LESSONS FROM THE COURTERTERRORISM WAR:
THE FULL STORY
By Boaz Ganor
Liberal democratic states [i.e., constitutional democratic states] confront threats from international terrorism that are unlike anything seen previously. The threat emanates from a network of radical Islamic terrorist groups dispersed across the globe.
Keep in mind that the main aim of terrorism is, not to kill and destroy, but to maximize anxiety and put pressure on governments to yield on policy. This is equally true of Bin Laden, Hamas, the IRA, and other terrorist organizations. We can win each battle, but, if one's people remain afraid, we are losing.
I distinguish between two types of fear – the rational, which is connected to the actual probability of harm; and the irrational, which is connected to the possibility of threat. The second type of fear is the sort that leads to concessions. For example, while 300 Israelis died from terrorist attacks in one year, 600 Israelis died in car accidents in the same period. Yet no one considers not traveling to Israel because of the threat of being hurt in a car accident.
The mujihadeen who came to Afghanistan from around the Muslim world divided into three groups. One group stayed in Afghanistan and eventually became the nucleus of Al-Qa'ida. The second returned to their home countries, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and beyond, where they started working with local jihadist movements or joined larger Islamic radical movements. The third group wanted to return home, but took asylum in Western or non-Arab/Muslim countries.
Umar Abdal-Rahman (the blind sheikh) is an example of the third category, someone who could not return to his homeland of Egypt and so settled in the United States of America. In 1993, he masterminded the World Trade Center bombing, which was designed to kill 50,000 people by toppling one tower on the other.
Thus,the jihadist threat is three-pronged. It includes a terrorist vision of unlimited carnage, carried out by men highly trained in explosives and warfare and equipped with an ideology they seek to spread at the expense of everyone else, including more mainstream Muslims, whom the jihadists regard as infidels.
These violent Islamists are limited by shortage of manpower, however, so they are patient and intend to accomplish their designs gradually. Osama bin Laden seeks, first, to gain control of places where the majority of his supporters are located, such as Central Asia and some Arab countries. He does not aim to conquer Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Egypt, but wants radicals from those countries to conquer them from within.
Looking at the major terrorist attacks since 9/11, most of them have occurred in Muslim countries: Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, and so on. The targets have usually been non-Muslims: Western tourists, Jews, other non-Muslim locals, and so on. These acts are aimed at shaking the stability of Muslim countries whose economies rely largely on tourism. Once their regimes shake and cave in, the next phase is to launch the final battle against the West in general and America in particular.
If Washington were to withdraw its support, the Middle Eastern region's stability would be shaken -- what Bin Laden wants. The 9/11 attack was not meant to destroy the United States or destroy the American economy; it was a intended to create anxiety that would pressure the U.S. government to shift its policy.
Bin Laden is enamored with the use of suicide attacks, the ultimate smart bomb, a tool to maximize casualties and damage, including psychological damage. In Israel, the number of suicide attacks, as a portion of all terrorist acts is less than 0.5 percent. Yet over 50 percent of casualties resulting from terrorist attacks come from suicide bombings. It is an effective method to kill and spread fear. This makes suicide terrorism Al-Qa'ida's favorite method. When combined with non-conventional terrorism, which includes chemical, biological or even nuclear attacks, it becomes truly frightening.
We have seen evidence of this willingness in recent years. Several terrorist operations along these lines were thwarted, such as a poison gas attack on the London Underground and a suicide bombing of the Jordanian intelligence building in Amman, to have been followed by the release of cyanide.
Note that religious sanction by Islamist clerics has been granted for such attacks, even if they lead to mass Muslim casualties, for this is seen as defensive warfare, ultimately saving the lives of even more Muslims.
Islamists are not so much fighting against American troops as they are in combat against Coca-Cola, McDonalds, the Internet, and Microsoft. They feel threatened by the embodiments of American culture. This implies that withdrawing American troops will solve nothing. More generally, defensive retreats do not result in less aggression from terrorists.
The Israeli experience confirms this. There were more successful suicide attacks prior to the partial reoccupation of the West Bank in early 2002 than afterwards. Attempted suicide attacks increased at that time, but their success rate dropped off dramatically. Going on the offensive, not pulling out, was important in reducing the effectiveness of Palestinian terrorism.
Counterterrorism & U.S. National Security
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
The Middle East & the Arabs
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Terrorism & American Homeland Security
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Boaz Ganor is the Founder of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and Deputy Dean of the Lauder School of Government and Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. He is the author of several books, most recently the just-released The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers (Transaction Publishers). Mr. Ganor lectures on terrorism and counter-terrorism at the High Command Academic Courses of the Israel's Defense Forces. He addressed the Middle East Forum in New York, N.Y., on April 8, 2005.
The foregoing briefing by Boaz Ganor was originally published on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum and can be found on that website.
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