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JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF

Vol. 4, No. 26     28 June 2005


The Relationship Between International and Localized Terrorism

Boaz Ganor


  • In the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan, the Islamic radical mujahidin asked for volunteers from all over the world to join the fight against the second largest superpower, in a manner quite similar to what we see today in Iraq.

  • The members of Islamic radical terror groups are motivated by divine command and actually believe that God is sending them on their mission. It is not possible to compromise with such a group.

  • Their non-Western way of thinking makes it much more problematic to understand their views, their goals, and how to deal with them. What is the meaning of deterrence if the other side has a different, non-rational, way of thinking?

  • Al-Qaeda's first targets are all the main Arab and Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. The second stage includes the surrounding states - Turkey, Chechnya, the Islamic republics of the former USSR, western China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and North Africa. The final stage is to spread their version of Islam all over the world.

  • Moderate Muslims have to understand that by fighting Islamic radicalism, by changing the motivation of the Muslim masses, they are not fighting for the West but for their own cause, since Muslims are the main target.

  • There is no connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the motivations of al-Qaeda and the global jihad to attack Western society. The Islamic radical groups that joined the global jihad had nothing to do with Israel when they were established. Only after 9/11 did they find that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could serve as a propaganda tool. If Israel would disappear tomorrow, does anybody really believe that Islamic radicalism would disappear?


The International Terror Network

International terrorism is the greatest threat to world safety today. The beginning of the global jihad can be traced to the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan when the USSR invaded that country to support the pro-communist regime. The Islamic radical mujahidin asked for volunteers from all over the world to join the fight against the second largest superpower, in a manner quite similar to what we see today in Iraq. After ten years of fighting, the USSR pulled out of Afghanistan.

The end of the war left three groups of foreign mercenaries. One group was recruited by Bin Laden to create the nucleus of the al-Qaeda organization. The second group returned to their home countries, to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and Egypt, where they were recruited into radical Islamic movements or started their own local groups. The third group included those who were not permitted to return home and who sought asylum in the West, in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. That network infiltrated the World Trade Center with a truck laden with 1,000 kilograms of explosives in 1993.


Fulfilling God's Will Negates Compromise

A key aspect of these groups is their strong ideology. The members are motivated by divine command and actually believe that God is sending them on their mission. A terrorist organization motivated by divine command is a much greater threat than other kinds of terrorist organizations because it is not possible to compromise with such a group. Furthermore, Islamic radicals believe in the need to spread their version of Islam all over the world and see the vast majority of Muslims as infidels, as well, and therefore as targets.

Another reason why these groups are so dangerous is that they have become experts in being terrorists. Furthermore, they specialize in suicide attacks, the most effective type of terrorist attack in modern times. This weapon is smarter than a smart bomb, with an individual deciding exactly where and when to explode in order to achieve maximum damage.

In the last four years Israel has been the target of thousands of terrorist attacks. The percentage of suicide attacks among these was less than half a percent, but they have caused more than 50 percent of the casualties. Suicide attacks launched by al-Qaeda often involve simultaneous attacks, which have proven to be very effective.

The final factor that makes these groups so dangerous is their willingness to use non-conventional terrorism. In a 1998 interview, Bin Laden was asked: "Would you ever use non-conventional ingredients in your attacks?" He answered: "I would regard it as a sin not to use every means at my disposal in order to protect the Muslims from the infidels." American troops in Afghanistan found video cassettes showing how al-Qaeda activists trained by using poisons on dogs.

Furthermore, in the last two years there were at least two cells apprehended in Europe - one in Britain and one in France - that were manufacturing poison gas. In addition, there was a concrete plan to blow up one of the main intelligence buildings in Amman together with the spread of cyanide there. This was operational, not theoretical.


Radical Islamic Priorities

To understand the strategy of al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, we need to recognize that Islamic radicalism is seeking to take control in all the main Arab and Muslim countries. These are their first targets, not the United States or Israel, and include states like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. Once the first stage is achieved, the next targets will be the surrounding states - Turkey, Chechnya, the Islamic republics of the former USSR, western China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and North Africa. The final stage is to spread their version of Islam all over the world.

Then why did they attack United States? As they said very clearly in their video cassettes, they had two concrete demands: the removal of American forces from Arab and Muslim countries, and an end to financial support of the moderate Arab regimes and Israel.

We are facing an international network with an extreme ideology, with a divine command, with experience in the battlefield, using suicide attacks, and seeking to use non-conventional ingredients. In addition, their non-Western way of thinking makes it much more problematic to understand their views, their goals, and how to deal with them. What is the meaning of deterrence if the other side has a different, non-rational, way of thinking?


What to Do?

We need to build a new international order that will deal with the phenomenon of global jihad, with a new international alliance of states that are committed to fight terrorism. The UN is too biased to do the job of creating such an alliance.

We also need an international court that will judge terrorist groups. We have the International Criminal Court (ICC), but its charter states that it will not judge terrorists because there is no acceptable definition of the term "terrorist."

We need an international intelligence databank as part of a new international intelligence apparatus - like Interpol - that will have not only the cooperation of the states, but also its own intelligence resources, with intelligence to be shared by the states that combine to fight terrorism.

We need an international Marshall Plan, because counter-terrorism is not just about fighting. Counter-terrorism is also about reducing motivation, draining the swamp that lets these Islamic radicals flourish.

Dealing with motivation does not necessarily mean giving concessions to the other side. In my view, giving concessions to terrorism plays into the hands of the terrorists. Dealing with their motivation involves welfare, education, discussions, people-to-people activity, and many other things that can be done and should be done.

The Americans are just now starting to understand that they have to deal with this. At the same time, the Americans have also had great success in fighting the operational capability of al-Qaeda.

Moderate Muslims have to understand that by fighting Islamic radicalism, by changing the motivation of the Muslim masses, they are not fighting for the West but for their own cause, since Muslims are the main target.

Yet all of this will not be achievable without certain basic changes in the world's general conception of morality. First, there is a crucial need for an acceptable, objective definition of the term "terrorism." I would suggest the following one-line definition: terrorism is the deliberate use of violence aimed against civilians in order to achieve political ends.

In this way we differentiate between terrorism as a tactic, which is always illegitimate, and the goals that the terrorist would like to achieve. The goals could be very legitimate, but there is one means of achieving them which must always be forbidden, and this is the deliberate use of violence aimed at civilians.

The second change that has to be accepted is the understanding that terrorism is the greatest threat of all, and therefore counter-terrorism should come first as the main interest of every civilized state, regardless of whether it is a Western society, a Third World country, a Muslim country, or an Arab country.


Terrorist Threats to Israel

Israel is facing the danger of terrorism from a number of sources. One is the global jihad, which sees Israel and Israeli and Jewish interests all over the world as one of its main targets. This is not only because they hate us, but also because attacking us is one way to unite Islamic radical movements.

The threat of Palestinian terrorism is well known and their motivation is high, though most of their attacks are being thwarted. Israel has had remarkable success in fighting the operational capability of Palestinian terrorists in terms of intelligence, targeted interceptions, and dealing with infrastructure.

The threat from Hizballah in the north is the opposite of the Palestinian terrorist threat. The factor limiting Hizballah terrorist attacks against Israel is not their operational capability but their motivation. Hizballah is being pressured by Syria not to let the situation on Israel's northern border deteriorate in a way that will complicate the situation. However, this means we are sitting on a time bomb by relying on their motivation, which could change tomorrow.

I agree with anyone who says that Israel's military withdrawal and disengagement from Gaza, will increase the motivation to strike against Israel.


The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Did Not Trigger Global Jihad

There is a growing notion that there is a connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the motivations of al-Qaeda and the global jihad and Islamic radical activists to attack Western society. This is nonsense because the Islamic radical groups that joined the global jihad had nothing to do with Israel when they were established. Only far after 9/11 did they find that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could serve as a propaganda tool, especially in Arab and Muslim countries.

I would also argue that Israel is not the cause for the rise of violent Islamic radicalism in Asia and the Arab and Muslim countries. In addition, Africa has now also become a hotbed of Islamic radicalism and Latin America serves as another good place because it's close to one of their largest targets - the United States.

Israel turns out to be the main barrier, the frontier that stops Islamic radicalism from going to the next stage. If Israel would disappear tomorrow, does anybody really believe that Islamic radicalism would disappear? Israeli territorial concessions will surely not stop Islamic radical terrorism and the global jihad.

*     *     *

Dr. Boaz Ganor is the deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel. He is also the founder and the executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the IDC. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on March 29, 2005.


Dore Gold, Publisher; Yaakov Amidror, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 USA, Tel. (410) 664-5222; Fax. (410) 664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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