An A to Z on fighting terror

Before 9/11, terrorism was some other country's problem, but with the global scope of Islamic extremism and WMDs, the stakes are now too high to be parochial about the threat.

boaz book 298 (photo credit: )
boaz book 298
(photo credit: )
The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers By Boaz Ganor Transaction 334pp., $39.95 Before 9/11, terrorism was some other country's problem, but with the global scope of Islamic extremism and WMDs, the stakes are now too high to be parochial about the threat. In The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers, terrorism expert Boaz Ganor attempts to tackle every facet of the subject, from the dilemmas of intelligence-gathering to picking an effective deterrent strategy. However, while The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle is meant for government leaders, CEOs, military personnel and even the average citizen, it is unlikely that anyone besides another scholar on terrorism will take the time to plow through it. The all-in-one volume is unbearably dry, at times reading like a compendium of expert opinions and abstract what-ifs. And that's a shame, because Ganor has many insightful things to say. Drawing an analogy from the laws of war, Ganor defines terrorism as the use of violence against civilians to achieve a political aim - be it freedom, fascism or anything in between. The problem he has with the clich , "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," is not, as often assumed, its moral relativism, but the implied confusion between means and ends. So a terrorist is to a guerrilla as a war criminal is to a soldier. Good, but what about the organization itself; how many massacres must occur during the course of a conflict before The Somebody's Liberation Front is considered a terrorist group? Ganor leaves that issue unresolved, but if one murder were enough, then every army in the world would be considered Einsatzgruppen. In the following chapter, Ganor charts out (he loves his charts and diagrams) what factors affect the motivation andcapability of a terrorist group to commit an attack. Capability is crucial; a terrorist group stripped of its recruiters, bomb makers, money launderers and leaders is like Hamas immediately after the assassinations of Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi - fuming but impotent. Does this mean there is a military solution? Ganor believes that such an approach can work in the case of fringe groups like Italy's Red Brigades, but with popular nationalist movements, "military action may, at most, reduce the phenomenon and its resultant damage …" In other words, the Palestinians will always be back with bombs if there is no political compromise. In a similarly deliberate fashion, Ganor explores other nitty-gritty issues of counter-terrorism. He considers how deep an undercover agent can penetrate a terrorist group before tainting himself (he suggests not having agents at a leadership level); whether "targeted killing" is an appropriate way to deal with terrorists (it depends, in part, on whether they are seen as regular criminals or soldiers), and how one calculates the benefits of an offensive strike. However, for some inexplicable reason, Ganor uses only the most anemic anecdotes to illustrate his points - and usually after he has already lost the reader. Take, for example, his exploration of the trade-off between democracy and counter-terrorism - an issue that has gained much "sex appeal" in the age of Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act. Ganor pedantically records the views of assorted academics, politicians and security chiefs, and only 17 pages later does he get to banned Shin Bet interrogation techniques. And why are all the examples of counter-terrorism policies and debates taken from the Israeli experience? Does a decision maker in Spain, France or Canada really need to know how Israel's Supreme Court tried to reconcile deporting Palestinians from the territories with the Fourth Geneva Convention? If yes, then can't Israeli decision makers equally benefit from the judicial rulings of other countries? All in all, The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle could have been as magnificent as Michael Walzer's classic Just and Unjust Wars, but it isn't, and for that reason alone some editor out there deserves a dose of moderate physical pressure. The writer is a Tel Aviv-based freelance journalist.