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Unilateral Cooperation in Response to Terrorist Attacks – The Sinai terror attacks as a case-study

The title of this article may appear self-contradictory; after all, how can cooperation be “unilateral.” However, such was the cooperation between Egyptian and Israeli rescuers following the recent simultaneous terrorist attacks in the Sinai. This cooperation was not worked out in advance, and after a rocky start, significantly improved in real-time in the days following the attacks.

It has become clear in the years since the 9/11 attacks that the essence of countering global terrorism is multi-level cooperation. The terrorists are not bound by the sort of political barriers and national conflicts that affect the nations trying to combat them, and are not obliged to adhere to paradigms. Nor should the counter-terrorists be bound by such constraints.

The attacks on the Taba Hilton and Ras-a-Satan resorts can serve as a case-study for counter terrorism response cooperation and can help to map out preparations for future incidents.

Of course, successful cooperation need not be limited to first responders or to the handling of attacks after the fact. Rather, successful cooperation at other levels, such as intelligence, could help to prevent attacks altogether.

The Sinai incidents—multiple car-bombings at widely separated sites (one of which apparently aimed to collapse a hotel and create a mass casualties)—required meticulous and complex preparations. Similarly, the response to such a multiple-attack is tremendously complex, in which the speed at which critical decisions are made has a direct influence on reducing casualties and damage control. Thus the response should require meticulous preparations as well.

It is important to point out that although a hot intelligence warning was issued to military and political decision makers in Israel and in Egypt, to the best of our knowledge no bilateral or unilateral think-tank was established to discuss possible scenarios and requisite preparations. Had such a forum been convened, it would certainly have brought up the possibility of Israeli rescuers working on Egyptian soil in an emergency and the need to respect Egyptian sovereignty, and a mutual, or even unilateral, solution could have been arrived at. For example, the possibility could have been raised at the outset that Israeli first-responders enter Egyptian territory in civil-clothing. Other issues that could have been addressed in advance are weapons, aerial evacuation etc. It would have been possible to prepare in advance operative checklists on issues of mutual agreement, while issues where conflict was likely to arise could have been mapped out ahead of real-time crisis negotiation. Reducing the scope of unexpected cooperation issues allows for focus and more effective crisis management. A phone call to President Mubarak would have been part of a checklist in the Foreign Office or Prime-minister Office.

This type of advanced planning—along with situational scenarios, ‘war games,’ and simulations—is a familiar vehicle for military training, and has been developed further within the discipline of Knowledge Management (KM).

Scenario planning and context-dependent learning

Scenarios are instrumental in military planning and are used to detail contingency plans for a range of eventualities, from which the ‘action plan’ is chosen and adapted. In a similar manner, the enemy’s possible scenarios are created based on available intelligence, and analyzed in light of probability and consequences to our forces. This analysis of possible enemy actions is not done merely as a risk analysis, but forms an integral component of our own scenarios.

However, in industry, scenarios are used in different contexts. “In the creative media, it may mean a storyline…strategists, policy makers and planners use scenarios in a ‘future-oriented’ sense” (Ringland 2002). Indeed in the field of knowledge management, the use of scenarios has been promoted as a vehicle for the creation and dissemination of common knowledge and vision, through the formation of common future scenarios. This allows for the development of a unified organizational paradigm.

The synergy between the KM scenarios approach and the common military enables a step further in leveraging knowledge, by using simulations for more effective training in real-life context. Indeed, first responders emphasize this notion, referred to as “context dependent learning,” as being extremely applicable to preparing for terrorist attacks.

Context dependent learning takes the methodologies familiar to the military—war games and simulations—enhances them and applies them to diverse tasks. Such war games and simulations are also the most effective vehicle to educate soldiers and commanders at all levels regarding the systems they operate in (social or technological). Furthermore, it allows them to learn of themselves in a unique context, and it triggers the most intuitive level of learning—learning by doing.

War games have been part of military planning at strategic and operational levels since the beginning. However, research shows that learning becomes more effective through context dependent learning, when taken to tactical levels. Hence scenarios should be implemented at all levels, although with different aims.

Further goals of scenarios and simulations include:

  • Testing different scenarios as they roll, and in accordance to opposition scenarios.
  • Testing of specific subjects (e.g. battlefield digitization in US ‘Prairie-warrior’).
  • Context dependent learning for new commanders and decision makers.
  • Rehearsal and repetitive knowledge aimed at testing and maintaining readiness.
  • Dissemination of lessons learned (either through other simulations or AARs).
  • Familiarizing personnel with their counterparts.

When unilateral co-operation is necessary

Before the terrorist attacks in Sinai, no such scenarios or simulations were played out involving the Egyptians. Although the lack of participation of the side who cooperation is need is of course not ideal, it does not release us from need to be prepared. It merely means that the main theme of the scenario being played is a “testing ground” for the other side’s possible reactions in different scenarios, played by experts. Such role-playing and scenario planning allows for elements such as first responders to make preparations in advance, and for decision makers to be mentally prepared for various contingencies. Dilemmas (such as unified command, allowing entrance to civilian units, such as local rescue units, etc.) might then be dealt with in due time. Sometimes the scenario requires the involvement of the potential partner hence the scenario displayed validates the cooperation.

Future trends

It is clear that there is added value to cooperation in the case of a terrorist attack involving citizens of few nations or a location that benefits from synergy of resources, such as Taba (adjacent to Eilat). Cooperation, by definition, requires two sides, hence the scenario discussed above is not the ideal one. One should hope and expect that the insight of the Egyptians from the Sinai terrorist attacks will act as basis for better regional cooperation, not only in reference to terrorism in Sinai, but also to the protection of a long and problematic border and other, wider implications. Mutual scenario planning is an uncontroversial and quick way to familiarize counterparts, aim to prevent, and prepare mutual response.

Existing models of international cooperation exist and deal with everything from handling earthquakes and natural disasters in developed areas to strategic, political, and tactical levels. Many of these models may be adapted to counter-terrorism response. Relevant insights (and knowledge-centers for crisis management) should be implemented from other operational arenas.

Using the Sinai terrorist attacks as a case-study for cooperation can help to prepare in advance to respond to global terrorism, especially in remote areas or less developed countries. Such preparation is imperative not merely in our region, and relevant not just to Israel and Egypt.