“We continue to see Iranian malign influence across Iraq and Syria. While they currently are focused on countering ISIS in Iraq, we remain concerned about Iran’s efforts to prop up the Syrian regime against the opposition and its desire to exploit Shia population centers to increase their malign influence, not just in Syria, but also in Arab states across the region. This supports their long-term aspiration to achieve regional hegemony. Moreover, we are watching closely for indications and warnings of decreasing Iranian concern regarding the threat posed by ISIS, leading to a potential shift to targeting U.S. and coalition personnel and infrastructure in an effort to influence a potential long-term U.S. security presence. Furthermore, we must take care to ensure that our actions do not unintentionally strengthen the Iranian position within the region.”
On violent radical Islamist ideologues
“The security environment is further challenged by the emergence of a “virtual caliphate” and increased access and activity in the cyber domain. Ready access to the Internet, social media, and other messaging platforms has enabled a new generation of extremists to spread their radical Islamist views, incite widespread violence, and recruit new followers to their cause. As we have seen with the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS, diminishment of the physical organization does not equate to the dismantlement of their virtual presence. To the contrary, terrorist organizations’ activities in cyberspace enable them to remain relevant despite setbacks on the battlefield, while reaching out to direct, enable, and/or inspire audiences well beyond the region’s geographic borders. Countering the “virtual caliphate” will require a concerted ‘whole of government’ effort led by the people of the region. We can support our partners’ activities, but their voices and influence will be required to achieve enduring positive results.