Iran remains central focus at Counter-Terrorism Conference

The Herzliya conference, attended by more than 1000 participants, didn’t feature Israeli speakers alone.

September 12, 2017 17:03
2 minute read.
Brian Fishman, Lead Policy Manager--Counterterrorism at Facebook speaks at the ICT Conference n Herz

Brian Fishman, Lead Policy Manager--Counterterrorism at Facebook speaks at the ICT Conference n Herzliya. (photo credit: KFIR BOLOTIN/ICT)


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As the first two days of the Institute for Counter Terrorism’s Conference wrap up, the theme among the Israeli delegates speaking at the conference was made unequivocally and emphatically clear: Iran is the enemy, and it must be defeated.

But the Herzliya conference, attended by more than 1000 participants, didn’t feature Israeli speakers alone. Many of the speakers came from abroad and had a different perspective on the world’s greatest terror threats and how to address them.

In fact, the two major takeaways from the conference display a disconnect between Israeli and foreign approaches to counter-terrorism policy.

On the one hand, Israeli experts and officials have stated almost unequivocally that the biggest threat to Israel – and in some instances, the world – is Iran. The biggest issues, they charge, are the country’s alleged continued efforts to develop its nuclear capabilities, as well as its funding, armament, and logistical support of Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett spent much of his 45-minute session explaining that Israel’s number one – and existential – threat is Iran. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the audience that the greatest terror threat in the world stems not from Hamas or Hezbollah, but the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a special force within the country’s army. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked noted that Iran’s involvement in Syria – its arming of Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Assad regime – and its desire to create what is known as the ‘Shi’ite crescent’ presents a massive strategic threat to Israel, as Iran would then be on Israel’s border.

On the other hand, international experts commented that, in terms of counter-terrorism policies, the greatest problem is that states aren’t doing enough to combat violence, instead only taking in grand terms about doing so.

Recently departed White House Chief Strategist Sebastian Gorka charged that the last three American presidential administrations have only “paid lip service” in the fight against terrorism. Dr. Jehangir Khan, a Pakistani national and the Director of the UN’s Counter-Terrorism office, encouraged leaders to go from “rhetoric to reality” in implementing state-level policies and UN resolutions that deal with countering violence.

On the alleged ‘Islamic’ nature of terrorism, both Israelis and foreigners had plenty to say, albeit none of it was either groundbreaking nor unexpected. Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni commented that there is a war between radicalized Muslims and the West, as well as a war between Muslims themselves.

Gorka concurred, noting there’s a war against “politicized Islam,” but asserted that there’s “no monolithic Islam.”

Liberman claimed that today, the world is fighting "Islamic terrorism." Among several American analysts, there was debate over the merit of President Obama’s changing language regarding terrorism – refusing to refer to violence as being related to Islam, and in addition, calling acts not "terrorism" but "violent extremism."

 Despite these glaring gaps, there were some issues on which speakers, Israeli and foreign alike, agreed. No one – including Gorka – could seem to pinpoint President Trump’s counter-terrorism strategy. The debate around the balance of individual rights vs. ensuring national security came up time and again, with Gorka and Shaked speaking specifically to the challenges of doing so.

Looking forward, counter-terror policies will be focusing more on cyber warfare and to ensuring that incarcerated militants are de-radicalized while serving their time in prison, so as to prevent recidivism.

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