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The Challenge Of Confronting Islamic Terrorism - Terrorism Against Israel

The Challenge Of Confronting Islamic Terrorism - Terrorism Against  Israel

Author: Dr. Uzi Arad
Date: October 8, 2004

Report Compiled By Radha Rajan

We woke up today, my wife and I with news about terrorism against Israelis in the tourist resort town of Taba in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. This time of the year is one of the two peak holiday times for Israelis. Mnay of us travel on holidays at this time and this holiday resort town in Sinai is a favorite vacation place for Israelis. There were three simultaneous attacks, three car bombs, in this large resort town frequented by Israeli tourists. They were attacked at dinnertime when probably all of them, including women and children were eating their dinner.
But there was one unusual factor this time - we had early warnings that this was coming. Israel's counter-terrorism agency warned Israelis not to travel to Sinai during this holiday season. Such a warning is unusual for us. But Israelis decided to ignore the warning and they went ahead with their holidays as planned. I can tell you that there is a sense of hopelessness and outrage that is gripping all Israelis today but there is also the conviction that we must struggle on, to continue with our lives; we just cannot allow ourselves to be always held in a state of siege or hostage.

I had intended initially to make a very analytical and even objective presentation to you all about terrorism against Israel but I cannot be detached or clinical about terrorism against our people and I don't think we should be detached or clinical. Therefore I will abandon the idea of making a prepared or a formal presentation and will instead share with you some thoughts in a reflective manner, not from a strategic perspective but with a historic perspective. What are the thoughts that come to my mind?

These repeated attacks are a part of the wider thing happening around the world. This kind of terror attacks is now a problem of global proportions. It is really a global war. Even the other great wars involving several countries of the world, when they were happening, were not seen to be world wars - only in retrospect did they come to be called World Wars; including the Cold war. It was only in retrospect that people really came to grips with the enormity, the scope and the dimensions of the two world wars and the Cold war. During these wars people didn't really know what they were going through nor understand the ramifications of these great wars. There are some people who call this global war against terrorism, a clash of civilizations and those who pooh-pooh this clash of civilizations theory,  who trivialise this view point, end up trivialising the seriousness of the threat of Islamic terrorism or that much of this Islamic terrorism is directed against non-Islamic peoples and nations.

Now I don't know if this is going to get any worse, get better or get better before it ends. If events are cyclical, then I also don't know where we are positioned in this one - at the beginning, in the middle or in the end. Russia, Madrid, Bali, India we see Islamic terrorism everywhere - sometimes these acts of terror are local, sometimes bigger and connected.

The second point I wish to make is, what are the root causes for this terror? We can also be dismissive of these so-called root causes. Rather than splitting hairs on the nuances of the root causes, I have found it useful to call a spade a spade. So I have always simplified the issue by posing the following questions - who is the enemy, who are our friends? My answer is also not nuanced. The enemy is radical Islam and this is the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report. It is radical Islam in Madrid, Bali and other parts of Asia, in the US and in Russia.  Maybe this is a test of things to come.

Of course, there are other instances of terror. Just as during the Cold war era there were other skirmishes. But dominantly, it was the ideological war between capitalism and communism as embodied by the US and the Soviet Bloc which characterised that period in world history. Today, in one way or the other, most acts of terrorism are connected to radical Islam - same scope, same intensity, same methods with global effects. And this is costing the world not just in terms of human life but also politically and economically. This deviant version of Islam is characterised by its intense animosity and its utter lack of restraint or inhibitions in its fanatic desire to cause the demise of entire civilizations. And it is armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The third point that I make is to ask "Who are they fighting"? And as I said before it helps to generalise in the interest of clarity. They are fighting non-Islamic societies and within Islamic nations they are fighting to impose an Islamic State of their kind of deviant Islam. They are consumed by hatred, revanchism, call it what you will. And I ask you, if this is indeed larger than isolated incidents of terror, if there is a global network operating on similar intentions, then what should be the attitude of world governments and peoples to cope with it, to confront it?

Those of us who are coping with radical Islam are confronted by a dilemma - either adjust to it hoping it will moderate itself. So we appease it as a method of engaging with it. There is a lot of charm to this appeasement because it appears tolerant and self-critical but in my view, this kind of appeasement is like 'protection money'. It is like the protection money we pay to mafias and organized criminal gangsters, only this is elevated to the level of the State against organized religious terrorism.

The converse of  appeasement is confrontation and even preemption. Like protection money, this too is expensive, has no assured victory. The costs of confrontation and preemption are certain but the fruits of this kind of coping is uncertain. It also leads to escalation unless our confrontation and preemption are planned and executed towards blunting the terrorist initiative.

So, which one of these methods of coping with radical Islam is superior? Again, for the sake of clarity let us simplify our argument. If the conflict is existential, then there can be no compromise on how we deal with it whereas if the conflict is circumstantial then maybe we can pursue the line of appeasement if we think it can buy some peace. There is however the real danger that appeasing Islamic terrorism towards a short-term goal can feed its destructive appetite and by always dealing with it in the circumstantial mode we may end up losing the existential war. The other problem is also that radical Islam refuses to negotiate. There are no doubts about the nature of the struggle. It wants you to disappear, it wants to kill you and/or be killed in the process. It takes up a non-negotiating, maximalist stand against its enemies. So the confrontation with radical Islam is almost always existential.

That being so, we have no choice about our methodology because the nature of the conflict leaves us with no choice. Therefore I think those of us who are confronting radical Islamic terrorism have to brace ourselves for a defence commensurate with the problem. And as these radical Islamic terrorists get hold of weapons of mass destruction, then the conflict is even more complex and dangerous.

We need to think in Churchillian terms - all and every kind of force needs to be mobilised and used. There is a need and an urgency for unity of purpose among the countries of the world which are the victims of Islamic terrorism to confront radical Islam because we are lagging behind in this war. How do we manage this campaign to defeat it? Two or three broad approaches.

Do whatever one needs to do defensively. Put in place protective defensive measures - national borders, in sensitive installations, in public places like airports, shopping malls, important work places.

Going on the offensive. Learn as we go, as in a military operation. We must resort to targeted killing, a tactic that Israel is actively employing now. Targeted killing is much more surgical and effective because it has an immediate and perceptive disruptive on the enemy. I mean target the commanders and planners of these terror acts - these commanders and planners like Bin Laden will always be in hiding, will always be on the run. They are more cowardly than the terrorists who actually execute these acts, killing innocent men, women and children.

We need resources, will and professionalism in dealing with radical Islam. You know I have seen in many international airports - If you are caught possessing drugs you are punishable with death - or something to that effect. We need the will to say that about terrorists - If you are a terrorist or if you are caught aiding or abetting terrorism in any form, you are liable for punishment by death. If societies want to rise to the situation, then we must legislate to enable our law enforcing agencies to deal ruthlessly with terrorism.

Lastly, if my observation that almost all of these global acts of terror come from deviant, radical Islam then one must also accept the recommendations of the commissions that have gone into the why s and how s of 9/11 and either destroy or bring about a change in the habitat that breeds this form of terrorism.


You mentioned existential and circumstantial situations which decide the method of dealing with terrorists and also mentioned appeasement or confrontation as the two methods. I would like to draw your attention to the faxct that after Indinesia, India has the largest Muslim population in the world and taking such decisions is extremely difficult. Sometimes it calls for repeated appeasement. Rather than use the words existential and circumstantial, I would say that sometimes this appeasement is tactical and sometimes strategic.

SPEAKER:  For a moment I thought you had something new to say. But please expand upon yopur line of thinking and you and I are saying the same thing. It is alright to use appeasement as a policy if it is tactical and achieves for us an immediate objective. But only a word of caution. These tactical appeasement measures should not lead to a point that we lose the will to confront terrorism and we end up losing the strategic war.

You called for a unity of purpose and mobilising all resources to confront the kind of terrorism authored by deviant Islam but this war is being led by the US and we in India have no great faith in the US' commitment to ending global Islamic terrorism. If it was committed to ending this terrorism then far from chasing after Iraq it ought to have entered into Pakistan. Almost every act of terror in this global network of jihadi terrorism has been rooted in Pakistan. There has been a direct or direct Pakistan connection to this terrorism. And India has been the victim of Pakistani aggression and Pakistan-based terrorism long before 9/11 and for all these years until 9/11 the US has been either condoning or even encouraging this kind of terrorism by refusing to heed India's repeated accusations.

And pardon me, there seems to be no consensus on what constitutes terrorism. Terrorism has come to mean terrorism against the US and its national interests. Look at the two reports that the US State Department issues annually - one on terrorist acts around the world and the one on religious freedom. If Islamic terrorism is rooted in religion then it means we have to deal with the followers of that faith. Somehow these two reports appear to be at cross-purposes when it deals with the root causes of terrorism against India and India's dealing with Muslims in this country. How can Indians repose faith in the US to weld together a coalition against global Islamic terrorism when it has this grossly ambivalent attitude towards Pakistan and its role in authoring all acts of terror including those against India. Forgive me but it seems India has to devise her own method of dealing with Islamic terrorism and if the State in India too fails to protect its people against Islamic or jihadi terrorism as we call it,  then society will find its own way of dealing with it, in fact, it is society which will destroy the habitat which breeds it.

ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: Even if you reduce society to anarchy?

Oh yes, even if we reduce society to utter chaos. Sir, you said now that even if the rest of the world were not with you, Israel is prepared to be isolated and will fight this war alone. We too are prepared for a similar isolation. Even if the rest of the world condemns us, our society will deal ruthlessly with jihadi terrorism if there are no other ways available to it.

SPEAKER:  (After a few moments of total silence), What can I say? What really can I say? You are absolutely right on every count. It is obvious you have thought a great deal on this issue. Please, please continue with this thought and pursue it until you have the answer to how to deal with radical Islam. You must persist with this thinking. And as for Pakistan, I have no answers to that one too. What can we do about Pakistan? I don't know the answer to that either. You know no country really has any problems about India's nuclear capability but it is the fact that India's  weapons capability has triggered Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme which causes the world this concern. So what is the answer?

For one, the US can de-nuclearise Pakistan.

SPEAKER: Let us assume for arguments sake that the US did indeed de-nuclearise Pakistan. It would also demand that India too de-nuclearise herself.

But then our nuclear weapons programme is not Pakistan-focussed or Pakistan-centric. Our concerns lie elsewhere.

ANOTHER PARTICIPANT: Let me conclude by saying that it is the US which is directly responsible for the kind of global jihadi terrorism we see happening in Iraq, in Indonesia, in the Philippines, in Russia, in India and of course in the US. The US used extremist Islam in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. It was the CIA and Pakistan's ISI which trained and armed the mujahideen which transformed itself into the Taliban and other jihadis perpetrating acts of terror around the world today. And as for Pakistan, we have several options available to us to finish it. Pakistan has always underestimated the Hindus, the day Hindus decide to teach Pakistan a lesson we will destroy it and it will not even know what hit it.



Dr. Uzi Arad is the Director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy (IPS) and Professor of Government at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC).

Before joining the IDC and between 1975 and 1999, Dr. Arad served with Israel's foreign intelligence service, the Mossad in senior positions both in Israel and abroad. Among these, he held the positions of Director, Intelligence Division and then that of Foreign Policy Adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His areas of specialization include foreign and security affairs, intelligence and policy making. He has jointly authored 'Sharing Global Resources' written for the New York Council on Foreign Relations. He has also authored several articles on national security, arms control, energy policy and on European, American and Middle-East issues. Dr. Arad also sits on the Board of Directors of a number of international non-profit organizations and foundations.

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