We are all by now more than accustomed to seeing pictures of Syria’s conflict assaulting our senses in a myriad of different ways. The war is becoming as much one of visuals and images, as it is about bombs, bullets and shells. Perhaps we may turn around in future times and say that this conflict was the 21st century’s most macabre experiment in human emotional management and control.
The Syrian war is currently being waged on two levels: the military and the ideational. Which are increasingly intertwined in terms of their effect upon one another, yet also ever more distant. The military conflict becomes more domestic and parochial, while the war of ideas spreads further afield and takes root in countries far outside Syria’s borders.
This ideational war is the ‘Silent war’. It is rarely seen, and rarely talked about, yet it influences everyone who talks about Syria in a very direct way. The silent war is intensifying to the extent where it now defines the conflict, because controlling the flow of information, and striking back at those who seek to harm you is paramount to determining the course of the war.
Living in Doha, one experiences this silent war in a myriad of ways. The first and most obvious is the interference in communications and telecoms that frequently serves as an annoyance to those dealing with Syria. Al Jazeera constantly changes satellite feeds to stay ahead of interference; the twitter feeds of journalists and activists and academics are regularly hacked and altered; and for the most part it is generally a pain to talk or communicate electronically when dealing with Syria.
The rise of the Syrian troll is also an interesting development. Websites, news sites and YouTube clips are regularly flooded with pro-Assad propaganda, and the vitriol has surpassed even that of Bahrain as the most grotesque example of online behaviour which is aggressive and targeted.
But the Syrians have not stopped at just being mild irritants in telecommunications, serious attempts to breach security in Qatar have been made in recent months against sensitive infrastructure projects. These plans were all foiled, but serve as a reminder to all that there are real issues to do with meddling in a conflict in which the Syrian state apparatus still maintains a relatively effective ability to strike. Across the Gulf, similar issues are prevalent, and cause the security community no end of headaches and frustrations. Not to mention the myriad of journalists and broadcasters in the region who are the subject of revenge attacks sniping away at them.
So what is to be done? In short there is no quick solution to this rather infuriating development short of actually breaking the Assad regime’s electronic warfare capabilities, which of course means breaking the Assad regime. Until such time nefarious activities will continue on apace and even increase. All those suspected of being involved in the Syrian question in the Gulf will face increasing levels of hacking, snooping and low level sabotage aimed at preventing their dissemination of anti-Assad messaging.
Although it is doubtful that the Syrians possess highly developed cyber warfare capacity, as the stakes rise and the regime feels itself pushed into a corner, lower level disruption activities will spike, particularly in Doha and those in Media City in Dubai. For now at least it is best simply to buy a good anti-virus and hope for the best. Facebook, twitter, youtube, and PC’s are weapons in Syria’s silent war, and no more keenly is this being felt than in the Gulf.