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Strategic Ramifications of the September 2001 Terror Attacks

Lecture delivered at ICT Conference in Solidarity with the United States of America: Terrorism post September 11, held at Herzliya on 11 September 2002.

A year has elapsed since the September 11 attacks—a year during which a global war against terror has been launched and an entire setup to support this war has been created. Many times over this last year, we have come to realize that nothing will ever be as it was before.

The terrorist onslaught of 9/11 didn’t in fact in itself create a new reality; what it did was to expose the cruel reality in which we had lived all along. What has changed is the way we see things. We have learned a great deal; the way we relate to terrorism will never be the same as it was before. What has been learned—the testimonies, the pain, the pictures of the attack—like the dust and the smoke from the smoldering fire, have remained hovering over us.

There has never been such an attack in the United States. This was not for lack of trying; the threat existed prior to 9/11 and still exists.

What have we learned? First of all, that terrorism is a global threat; this is the nature of terrorism. It is a global threat, first and foremost because of its message, which is simply that the end justifies the means. This message is global in scope because it is directed at everyone, everywhere; and everyone, everywhere can make use of such a rationale. It is a kind of privatization of war; it says that anyone can launch his or her own private war.

However, despite this, not everyone who chooses to wage war can be equally effective. You need an infrastructure and an ideology; you need money; you need arms and bases to train. You also need forged documents and worldwide connections, which means you need countries that will sponsor you. Such sponsoring countries may also export terrorist organizations and their leaders. All of this forms the necessary infrastructure of terrorism. The fact that this infrastructure is global in its nature means that the response to it must also be global.

Increasingly over the past year, we have come to understand that there is a link between terrorism and non-conventional arms. There are reasons for this. One of them is that anyone who perpetrates terrorism in the belief that the end justifies the means will not be averse to using non-conventional weapons if he feels that it will serve his goal. The terrorist organizations and their leaders understand this, and it is something with which we must learn to deal.

We must understand that countering non-conventional terrorism is a totally different story than what we’ve had to deal with in the past. For example, the situation in Afghanistan would have been totally different had the Afghans or their neighbors had non-conventional weapons. I think this is now well understood; we are in a state of war but it is a different war than what we were used to.

We often say that there is nothing more practical than a good theory! This is especially true when one is facing an entirely new situation. Now, facing this new kind of warfare, it’s important that we develop a strong theoretical basis for our overall strategy. I would like to propose a suggestion here for such a strategy, involving five phases, carried out by three circles of deployment. The five phases are the same as in the classical wars, in that the goal is the same: the territorial destruction of an enemy and its resources. In order to win this kind of campaign one must fight the campaign on five different levels: political, diplomatic, security or defense, economic, financial, and judicial, of course, legislative. In addition, there must be a campaign on the level of public opinion, including public opinion among the enemy population, as well as your own population, and that of third parties.

All of these campaigns must be fought by three different circles.

* The first circle is the internal one: you are attacked by terrorists and must counter attack, while at the same time providing good defense for your people. This would mostly entail military action, but good counter-terrorism is comprehensive enough to include other defensive elements as well. However, when I say defense, I am referring to defense on different circles, like ripples in a pond.

* The second circle is the campaign against the infrastructure of terrorism. In order to win this campaign, we need to change the rules of the game. To begin with, terrorism must be deligitimized as a means to achieve any end, no matter how noble; terrorism stains anything it touches and will rebound against anyone who uses it. Secondly, anyone fighting against terror must also be ready to fight against weapons of mass destruction. These two rules of the game must be changed on the international level.

* The third circle is the campaign against the root issues that fuel terrorism: education, inciting and instigation, economic woes. One must address all these issues, while not leaving ones own population behind. In order to clarify what I mean, take the example of poverty. While poverty doesn’t justify terrorism, prolonged poverty does create the perfect breeding ground for continued terrorism.

All these circles should be thought of as concentric waves spreading out from a central point, rather than as distinct phases. Each circle must be thought out and planned in advance. The actual execution of these different circles will vary in intensity, and means, but all three circles must be taken into account.

Finally, the fight against terrorism must be carried out on three levels. The first is the individual level against the enemy in ones own neighborhood, where an attack has taken place. Then there’s the bilateral level, between different countries with a similar worldview and perception of the situation. For example: the unique ties between the United States and Israel. Much of what has been said in the last few days about the global campaign against terrorism has relevance to such bilateral ties. For example, on the 11th of the September last year, I was with an Israeli delegation in New Delhi, when the first pictures started coming through. This was right at the opening of a strategic conference between India and Israel, and immediately it was understood that an event had taken place that would have ramifications on the entire international community; this was a global event. On the spot, we decided to institutionalize a formal channel that would convene twice a year for cooperation on counter-terrorism. This was an immediate perception by a country that’s distant from us geographically, but is close to us in many other ways. Thus, strong ties at the bilateral level will contribute to the multilateral level.

As I said before, there is nothing more practical than a good theory, and so I want to give you a few examples of things that we should implement and promote in order to improve our war against terrorism. For example, from the security point of view, we need a combination of attack and defense, therefore we have to continue acting in the entire field against terror, including, targeted killings. From a moral point of view, such activity is very effective if we can carry it out with fewer mistakes.

One has to enhance security and defense. Not long ago, one of the ministerial committees began working on preparations for what we call mega-terror. While I don’t want to go into details on this, this is one of the issues for which we need to be prepared. One of the steps that I feel we should take in improving our homeland defense is the integration of the orthodox public into security work, for example as security guards. This would require the implementation of a massive public relations effort to call upon members of the orthodox public, who do not serve in the military, to volunteer. Perhaps such volunteer work could be credited as a kind of community service, or military service. Dr. Ganor spoke of patriotism as a kind of public defense against terrorism. I would use the term “social cohesion” rather than patriotism. I think we should also reinforce the whole homeland defense, for example, along the seamline. We also need to ensure that ’s sokind of uniform command from the point of view of the IDF. We have to have checkpoints with security checks.

This brings us to the third level of counter-terrorism, which I mentioned earlier; the level of countries with which we do not have cooperation. One of the problems with which we need to deal is the standard of living on the Palestinian side of the seamline, even while terrorism is emanating from these areas. We could, for example, establish industrial areas on the seamline, in such a way that those who have not joined the ranks of the terrorist organization may live a dignified, human life. Today, there are about 250,000 Palestinians and other illegal workers present in Israel at any one time. In order to tackle this problem, we need a budget and proper planning. You can’t just deal with the problem piecemeal; you have to have a comprehensive plan.

Counter-terrorism must also include the element of public information. There is a difference between propaganda and spokesmanship. Military spokesmanship and political spokesmanship both require initiative, from the political point of view, as well as the ability to draw conclusions from past mistakes.

On a global level, we ought to focus this war on countries that support terror. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya have all supported and even perpetrated terrorism. These countries are currently attempting to acquire nuclear weapons and already have weapons of mass destruction. And all three of them talk about the destruction—the total annihilation—of the State of Israel. When we speak of a global war against terror, we must understand that these countries are part of it. What is needed is not only a military effort, but a combination of all the different elements that I spoke of earlier: international statesmanship, security, defense, economy, legal issues and public awareness. Any campaign that could combine all of these elements would, I think, be extremely effective.

In this context, the Hizballah should be considered Al-Qaida Number Two. There is a way, albeit a long-term one, to neutralize the risk of this loaded weapon that Al-Qaida has in South Lebanon, but the only way of accomplishing this goes through Syria, Iran, Lebanon. However, it is also necessary to focus specifically on the Hizballah organization itself, apart from its state sponsors, especially with regard to the organization’s acquisition of non-conventional weapons. I think that the larger countries will be able to help us in that.

Now, how can we actually emerge victorious in the campaign against terrorism? In conventional wars, one wins by destroying the infrastructure of the enemy and his ability to wage war. However, in this war, one must speak of success rather than decisive victory. I don’t think that total victory over terrorism exists. The closest we can come is for all nations to agree that the use of terrorism is illegitimate, no matter the goals. We can also use military means to strike back at terrorism. At the same time, we must continue living in accordance with our principles and values, and contrast these values with those of the terrorists, who believe that the end justifies any means. There can be no coexistence with such a belief. However, we must not regard this as a war between civilizations, or between religions. It is not a religious war; it is a war waged by people who are using their religion as a means. While it is true that there are many Muslims involved in terrorism, this does not turn into a religious war, and we must not let our enemies turn it into such. Such an interpretation becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Nor should we let it become a war between different civilizations, although there are cultural aspects to it.

I would like to remind you that the term terror was coined during the French Revolution, not in the jungles of Brazil or the deserts of North Africa. Thus, this must be a war between values—rather than religions or civilizations. Specifically, it is a war over the question of whether the end justifies the means. It is also a war for freedom of choice, in the sense that every person has the choice between good and evil at his fingertips.

One last word, in the context of this day to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001: We share with the United States not only common enemies, but also common interests. But more than this, we share with the American people the pain and the support and the sympathy of this togetherness in the face of the terrorist threat. At the basis of this shared reality is the fact that we do indeed share common values.