The Magazine

An Unfortunate Israeli Export

Counterterrorism expertise.

Sep 29, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 03 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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Herzliya, Israel

Conventional wisdom--particularly on the left--has it that the Bush administration's bull-headed unilateralism has fueled a worldwide epidemic of anti-Americanism that has undermined global cooperation. This is of a piece with the widely held view--all too common among international human rights lawyers--that Israel's systematic violation of Palestinian human rights has rightly made the Jewish state a pariah among nations. That these beliefs exaggerate the discord between America and the world and overlook the powerful interests linking Israel and America to the community of nations was vividly brought home here earlier this month at the eighth annual World Summit on Counterterrorism, attended by several hundred practitioners and academics from more than 50 nations.

Sponsored by the International Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT) at Israel's leading private institution of higher education, the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, the conference featured keynote addresses by former prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and Gilles de Kerchove, counterterrorism coordinator for the European Union. Israeli minister of public security Avi Dichter and U.S. ambassador James Cunningham spoke at the moving final ceremony, held by design on September 11. That the ICT conference has become one of the largest and most important gatherings of counterterrorism experts in the world is of no small significance for understanding the civilized world's response to the war waged by transnational terrorists against it.

Certainly the people gathered at Herzliya--government decision-makers and diplomats, members of the military and police, intelligence officials, and private consultants and scholars, from Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovnia, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Iraq (yes Iraq!), Japan, Jordan, Nigeria, Peru, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South America, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and more--seemed not to have gotten the message that working with the United States and Israel is disreputable or contrary to international norms. Despite the varied interests that divide them, these states and all others share a powerful interest in fighting terrorists--those who, to take a narrow definition, aim to subvert internationally recognized governments by targeting noncombatants.

And no country has acquired greater experience in fighting terrorism under law than Israel. In the State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism 2007, the discussion of the terrorist threats faced by Israel is almost twice as long as the discussion of those faced by any other state, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Indeed, since its birth 60 years ago, Israel has never known a day in which its government, its military and internal security services, and its civilian population did not have to protect the nation from terrorists determined to destroy it. The country's round-the-clock efforts to combat Hamas terror emanating from Gaza and the West Bank, and the multiplicity of threats presented by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah in Lebanon have made Israel a laboratory for testing counterterrorism methods.

To assure its survival, Israel has been compelled to develop expertise in acquiring and analyzing intelligence; in detaining, interrogating, and prosecuting terrorists; and in capturing and killing--in refugee camps, in towns and cities, on open terrain, and across borders--a ruthless enemy that utterly rejects the constraints that international law imposes on warfare. At the same time, to vindicate its liberal and democratic principles, Israel has sought in the fight against terrorism to respect the liberties of its citizens and the human rights of its enemies.

So the civilized nations of the world have much to gain from Israel's hard-won counterterrorism know-how. And Israel has much to gain from the friendships formed in sharing it. This was well understood by the ICT's co-founder and executive director, Boaz Ganor (this year my colleague at the Hoover Institution as the Koret distinguished visiting fellow). Established in 1996, the ICT--which offers a B.A. concentration, an M.A. program, and executive education--brings together scholars and senior figures from Israel's security community. The annual international conference reflects the same commitment to synthesizing the insights of thinkers and doers.