- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Have we reached the end of the usefulness of intelligence agencies? When it comes to suicide bombers, yes. Why? Because no intelligence agency can peer into the head of a lone suicide bomber before and certainly not after the act anymore than airline ticket agents could have anticipated the September 11 suicide bombing team’s conspiracy.

No intelligence agency can predict the exact time and exact place of the next suicide bombing. Neither Israeli intelligence nor Russian intelligence has been able to do that. Neither the Russian FSB, as witness the Moscow subway suicide bombing, nor Mossad can prevent a suicide bombing because prevention and even detection is beyond the power of intelligence practice.

President Bush’s September 2002 pronouncement of preemptive action against “emerging threats before they are fully formed” cannot work against willing martyr killers. Preemption works with countries, not with the lone individual who is ready to commit suicide for what he or she thinks is a just cause.

That is what is happening in Iraq every day. For the suicide bomber the non-military targets are everywhere and anywhere, and you can’t stop every truck traversing the streets of Baghdad for examination. And gender is unimportant. Since January 2002, seven women, at least one with young children, have committed bombing suicide against Israel. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than three dozen Chechen women have launched or attempted attacks against Russian targets since the second Chechen war began in 1999.

Shadowy terrorist infrastructures in the Palestinian countryside, in Iraq and in Chechnya have learned to outflank modern technology because anybody, with a little help, can be a suicide bomber and become part of what Palestinians call in sanctifying language “martyrdom operations” or “self-sacrifice operations.”

Unlike modern soldiery, a suicide bomber can begin to function at most in a few days. Intelligence agencies can hand out dollars by the bushel and still fail to stop the lone suicide bomber, who can be anybody. The suicide bomber knows that when his/her name is publicly added to the martyr roll call, his/her Palestinian family will pay for his act of vengeance: The family home will be bulldozed; so what? They will probably be provided with a new home somewhere else. How come the suicide bombers never defect at the last minute? Because they know that the defector’s family will pay a price. And anyway, the trigger pull for the suicide bomber may be remotely operated by a cell phone, perhaps.

And still the supply of suicide bombers seems to be endless. Even if the Israeli police can stop some suicide bombers getting through, they obviously can’t stop all of them.

How useful is suicide terrorism to the bomber’s cause? Paradoxically, the terrorist act changes little in the victim country’s policies, even though as in the Middle East, it takes four Israeli lives for every dead Arab bomber; even though as the Economist has described it, it has “destroyed normal life in the Jewish state.” The only visible injury to Israel’s economy from suicide bombing has been a dramatic fall in tourism; but on its politics or foreign policy? No change. Suicide bombing does not seem to change the politics of democratic polities. The Moscow subway bombing will not likely stop Russia’s war against the Chechen independence movement anymore than Arab suicide bombers will induce Israel’s population to flee their holy land. Two suicide bombers in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish part of Iraq killed more than 100 people but apart from the personal tragedies to the families of victims, the occupation policies are unaffected.

If the Mossad or Russian intelligence can’t stop the suicide bomber, can anything be done to stop this scourge? Only by forcing a change in a culture that glorifies death, as Osama bin Laden’s Islam does, a culture that the Arab world unmistakably supports. For let there be no mistake,suicide bombing has the support of the Islamic world whether in the Middle East or in Europe.

This culture of death has been noted by Harvard professor Ahmed H. Al-Rahim, who pointed out in a Wall Street Journal article (Feb. 5) that Hajj pilgrims who were trampled to death in Mecca were described in his mosque in these joyful words: “They’re so fortunate to have died in Mecca.” What the suicide bombing in Erbil shows, wrote Mr. Al-Rahim , is “an erosion in respect for human life in large parts of the Muslim world … the celebration of murder.”

Why, then, have Western countries been immune so far from Islamist suicide bombing? Perhaps because such acts would unleash a wave of hostility to the Arab populations resident in Western countries. But our time is coming because there does not seem to be any possible deterrent to the bomb-belted murderers. Or even their allies, the ricin dispatchers who have once again demonstrated our vulnerability.

The only hope is that democratic regimes in the Middle East like the Iraq-to-be will transform the culture of death into a celebration of human life. Until that day, the Islamist suicide bombing infrastructure will live in a happy state of immunity from reprisal.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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