Counter-terrorism expert addresses class

Anti-terrorism expert Dr. Boaz Ganor lectured on the current Israeli crisis and the state of terrorism in general on Feb. 21 as part of the “Terrorism and National Security” course offered by Robert Jackall, professor of sociology. Ganor is the executive director of the Israeli Institute for Counter-Terrorism and has studied terrorism for the past 20 years, beginning with his experiences as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) counter-terrorism branch. Ganor is currently completing his Ph.D. thesis, entitled “Israel’s Counter-terrorism Strategy,” at Hebrew University.

Ganor has served on peace delegations between Israel and Jordan and is also part of the Palestinian, Israeli and American tri-lateral Committee on Incitement, a product of the Wye Accords.

One of Ganor’s primary roles is to help inform the international community about the effects of terrorism and ways to combat it.

“We have a lot of briefings with senators and members of Parliament,” Ganor said, and noted that in the post Sept. 11 world, it has become increasingly clear how little most western governments know about suicide attacks.

Ganor’s philosophical approach to countering terrorism is to treat it “as a war, but a special kind of war.”

“Terrorism is no more than a tactical problem,” Ganor said. “The number of deaths and damage inflicted in suicide attacks is not nearly as important as the fear that terrorism breeds in its targeted areas.

“If we stuck to the physical damage of terrorism, I would be unemployed,” Ganor said. “The psychological damage of terrorism [is the key].

“I find it amazing to see that nobody tries to analyze how terrorism terrifies,” he said. For example, he cited the issuing of warnings about possible terrorist attacks as a poor choice on the part of governments.

“When you send a warning to the public it’s like creating a terrorist attack without one. You play into the terrorists’ hands [by creating fear],” Ganor said.

Furthermore, the “special war” against terrorism means that governments fighting terrorism may always appear to be winning “the battles but losing the war;” on the one hand it is reassuring to see the Israeli government find a Hamas cell, but on the other hand, if Israeli citizens are afraid to venture into public spaces, Israel is still losing the war.

Ganor said that some of the public’s fears are unfounded. He explained that many people “personalize” terrorist attacks even if they were not involved by imagining how they could have been part of the attack. When a bomb goes off in a discotheque people who were not there immediately think, “I was there yesterday” or “my friend could have been in there if he didn’t go to a different club.” In fact, Ganor said, these types of irrational thoughts are statistically unfounded. Although 2001 saw the largest number of deaths from terrorist attacks since 1948, the founding year of the Israeli state, there are still more Israelis who die from car accidents than attacks each year.

Nevertheless, when bombs do go off in discos – as one did earlier this year in Israel – terrorist groups not only use the bomb to instill terror, but they also follow the attack with propaganda. Ganor said that after the disco attack, Hamas claimed that the attack was focused on young Russian Israelis who had recently immigrated to Israel. The intended message, Ganor said, was clear: not only did Hamas incite fear again, but they also provided a theoretically effective way of trying to stifle immigration, which is in many ways the lifeblood of Israel.

Ganor then shifted his lecture to Osama bin Laden and his motives, identifying three of the terrorist’s goals. First, bin Laden wants to establish a “nucleus of territory,” whose borders will probably be central Asia and the Mediterranean. This nucleus will serve as the base for his radicalism, although bin Laden will have to remove leaders sympathetic to the United States, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Second, bin Laden would like to expand his influence on radicalism to include movements in Europe. Once steps one and two are complete, bin Laden will be ready for a “complete fight” to overthrow moderate Islam and western society. “Bin Laden thinks he has to remove United States influence from the places he’s targeting. What he wanted to do [on Sept.11] was make the United States isolationist,” Ganor said. “To tear down regimes and demolish Israel, [bin Laden] must stop American support to these regimes.”

However, the U.S. media, government and people “did not let bin Laden brainwash society.” And without the brainwashing, Ganor said, “terrorism cannot win any war.”

Switching back to Israel, Ganor explained that one reason that terrorism has been such an effective tool is the Israeli government’s tendency to grant concessions when faced with terrorist attacks. He cited Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, which has since been taken over by Hezbollah and their arsenal of 10,000 rockets, all of which are now pointed at Israel. Now, Ganor said, Hezbollah holds the key to power in the region, “and I think it’s only a matter of time before those rockets get fired.”

Furthermore, even during Yitzak Rabin’s tenure as prime minister, it was obvious that Israelis were being manipulated by the Palestinians. “The national Palestinian interest was that Arafat wanted from day one to create an image of good Palestinian versus bad Palestinian,” said Ganor. “The good guys were led by Arafat, the bad guys by Hamas. But this was a cover. Arafat and Hamas saw eye to eye.”

Later, during the Netanyahu administration, the Wye agreement was only signed after the use of violence. “The message [from Israel] was clear – violence pays,” Ganor explained.

Arafat’s manipulation of the Israeli people finally ended with the Barak government, he said. Barak was ready to give the Palestinians their own state, composed of 95 percent of the West Bank plus the Gaza Strip and 5 percent of previously Israeli territory. In addition, Barak agreed to relinquish control over half of Jerusalem. But Arafat did not accept the proposal and asked for more, leading to the hard-line policies of the current Sharon government.

Ganor said that there are three possible scenarios facing Israel and the Palestinians now. All three scenarios assume that Arafat can control the level of violence in the region by exerting power over Hamas and other terrorists. If Arafat cannot control the groups, Ganor said, then he is useless and not relevant to the future of Israeli and Palestinian negotiations.

The best-case scenario for peace would be if Arafat realizes that he does not have the popular support of European and Arab states. Arafat would also have to recognize that the current intifada is not actually an intifada; it does not have the support of the Palestinian people.

“[The Palestinian public] supports the violence, but they do not participate,” Ganor said. These conclusions would lead Arafat to accept an interim peace agreement. Furthering the possibility of this scenario is evidence, Ganor said, that
Israelis are not responding to terrorist attacks as they have in the past; bars, nightclubs and movie theaters in Israel are still packed with people, indicating a lessening of the fear of attack.

The second scenario has Arafat and Israel continuing the war of attrition, with Arafat waiting for the Israeli military to make a mistake. If Arafat can sway international opinion by pointing to a disaster – a bombing mistake that kills a number of schoolchildren, for instance – he will have a stronger bargaining position.

The last possible scenario is another full-scale war in the Middle East. If Arafat decides to increase the level of violence, Palestinians may start targeting Tel Aviv with their mortars, instead of areas in the occupied zones.

If that occurs, Ganor said, “that’s it. It becomes a major conflict. This will trigger Hezbollah to [fire their rockets],” which will in turn lead to a war with the Arab states as well.