The Magazine

An Unfortunate Israeli Export

Counterterrorism expertise.

Sep 29, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 03 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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At this year's conference, plenary sessions dealt with the evolving threats of international terrorism, strategic and operational challenges, and future trends. Workshops addressed, among other matters, state conflicts and nonstate actors, terrorism in Europe, terrorism in Israel, terrorism in Latin America, terrorism in Lebanon, global jihad in Africa, the radical Islamic media, terrorist threats to water supplies, terrorist threats to aviation, counterterrorism policing, and the prosecution of terrorists.

While it would go too far to report that the conference achieved a clear consensus, the lectures, panel discussions, and between-sessions schmoozing did furnish ample support for several general conclusions.

First, notwithstanding the Bush administration's success in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks since September 11 and Israel's success in putting down the vicious waves of suicide bombers that Yasser Arafat unleashed in September 2000, the United States and Israel as well as countries around the world are increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic, mass-casualty attacks.

Second, the terrorists have not only mastered the use of the Internet to disseminate their message, recruit fighters, and communicate among themselves. They have also shown great skill in manipulating Western media to take their point of view while also establishing their own broadcasting companies such as Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV and Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV. Accordingly, civilized nations must find ways to disrupt and shut down terrorists' exploitation of the Internet and traditional media, and to counter terrorists' success in using the Western press to promulgate their propaganda.

Third, the fight against transnational terrorism--which already involves unprecedented cooperation among nations--requires a great deal more pooling of resources and sharing of knowledge: As Ganor likes to say, "It takes a network to beat a network."

Fourth, to weaken the forces of radicalization at home, civilized nations must address Islamic communities' real grievances, provide educational and economic opportunities, reach out to reformers within Islam, ensure that the rule of law and the democratic ideal are extended and upheld in all segments of their own societies, and, where possible, work to fortify liberty and democracy abroad.

Fifth--and the key to all the others--the West must summon the political will to maintain focus over the long haul to prevail in a struggle that could last a generation or more and in which the enemy can lie low for months or even years on end and then, thanks to ever more lethal, ever less expensive, and ever more mobile weapons of mass destruction, strike suddenly with devastating impact.

These conclusions suggest that terrorism ought to be a topic of intense concern to the world's sole superpower as it hits the home stretch of a critical presidential election. Yet neither candidate has candidly discussed the threats to the homeland. Nor has the press, preoccupied with defending the nation against a Palin vice presidency, sought to hold the candidates accountable.

Perhaps next year's World Summit on Counterterrorism could devote a session or two to the need to educate politicians, the press, and the public about the impressive work that is already being done, and the urgent and enormous challenge that remains, in the battle against transnational terrorism.

Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.