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As a date, September 11 has the most significance for New Yorkers and others whose family members lost their lives on that fateful day. For the rest of us, the anniversary is a poignant reminder of the time that has passed. If the War on Terror is our generation's world war, then the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was its opening shot. If the previous world wars are anything to go by, then after five years of war, we should be nearing its conclusion. Instead, not only are we not beginning to catch a glimpse of the end, we don't seem even to have reached the end of the beginning that Winston Churchill proclaimed after the victory at El Alamein, three years after the onset of the war. Five years after 9/11, some in the West aren't even admitting that there's a war on, and many others are gloomily saying that the West is losing on all fronts.
The chaos in Iraq is deepening daily. Afghanistan, which was seen as an initial success, has also descended back into bloody warfare in which the Taliban seem to be gaining the upper hand. Radicalized Muslim communities are carrying out terror attacks in Britain. And on our own borders, we haven't been that successful in our local battle in the War of Terror.
Five years on, is the West losing? One thing is clear: It's going to take a lot longer than we ever thought to get a clear answer to that, decades at least, and there won't be any defining moment of victory, like the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad or the storming of the Reichstag. Many critics are disappointed that Osama bin Laden is still alive and well on Al Jazeera, but more astute observers realize that aside from a temporary morale boost, his capture will have little significance. Al-Qaida has gone from being a rigidly structured hierarchical organization to an amoeba-like loose-knit network in which bin Laden is less a commander than an inspiration, perhaps even more so if dead.
To be able to battle such a diverse and widespread enemy, the West has to set up a new NATO-like framework that will pool the necessary intelligence and resources and act as a true alliance, not merely as group of countries each helping the US in its own way, with varying degrees of reluctance.
Dr. Boaz Ganor, director of the Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT) at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, is convinced that such a body will eventually be formed, "the only question is will it be before of after the next big atrocity. I fear that it will be after."
Until the governments get their act together, Ganor's institute and other like-minded organizations are laying the foundations. Monday is the first day of the ICT's sixth international conference bringing together hundreds of counterterror experts from 40 countries, including some with no formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
Ganor agrees that we haven't even ended the first stage of this war, but maintains that there have been at least some points of light, mainly a much improved level of intelligence that has lead to the successful arrests of terror operatives in recent weeks in Britain, Canada and Denmark and foiled the planned attacks.
On the other hand, the most notable failure has been in winning the "hearts and minds" of more moderate Muslims around the world. "On the contrary, if you look at what's going in many communities in Europe, you'll find that the younger generation is more radicalized," he said.
He apportions blame equally between the various camps in the West. "Not one government really understands how to fight terror," he said. "Terror is a simple equation in which the two variables are capability and motivation. If they both add up, you get an attack. The US and Israel realize that terror has to be fought but are interested mainly in attacking the capability, while most of the European countries are only focused on the motivations. What is needed is a strategy whereby the West hits the capability to gain a window of opportunity in which the motivation will also be minimized."
But ultimately, in Ganor's opinion, the West won't be able to finally vanquish Islamist terror, and shouldn't be. "Most of the terror attacks now are not against the Western countries but in Muslim ones, like Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia," he said. "These countries have to be encouraged with every mean at the West's disposal to set up an Axis of Truth against the Axis of Evil. Only when they decide that if they don't act themselves, they stand the risk of losing everything, will they act."
Meanwhile, until such an axis develops, we're in for a long and strange war, in which further terror attacks, perhaps using unconventional weapons, loom even nearer.
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