Q&A with Dr. Boaz Ganor

Dr. Boaz Ganor (photo credit: Courtesy of Gady Dagon)
Dr. Boaz Ganor
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gady Dagon)
Ahead of the ICT 7th International Conference: "Terrorism's Global Impact" on September 8-11, 2007 at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel, co-founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), Dr. Boaz Ganor answers your questions on terrorism. Michael L. Milligan, Triangle, VA: Recent articles described that Hamas' arsenal is growing daily. Not only were they rewarded with a stockpile of American weapons when they ransacked Ramallah, but weapons pour daily across the Egyptian border. Not only have they become a thorn for West Bank; they are an increasing threat to both the IDF and Israeli citizens. The Palestinians cannot exist as two separate entities. What is your outlook on how this impasse is going to pan-out, and can Abbas not influence it? Dr. Boaz Ganor: Right now after Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are facing one of their biggest challenges; they have to decide whether they are going to follow Hamas' legacy or Abbas' policy. What Abbas is trying to do with the help of Arab countries, the US and Israel, is to pose an alternative to the Hamas legacy which does not, on one hand promote terrorism and on the other hand is not regarded as corrupt like the Arafat's regime. For this, Abbas is going to be showered with international support while Hamas will still strive to gain international legitimacy. The Palestinian people need to see the differences between the two tracks. Gaza is surrounded and isolated while the West Bank is flourishing. Before mapping out the end game of the Israel-Palestinian crisis and determining the type of connection between Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinians should decide what kind of leadership they want, what their political nationalist goals are and what message they're sending to Israel, the region and the world. Only if they will choose Abbas' path, will the issues of territories and land connection between Gaza and the West Bank be relevant. Yoel Nitzarim, Skokie, Illinois USA: What can Israel do to dissuade the European Union from engaging in talks with Hamas? Why do you think the EU is even willing to interface with a terrorist group like Hamas in the first place? Dr. Boaz Ganor: Terrorism is a dynamic phenomenon and terrorists are not just random psychotic killers. They are trying to achieve political, nationalistic, religious, separatist, socio-economic and revolutionary goals. Many terrorist organizations have found that a duel policy, whereby on one hand they carry out terrorist acts and on the other hand behave as legitimate players in the political arena, is the most beneficial policy for achieving these goals. This also leads to increased internal support which brings with it political clout and support from official entities. This also complicates the Counter-Terrorism activities aimed against them especially after they are democratically elected within their own state or constituency be it municipal, parliamentary or government elections. In this respect, one has to take in to consideration if a terrorist organization decides to abandon terrorism and from then onwards being engaged only in legitimate political activity. We wish all terrorist organizations would follow this lead. Of course that does not wipe clean the atrocities and criminal acts conducted by the leaders of the organization but the trend should be encouraged. The problem starts when the terrorist organization tries to hold the stick from both ends and gains all benefits and legitimacies from being an active player in the political arena and at the same time continues its terrorist activities. I believe that the EU is mainly confused because, on one hand, they are trying to cling to the hope and deceive themselves that Hamas' political activities are a step towards the political end of the Israeli Palestinian crisis while on the other hand, they see that Hamas hasn't changed its ultimate goal: the destruction of Israel and establishing a radical Islamic republic in what they call Palestine. But all in all, until now, it seems that most of the world understands that without Hamas changing its nature, policies and ideologies, it will be counter-productive to try to rehabilitate, legitimize or support Hamas. This includes even several Arab states which sponsored Hamas in the past. The result right now is that the ties between Hamas and its main supporters, Iran and Syria, are becoming stronger. Victor Ashkenazy - Tel-Aviv, Israel: Considering the last bombings in London's subways, have all apparatuses of anti-terror there failed? Dr. Boaz Ganor: The counter terrorism work is often comprised of tedious and frustrating tasks. Terrorism itself is a kind of a war of attrition -- in which you can win many battles one day and be surprised the next. One of the key factors in Counter-Terrorism is intelligence capabilities. Without it, one does not have warnings or the operational intelligence needed to be pro-active. As an outcome of the July 7th bombings, I would not jump to conclusions to say that all the apparatuses of counter terrorism in the UK have failed, although the outcome was a clear failure. We have to bear in mind that in the last few months the British have succeeded in thwarting plots and preventing other terrorist acts which, in a way, might have been worse than the July 7th attacks. Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. Steven Wallach, New York, NY: To what extent is the term "Islamofascism" accurate or useful? Dr. Boaz Ganor: I believe that Islamofascisim is a term which cannot be applied correctly to the real trend in the international arena right now. The proper term the Muslim communities in the West should consider is the "Sword of Damocles". If communities will turn a blind eye to the bad seeds and Islamic radicalization processes within their community, the result might lead to terrorist activities. I do believe that if these negative processes within the Muslim communities of Western nations will not be stopped by its leaders, if they will not be condemned by society as a whole, then the outcome of homegrown terrorism might bring about a backlash of hatred and fear which will appear in some cases also as an Islamofascist trend. Stephen E Hughes, Soda Springs Idaho USA: How has Israel's turning its back on its Christian Lebanese allies in the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, contributed and continues to contribute to the rise of Hizbullah in Lebanon? Dr. Boaz Ganor: Israel made a grave mistake by abandoning its Christian allies in Lebanon during the unilateral withdrawal in 2000. In my view, it sent a negative message to anyone who collaborates with Israel in the region. All the activities that have been conducted by Israel immediately following the withdrawal in trying to help their formal allies, including letting many to come and live in Israel and supporting the welfare of other countries, was too little and too late in this respect. Carmella Klein, New Jersey: Why do you think al-Qaida uses a strategy of perpetrating massive terrorist attacks and not more frequent small-scale terrorist operations, like we witnessed in Israel when suicide bombers detonated in buses or restaurants, while still succeeding in achieving what terrorism aims to create: terror. Dr. Boaz Ganor: There are no clear and simple answers to this question. It seems that in the early stages after the creation of al-Qaida at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, the group was trying to carry out terrorism on a different scale. They were trying to give a clear statement that this is something which is unprecedented and their trademark was a large scale, simultaneous, suicide attack which was carried out in different parts of the target, be it a landmark, city or country. It seems that after the 9/11 and after the war in Afghanistan, a great deal of damage was inflicted upon al-Qaida's infrastructure and operational capabilities. They were forced to abandon the autonomous and free territory they had in Afghanistan, they lost the Taliban's state support, training bases & offices were destroyed and about 50% of their manpower were either killed or captured. This forced them to change their modus operandi. Right now, al-Qaida is focused mainly on inspiring other Islamic radical activists, home-grown terrorists, proxies, and other organizations to launch attacks. In this respect, I believe that the modus operandi of random attacks, which are not 9/11 style mega-attacks; will continue to occur in the near future. I believe it's more likely such attacks will take place in Europe and other Western states, rather than in the US, as the Muslim communities in the US are less radicalized compared to the European communities and more reluctant to support terror activities. Jeremy Goldblatt London, UK: In light of the barrage of Kassams that keep landing in Israel, is a large-scale operation in Gaza inevitable? And if Israel does decide to go back in, what in your opinion, awaits its forces there as far as Hamas' amassed capabilities are concerned since Israeli withdrawal? Dr. Boaz Ganor: I believe that the situation in the southern border of Israel, across the Gaza strip, is a very dangerous one. At first, Hamas was trying to gain legitimacy by scaling down its terrorist activities and the number of Kassam rockets it fired into Israel. Soon the organization understood that these actions didn't bring about a lifting of the bans against it and international support didn't materialize. Right now, many Hamas members believe that dragging Israel into Gaza and the chaos that will ensue from an Israeli invasion in Gaza would change the status quo in a way that will promote their standing in the region and would force the Israelis and the international community to deal with them directly. A by-product of this would also be the recognition and legitimization of the Hamas leadership. Knowing this full well, Israel is reluctant to launch an invasion but the situation from an Israeli point of view is that it's like sitting on a time bomb. If a random Kassam would cause a great deal of damage with a large number of casualties, the Israeli government might be forced by public opinion to order the IDF to reoccupy parts of the Gaza strip. If this would happen, I believe that Israel can achieve its goal within a relatively short period of time, but there will be considerable casualties on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The question still remains - "What will be the day after?" Would Israel be forced to keep controlling Gaza, or will it withdraw after such an operation? In either case, this is a temporary solution at best. Bernardo Cohen, Milan What are the merits of labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guards a terror organization? Dr. Boaz Ganor: From the early 80s the Revolutionary Guard was used by the Khomeini regime as one of the state apparatuses to arrange, support and conduct terror acts worldwide. This state agency is still being used today for the same purposes. For this reason the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization is a correct one but it cannot be separated from the need to refer to the state that this apparatus is active in, as a terrorist state. It cannot be done without defining the state as a terrorist state. There is no need to designate any apparatus including the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization in order to convict its activists that have been caught. The designation does, however, send a clear message to other people, financial institutions, other organizations (both public & private) and even states, that by cooperating with these designated entities they are supporting terrorism. Trish Beck, Dublin: Can anything really be done to combat homegrown terrorism (especially in the UK)? Is it really just a matter of putting more effort into assimilation? Dr. Boaz Ganor: There is a mutual responsibility for dealing with homegrown terrorism which falls on both the state and the Muslim community within it. On the one hand, the state should give the opportunity for the immigrants in general (Muslim in particular) to be properly assimilated and they should see to it that there will not be any cultural enclaves within the society. To accommodate this need, the state should support the welfare, education and political assimilation of these communities and provide the necessary monetary support. This should not include supporting a separate educational system. In addition, the state cannot afford to turn a blind eye to radical incitement, propaganda and negative indoctrination processes within these communities and must clearly be vigilant in order to counter threats and act against anyone engaged in these activities. The community should do whatever is needed to trace any radical processes from within, fight for the proper narrative of its people as a whole and understand that fighting radical Islam is not an appeasement step for the Western world but a concrete need for the Muslim immigrant community to ensure its welfare and political assimilation. Karen Levy, Houston, Texas Should the US withdraw from Iraq, and if so under what circumstances? What could be the outcome? Will the civil war continue? Dr. Boaz Ganor: The US should withdraw from Iraq but only after stabilizing the situation as much as possible. Any withdrawal from Iraq will be seen by the global jihadists as a victory, however the ramifications of this can be limited depending on the extent to which the US is be able to leave Iraq in an orderly manner and leaving (as much as possible), a stabilized government which controls Iraqi territory. I believe the only way to achieve this goal is by drafting more American and international soldiers, bringing them to Iraq, moving from village to village, house to house, to track down the terrorists and their weapons. After the extensive search operation has ended, the control should be given to the local military and police forces of Iraq. When this operation, which will probably last a few months, ends, the US should leave Iraq. This will give a good start for the Iraqi government to keep on controlling and stabilizing the situation throughout the country. If the US would leave with no preparations and stabilization process, this could cause a horrific chain reaction which would ratchet up the ongoing internal war in Iraq and might end in the division of the country into rival countries. It might even inspire other Islamic radical activists in the Middle East and Central Asia to revolt against their respective regimes.