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The West Must Support Islamic Moderates to Fight Jihadist Terrorism

The West Must Support Islamic Moderates to Fight Jihadist Terrorism

Counter-terror expert Boaz Ganor warns that Islamic terrorism is a deadly threat to Islamic moderates as well as the West, and outlines measures to reduce its influence.

Leslie Evans Email LeslieEvans

How seriously should we take Islamic terrorism? And how can it be combated? For security expert Boaz Ganor the answer to the first question is very seriously. The answer to the second is a little more complicated but essentially requires weighing terrorists' level of motivation contrasted to their operational capability and going beyond military responses alone to offer educational and social services to the Islamic poor that have been left to the jihadists for decades.

Ganor has plenty of experience in his subject. He is a member of Israel's National Committee for Homeland Security Technologies and founder of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzlia, Israel. He spoke about his new book The Counter Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers at the UCLA Faculty Center April 28. His visit to the campus was sponsored by the UCLA International Institute's Israel Studies Program.

Boaz Ganor began by cautioning his audience to distinguish between goals and methods. Almost all terrorist groups advocate political goals shared by others. It is the methods by which they pursue the goals that makes them terrorists. Ganor also sought to cut through the common argument that terrorism is a word used to define the violent actions of one's enemies while the same actions by one's friends are called something else. For him, terrorism by definition is "the deliberate use of violence against civilians to achieve political ends." Ganor affirmed that by his definition, insurgent attacks on American soldiers in Iraq or on Israeli soldiers by Palestinian militants are not terrorism, although they are part of a military conflict.

Religious Terrorists Are the Biggest Danger in the World

"I believe that international terrorism, mainly global jihadist terrorism, is maybe the biggest danger opposed to the safety of the world ever," Boaz Ganor declared. If this sounded like hyperbole, Ganor advanced a series of reasons for his belief. "The characteristics of the threat, what it is that makes them so dangerous are, first, the global reach. We are talking about a network that is actually spread all over the world. In the Arab and the Muslim countries, in the Western societies."

The second characteristic of the threat "is that these guys are experienced terrorists. They know exactly what they are doing. They were trained for ten years, most of them, in the trenches of Afghanistan, fighting the second superpower in the world, the USSR. They are the veterans."

The third characteristic of the threat "is that these guys are motivated by the most dangerous and extreme ideology. There have been different kinds of groups all over the world that have used terrorism in modern times. They have been motivated by different grievances: national and racial differences, economic and social grievances, communism, anarchism. I want to argue that when you are motivated by religious grievances, when you are motivated by what you believe is a divine command, God is sending you on your mission, you are much more dangerous than any other kind of terrorist organization."

Not a Clash of Civilizations

Ganor rejected the idea that the world is engaged in a clash of civilizations. "I see this as a war. But not as a war between Islam against the rest of the world. I see this as a war between Islamic radicalism and the rest of the world. It's very important to differentiate between the two because I believe that what we see here is a war of a small, almost marginal, part of the Muslim world against the rest of the world, which includes the vast majority of the Muslims themselves, who are not Islamic radicals."

Boaz Ganor supported this assertion by pointing to the large number of terrorist attacks within Muslim states. "A few days ago, in Egypt. A few months ago, again in Egypt, in Taba. And then a few weeks before that there was a huge attack in Amman, Jordan. And there were attacks in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco, and in Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey. Most cases were in Islamic states, in Muslim states. So if you would ask me who is the biggest enemy of Al Qaeda and the global jihad, I would tell you that in my view the biggest enemy is not the United States or Israel or any other Western country. The biggest enemy of Al Qaeda and the global jihad in my view is a state like Turkey. Because Turkey represents the situation of holding the stick from both ends, being a Muslim country and practicing Islam and living under the conditions of the Western societies and being modern. That is the ultimate threat to the global jihadists and the Islamic radicals."

Bin Laden's Three-Stage Strategy

Al Qaeda, Ganor said, "has a sophisticated strategy to carry out its goals of spreading its version of Islam all over the world. Bin Laden is not a fool. He knows he cannot conquer the world." Ganor outlined what he felt was Bin Laden's three-stage strategy.

First, he wants "to shake the stability of the Muslim states of Central Asia and the Middle East." These are states that are majority Muslim countries. "You have an active local radical Islamic movement. And what Bin Laden would like to do is to create the circumstances that will make it possible for this Islamic radical movement to gain control in their homeland. That is the whole purpose of the global jihad. Not that they will directly  revolt against the Muslim countries but that they will make the circumstances and shake the stability of these countries in order that other, local, Islamic radical movements can gain control there."

The second stage, Ganor continued, would be to weaken the surrounding states: Turkey; the former Islamic republics of the USSR; the western side of China, the Xinjiang area; Indonesia, Malaysia, and the north of Africa.

The third and final stage would be "direct and indirect confrontation with rest of the world and the Western societies."

If this is true, why did Bin Laden attack the United States on 9/11? "Didn't the United States belong to the third stage, not to the first one?" Ganor proposed that it was "because they identified the United States as the main obstacle to achieve the first stage." In support of this view Ganor cited the demands that Al Qaeda and Bin Laden posed to the American government immediately after 9/11. "They mentioned this in video cassettes and public statements. There were two concrete demands for the American people. One was to take your troops out of  any Muslim soil. Two was, don't spend your taxpayers' money on what they called corrupted Arab regimes and Israel."

If the American people "were to behave the way the Spanish people did behave after they were attacked," the result, Ganor said, would be a U.S. policy of isolationism. "This would shake the stability of the states of the first stage, of Central Asia and the Middle East. What would Egypt do without the American monetary support? What would Israel do without it? What would Jordan do without it? What would Kuwait do without the American military presence there? They would not be able to give their people the basic services they are used to. The people would be very angry about that, and they would revolt. That was the plan."

Suicide Attacks and Nonconventional Terrorism

Another characteristic of the threat, Ganor said, is the use of the tactic of suicide bombing. "A suicide attack is like a small bomb. The suicide attacker is no more than a platform to carry the explosives. But this platform can think, and therefore this platform can decide exactly where and when to explode in order to commit the maximum damage." In Israel, he pointed out, there have been thousands of attacks in the last five years. "The number of suicide attacks is less than half of one percent of all the incidents. The number killed by suicide attacks is more than fifty percent of the deaths."

The danger posed by any terrorist group, Ganor said, should be measured on two axes: how high their motivation is, and how good their operational capability. Suicide bombers are obviously acting on the highest possible motivation. The groups employing this tactic, he added, have also been seeking or experimenting with chemical weapons and possibly considering still more grim alternatives.

In the case of the jihadist movement, Ganor said, "these guys, I would say bluntly, would not be reluctant, and will use, nonconventional terrorism whenever they would be able to do so. And when I say nonconventional I refer to chemical, biological, radiological, or, god forbid, nuclear."

Ganor cited an interview with Osama Bin Laden by ABC in 1998. "He was asked, 'Would you ever use nonconventional ingredients in your attacks?' The answer was 'Yes. I would regard it as a sin not to use every means that I would have in my hands in order to defend the Muslims from the infidels.'" Ganor also noted an interview his Institute for Counter Terrorism conducted with an active religious jihadist. The jihadist was asked "Would it be right to use nonconventional terrorism knowing that a lot of Muslims would be hurt as an outcome of this?" The answer was yes. Why? "Because we are fighting a defensive war. We defend the Muslims from the infidels."

When the American troops captured the training bases of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11, Ganor said, "they found video cassettes that showed that the activists were using chemical poison gas on dogs. So at least the chemical capability was there back then. In the last four years we have had several nonconventional attacks that were operational in Europe and in Jordan." He cited two possible uses of ricin gas, in France and in Britain, and an attempt to launch a cyanide attack in Amman, Jordan, a few months ago.

Is the Jihadist Struggle a Defensive War?

Here Boaz Ganor took up the characterization of jihadism as a defensive war. "Actually people buy this propaganda from Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. You can hear in Europe, and also in the United States, 'Well, they are defending themselves. They defend themselves against American militarism, against military presence of the Americans in the Arab and Muslim countries. They defend themselves against American colonialism, against globalization,' and so on and so forth. I would argue, yes, they defend themselves. It is a defensive war. But it is not defense against American troops, or American militarism. It's a defense against Coca Cola, against McDonald's, against the Internet, against anything that has to do with modernity, which the United States represents in the best way. Because these guys know that the biggest enemy of Islamic radicalism is modernity. The biggest enemy of Islamic radicalism is the Western way of life. And therefore they would like to see to it that [the West] won't be able to educate or change the minds of the Muslim masses by being exposed to modernity and the Western way of life. The world is much more complicated than just calling your troops back home."

More Dangerous than the Soviet Union Was?

Even given this summary of the dangers of jihadism, how can Ganor argue that this movement is more dangerous than the Soviet Union during the cold war? "In the cold war you had two superpowers with hundreds of nuclear warheads facing each other. Surely this was more dangerous than global jihad militias?" The jihadists are the greater danger, he said, "because these guys have a different kind of rational decision-making process." The USSR and the United States, he said, shared enough common assumptions that they could negotiate; or even threaten each other, but keep communication channels open. In contrast, Ganor said, there is no channel of communication or shared goals that permits negotiation between the jihadists and Western secular society.

How Can Jihadist Terror Be Combated?

The most essential requirement of effective protection against radical Islamicists, Boaz Ganor said, is good intelligence. "It is needed to have accurate, up-to-date, good, intimate intelligence in order to fulfill all other missions of counter-terrorist activity."

Given good intelligence, Ganor then distinguished between two types of terrorist organization: a skeletal organization and a popular organization. "A skeletal organization would be like the Red Brigades, Bader Meinhoff, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In a skeletal organization you have a nucleus group of activists, a shell that can hold a few activists, several dozens, a hundred, a bit more. But if you capture or kill all of them you end the problem with this organization. So I don't jump to the conclusion that there is no way to solve the problem of terrorism just by using punitive measures."

Ganor contrasted this with confronting a large popular organization such as Hamas, Hizbullah, or Al Qaeda. "Then I would say it is impossible to deal with them only through operational offensive military activity."

There are two factors analysts should weigh in judging the potential impact of a terrorist group and what tactics to use to combat it, Ganor said. These are motivation and operational capability. The strength of a terrorist organization is the sum of these two elements. As long as motivation has not reached a certain high level, political or religious disagreement will not erupt in terrorist activity. Once motivation reaches a critical point, the members of the group seek out capability: arms, explosives, etc.

When to Expect a Boomerang Effect

"What can we expect from an effective counter-terrorist operation against a terrorist group?" Ganor asked rhetorically. "There will be a decrease in the operational capability of the terrorists so hopefully they will be unable to launch an attack. But I would argue that this would be a short-term influence." As long as the motivation is there, he said, the operational capability will be rebuilt. In fact, "the motivation will be raised immediately after the offensive campaign; that's the boomerang effect."

Ganor said that in his interviews with high Israeli security officials that he found them divided on whether there really is a boomerang effect. He commented:

"The boomerang effect actually exists. I can give you some examples. The first one in 1992. Israel killed the head of Hizbullah, Abbas El Mousawi. As a clear retaliation effect a month after that, Hizbullah launched a suicide attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing many Israelis there. That was a clear retaliation, which was not launched before. The capability was there all the time. They could use it if they wanted to, but only after a rise in motivation by killing the head of their organization they retaliated in a way they were reluctant to do beforehand."

The following year, Israel launched air strikes against a Hizbullah  training base in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon in which 100 trainees were killed. In July 1994, "Hizbullah launched the second suicide attack in Buenos Aires, against the Jewish Community House. Clear retaliation."

Another example, Ganor said, was Israel's killing of "The Engineer," Yehiya Ayash, in 1995. "The Engineer was the one person responsible for importing into Israel the suicide attack, and it caused so many casualties in Israel. Less than a month later we had four suicide attacks in a row in one week, which had never happened before. This was a clear retaliation attack."

While some Israeli officials agreed with Ganor that retaliation attacks are part of the terrorist pattern of operation, some others denied it, holding simply that terrorists will attack whenever they find an opening because that is what they do. These officials replied, "When they launch an attack they will say, 'This happened because you attacked me' a week ago or a month ago. This is propaganda. This is psychological warfare."

This group also offered examples, where there had been no retaliatory attacks. "In 1995 somebody -- I'm saying somebody because Israel didn't take responsibility so I don't take responsibility for that -- killed the head of Islamic Jihad in Malta, Fathi Shqaqi. But Islamic Jihad put the responsibility on Israel and they said that they were going to retaliate against Israel. Nothing happened. Why, this school says? Because they couldn't. Not that they didn't want to; they couldn't." Another example Ganor offered was the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the head of Hamas, by Israel in a March 2004 air strike. "And a few weeks after, another head of Hamas, the successor of Yassin, Rantisi. And Hamas was furious. The Palestinians were furious. . . . Nothing happened. Why? Because they couldn't." These Israeli officials concluded that there is no such thing as a boomerang attack.

"Who is right?" Boaz Ganor asked. Both, he replied. For a counter-terror planner, the key, in his view, is to weigh both the level of motivation and effective capability of a terrorist group before taking action. "Prior to launching an offensive activity I can tell you that we can predict whether there will be a retaliation attack or not."

Motivation and Capability: The Difference between Hamas and Hizbullah

In the last two years, Ganor said, "we have had a huge decline in the number of terrorist incidents in Israel. Both the Palestinian terrorist organizations and the Shiite terrorist organization [Hizbullah] launched much less successful terrorist activities against Israel. Now, I would argue that although the outcome was the same, the reasons why we saw this decline are totally different."

For the Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas, he said, the limiting factor in the last two years has been weak operational capability, not their motivation. "Their motivation is as high as could be, more than ever." Israel has succeeded, he said, in restricting these groups' offensive capability through military strikes combined with defensive measures, particularly the construction of the fence separating the West Bank from Israel. He presented a graph showing that while attacks on Israel have mounted steadily since 2000, that casualties peaked in 2002 and declined sharply after that. The great majority of terrorist attacks since then have been failures. "We believe that 85% of the attacks are being thwarted."

Hizbullah in Lebanon "also doesn't launch terrorist attacks against Israel," Ganor said, "but the limiting factor for Hizbullah is motivation." Hizbullah's capability "is enormous." Hizbullah "has thousands of Katyusha rockets that today cover half of Israel from Tel Aviv to the south and north. Hizbullah has organizations and cells that are ready to launch attacks in the West Bank and Gaza. Hizbullah has some sleeper cells within Israel among the Israeli Arabs."

If Hizbullah does not launch daily attacks on Israel, Ganor stated, "it is only for one reason. It doesn't want to." The main restraint on Hizbullah, in his opinion, is pressure from Iran and Syria as well as from the American administration. For Iran and Syria, which have sponsored Hizbullah, "it is not in their interests to see retaliation in the region right now. Syria has a problem with Lebanon. Iran has a problem because right now they have a nuclear capability. None of them would like to be responsible for a deterioration in the region. Therefore they prevent Hizbullah from launching its capability against Israel. So we see how the limiting factor is a different one."

The Ultimate Solution for Terrorism

The ultimate way to curb terrorist activity, Boaz Ganor proposed, is a combination of military repression with a long-term program to change the minds of potential terrorist supporters. First, he said, is repeated frequent offensive activities against the terrorist groups. "But if you do that successfully you should bear in mind that this just buys you time to build a new motivation. Sometimes, unfortunately, we tend to forget that and we are satisfied with the operational success that we have and we say everything is okay. But we turn a blind eye to the real problem."

Ganor judged that both Israel and the United States have had considerable successes in striking blows at the operational capability of terrorist groups, but the two countries "are huge failures in dealing with the motivation of the masses that support these terrorists. Both of them don't do even the first steps that are needed." He cited as an example a recent Israeli operation against tunnels Palestinian militants were digging between the Gaza Strip and Egypt to smuggle weapons and explosives into the Gaza Strip.

"When Israel sent its armed convoy to demolish several Palestinian buildings, because it was an operational need -- the buildings were being used as camouflage to build these tunnels to smuggle weapons -- Israel was criticized from all over the world for doing that, demolishing civilian houses. What I am saying is that when you have an operational need like that, you have to bear in mind what will be the consequences of your operational activity on the minds of the masses and the motivation of the community."

Ganor did not propose to abandon such operations because they stir up opposition and criticism. But, he added, "I would recommend that when you send this convoy, see to it that at the end of the convoy, after the tanks and the armored cars, you have two Brinks armored cars full of money." After the buildings are demolished, "if you find a tunnel under the building, you should send the residents of this building to hell. But if you didn't find a tunnel there, you should compensate the residents of the building three times more, four times more, than the worth of the damage that you caused them. It will not make them Zionists, but it can ameliorate the hatred. It can show the masses that you didn't do it to punish them or to take revenge or to create hatred. It will show a different way of dealing with this phenomenon."

The Jihadist Social Infrastructure

More broadly, Ganor said, the opponents of jihadist terrorism should imitate the educational and welfare institutions that have been a mainstay of the public appeal of the Islamic radical organizations since the late 1970s. "You take a village in Sudan or Egypt, you have a guy there who has three or four wives and fifteen or twenty kids. This is common, not unusual. There is no way in the world that this guy can meet the basic needs of his kids. And I don't refer even to a good education but to one hot meal a day." The governments of the region, he said, are too preoccupied with other problems to offer services to these kinds of overstretched families.

"The local Islamic radical movement opens a mosque in this village. And in the mosque they open a madrasa, a school. And also a welfare center. And they give all these services free of charge. Now this person who has these fifteen kids, he's not an Islamic radical. He's not an activist. He sends his kids there because he gets everything free of charge. And then, after a whole generation, what you see is masses who have been indoctrinated for years with Islamic radicalism. That is what has happened over the last twenty-five years."

Ganor urged the governments of predominantly Muslim nations to found their own educational and welfare institutions. He added that they should not expect quick results. It would take a full generation to have a noticeable effect, just as the jihadist infrastructure had taken.

However, he cautioned the United States and Western nations to leave education in the hands of moderate Muslim institutions and not try to run schools of their own. "There is no way that the United States or Western society can educate Muslims. Only Muslims can educate Muslims. And the nonradical Muslims have to understand that they have to fight. They have to fight this phenomenon, not because the United States and the Western society wants them to. Why? Because they are being regarded as no less infidels than the Americans or the Israelis. Actually they are being regarded as both infidels and traitors by the Islamic radicals. They cannot stand back and believe that it is not their war and that it is a wave that will pass away."

Ganor called on the Muslim states to outlaw the educational and welfare activities of the Islamic radicals and replace them with comparable institutions of the Muslim mainstream. This would require, he said, substantial financial support from the West. Ganor advocated a new Marshall Plan to offer help to the Islamic moderates. They need resources "to be able to close these services that the Islamic radical movements give to the masses and to open different services that do the same thing but without this indoctrination."

The Democratic Dilemma

Boris Ganor closed by touching on an issue that has come to the fore in the United States as well as the Middle East since 9/11: what balance can be struck between the needs of security and the protection of or struggle to achieve democracy and civil and human rights. "We have to acknowledge that there is a contradiction between the two" poles.

"The government in a democratic society, when they face terrorism, they are being pressured by their own people to use the most extreme measures in order to defend the masses." Any government that fails to respond with stern measures after a severe terrorist attack occurs, he said, "is committing political suicide." But if such a government uses every repressive measure at its disposal, "they lose their legitimacy to govern. That is exactly playing into the hands of the terrorists."

The solution, he said, is a careful balance between the extremes. "The American way, and forgive me for saying that I think it was a bad way . . . [has been] jumping from one end to the other end in a very short time. The Americans jumped from guarding very extreme liberal democratic values into the most extreme effective measures of counter-terrorism in one day after 9/11. We see Guantanamo, we see interrogations, we see Abu Ghraib, we see the Patriot law, and so forth."

Ganor contrasted this sudden policy shift to the approach taken by Israel. "Israel had, unfortunately, the experience of dealing with terrorism from day one." In Israel, Ganor commented, the Supreme Court has been intimately involved in reviewing and moderating military and government policies toward terrorist activity. The judges, he said, "were smart enough to give the tools to the security agencies, to the intelligence agencies, to fight terrorism effectively. But they still guarded liberal democratic values and they cut the edge of these measures to find the golden bridge between them." It is only now, he concluded, that the U.S. courts are beginning to weigh in on some of the more extreme measures taken by the Bush administration in its campaign against terrorist groups.

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