The Threat of International Terrorism
Last night I went to yet another interesting AIPAC event (usual caveats about my note-taking accuracy still apply). The speaker was Dr. Boaz Ganor. His credentials are numerous. Suffice it to say, he lectures on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism at the High Command Academic courses of the Israel Defense Forces, and the Lauder School of Government and Diplomacy, as well as other Academic and International forums. He's consulted all over and written many articles published in Israel and abroad. This man gets it. Here is what he had to say.
The level of the Islamic terror threat is bigger than anything in the recent past, including the Cold War. There are various characteristics of the threat of International terror. They include: battlefield experience, extreme ideology, non-rational decision making, international network and non-conventional terror.
The war in Afghanistan in 1979 can be seen as the foundation of much of what we're seeing today as the Al Qaeda terror network. There was a call for global jihad and many from all over the world headed there to volunteer their services. It made three levels of fighters:
1) Those who stayed in Afghanistan would become the nucleus of Al Qaeda.
2) Those who returned to their homelands would form the local movements/cells of Al Qaeda around the world.
3) Those who wanted to return to their homeland but weren't allowed; they ended up moving to Western countries like the US seeking asylum. An example would be the Imam in NJ who inspired and helped prepare the people (those guys also fall into this category) who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Dr. Ganor shared an interesting anecdote of when he was lecturing to the FBI; in the halls, he saw leaflets about various terrorists (this was pre-9/11) on the walls. He saw the one they had on Bin Laden, which listed his occupation as "unknown". This shocked him -- he told the FBI that Bin Laden's occupation was that of FULL TIME TERRORIST! He was at another FBI facility recently and saw the leaflets on the walls again -- and Bin Laden's occupation was still listed as unknown.
He said that these Islamic radicals are motivated by religion. This makes them much more dangerous than the average terrorist because they feel they have divine command. You can't compromise with them -- they'd tell you to compromise with G-d, since that's who is sending them. He said their ultimate goal is to spread Islam, to conquer the world through terror.
So what is the biggest enemy to Global Jihad? Is it the US? No. His answer: The biggest threat to Global Jihad is TURKEY -- a modern Muslim state. He said they feel they have to defend themselves against McDonalds, Coke, Microsoft -- against the modern world. Yet they have no promise to give their own people.
He then shared what he believes to be Bin Laden's 3-pronged plan:
1) Shake the stability of the Middle Eastern countries and Central Asia, to see local Islamic revolt against their governments.
2) Spread revolt to surrounding countries, like Western China, Indonesia, North Africa, etc.
3) See it spread to Western Society. The US is seen as one who prevents revolutions elsewhere and that is contrary to their efforts.
You can see this in Al Qaeda's demands after 9/11:
* Stop supporting corrupt regimes and Israel
* Call back troops from Muslim countries (because we could stop the revolutions from happening)
They want US to be isolationists. Had we reacted like Spain did after the Madrid bombings, we'd be in big trouble. THAT is the reaction they want.
The tactics of modern terrorism have evolved to include the suicide attacker, which he calls a "smart bomb" because the person, if they see their goal being blocked (by cops, security), they can immediately change locations and find a better target. That's a smart bomb! But what they want to evolve into is post-modern terrorism -- non-conventional attacks. You have to wonder, what if they kill Muslims in these non-conventional attacks. Is that okay? The ICT (International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism), whom he works with, monitored a site which was asked such a question. The religious scholar said yes, that since they're fighting a "defensive" war against the infidels, that they are in fact protecting Muslims.
Steps have been made to counter this with some success. They've stopped ricen attacks before they happened in both Great Britain and France. They stopped another attack (not sure where; missed it) involving many kilograms of cyanide.
There is no rational decision making process, weighing costs/benefits like there was with the Cold War. Our biggest deficiency is in understanding their rationality for doing the things they do, and that's one of the reasons this threat is more dangerous.
There was a Q&A session following his talk.
Q: Why no attacks since 9/11?
A: Al Qaeda doesn't have an interest in sporadic attacks (like the Palestinians). They do sophisticated, well-timed attacks. And it's harder for them now. They no longer have autonomy in Afghanistan, lost their infrastructure there, their training camps. 50% of them were killed or captured. There are tiers to counter-terrorism. First tier is intelligence. The second and the third are as well. And US intel is much better around the world and at home now than it was prior to 9/11. We still have a long way to go though.
Q: Didn't we make these people powerful by employing them in our quest to defeat the USSR during the Cold War?
A: We did work under the misnomer that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Israel did this as well with Hamas vs. Fatah. It doesn't work. To win a war against foes like these, you need to counter their motivation and their ability. And by countering their motivation, that means the masses, not the terrorists. And countering the masses' motivation is not the job of the US -- but is the mission of the moderate Muslims. Our mission should be to motivate the moderate Muslims. There is a whole generation affected by the "free services" that Mosques, Madrassas, etc. gave to poor areas in Muslim countries. They used these services to indoctrinate their extreme ideology onto this new generation. We should do the same thing but these free services should encourage moderate Muslim philosophy.
Modern terror is psychological warfare. They want to create anxiety. Rational fear is okay -- that gives you awareness, which is good. But irrational anxiety is the stuff that paralyzes you from doing what you usually do. When an attack happens, our natural impulse is to personalize it; "oh my gosh, I was there a week ago" or "my cousin walks down that street every day!" But the reality is that it's very rare to be in a terror attack. He recalled being asked by people if it was too dangerous to go to Israel. He replied, "Yes. Israel has awful drivers." 2002 was the biggest year in Israel for terror attacks. In that year, 300 people died. In that same year, 600 died from car accidents. It's called keeping things in perspective.