, economic, and security challenges, including instability and renewed fighting or civil war. The report states that every side in the Libyan crisis will continue to provide financial and military support to all participants. However, the fact that the situation in Libya has not fully ignited is because Russia and Turkey have adhered to the ceasefire, as well as due to mediation by the United Nations, which has called for foreign powers to leave Libya.

In conclusion, the report indicates that economic conditions and humanitarian crises in Syria will continue in the near future, as the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad strives to extend state control over the whole of Syrian territory, including the areas of northern Syria under Turkish control. US forces in eastern Syria will also face threats, mostly from groups loyal to Tehran and the Syrian government.