- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Last week’s brutal suicide bombings in Baghdad and Jerusalem have once again illustrated dramatically that the international community failed, thus far at least, to understand the magnitude and implications of the terrorist threats to the very survival of civilization itself.

Even the United States and Israel have for decades tended to regard terrorism as a mere tactical nuisance or irritant rather than a critical strategic challenge to their national security concerns.

It is not surprising, therefore, that on September 11, 2001, Americans were stunned by the unprecedented tragedy of 19 al Qaeda terrorists striking a devastating blow at the center of the nation’s commercial and military powers.

Likewise, Israel and its citizens, despite the collapse of the Oslo Agreements of 1993 and numerous acts of terrorism triggered by the second intifada that began almost three years ago, are still “shocked” by each suicide attack at a time of intensive diplomatic efforts to revive the moribund peace process through the now revoked cease-fire arrangements (hudna).

Why are the United States and Israel, as well as scores of other countries affected by the universal nightmare of modern terrorism surprised by new terrorist “surprises”?

There are many reasons, including misunderstanding of the manifold specific factors that contribute to terrorism’s expansion, such as lack of a universal definition of terrorism, the religionization of politics, double standards of morality, weak punishment of terrorists, and the exploitation of the media by terrorist propaganda and psychological warfare.

Unlike their historical counterparts, contemporary terrorists have introduced a new scale of violence in terms of conventional and unconventional threats and impact.

The internationalization and brutalization of current and future terrorism make it clear we have entered an Age of Super Terrorism (e.g. biological, chemical, radiological, nuclear and cyber) with its serious implications concerning national, regional and global security concerns.

Two myths in particular must be debunked immediately if an effective counterterrorism “best practices” strategy can be developed (e.g., strengthening international cooperation).

The first illusion is that terrorism can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated completely, provided the root causes of conflicts — political, social and economic — are addressed.

The conventional illusion is that terrorism must be justified by oppressed people seeking to achieve their goals and consequently the argument advanced by “freedom fighters” anywhere, “give me liberty and I will give you death,” should be tolerated if not glorified.

This traditional rationalization of “sacred” violence often conceals that the real purpose of terrorist groups is to gain political power through the barrel of the gun, in violation of fundamental human rights of the noncombatant segment of societies. For instance, Palestinians religious movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad) and secular entities (such as Fatah’s Tanzim and Aqsa Martyr Brigades)) wish not only to resolve national grievances (such as Jewish settlements, right of return, Jerusalem) but primarily to destroy the Jewish state.

Similarly, Osama bin Laden’s international network not only opposes the presence of American military in the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, but its stated objective is to “unite all Muslims and establish a government that follows the rule of the Caliphs.”

The second myth is that strong action against terrorist infrastructure (leaders, recruitment, funding, propaganda, training, weapons, operational command and control) will only increase terrorism. The argument here is that law-enforcement efforts and military retaliation inevitably will fuel more brutal acts of violent revenge.

Clearly, if this perception continues to prevail, particularly in democratic societies, there is the danger it will paralyze governments and thereby encourage further terrorist attacks.

In sum, past experience provides useful lessons for a realistic future strategy. The prudent application of force has been demonstrated to be an effective tool for short- and long-term deterrence of terrorism. For example, Israel’s targeted killing of Mohammed Sider, the Hebron commander of the Islamic Jihad, defused a “ticking bomb.” The assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab — a top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip who was directly responsible for several suicide bombings including the latest bus attack in Jerusalem — disrupted potential terrorist operations. Similarly, the U.S. military operation in Iraq eliminated Saddam Hussein’s regime as a state sponsor of terror.

Thus, it behooves those countries victimized by terrorism to understand a cardinal message communicated by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory however long and hard the road may be: For without victory, there is no survival.”

Yonah Alexander is professor and director of the Inter-University for Terrorism Studies in Israel and the United States.

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