Analysis: Terrorism has truly become war, and we need to rethink how we fight it

Since the era of the suicide bombers, terror groups have upgraded to include paramilitary units.

mumbai take cover 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
mumbai take cover 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The terror attack in Mumbai should serve as a sign to decision-makers and strategic analysts in recognizing that the accepted approach to terrorism has become anachronistic and mistaken. The world largely deals with terror attacks as sporadic, sensationalistic, and singular events. The tragedy and pain involved in these events elicits a response of anger, fury, and sadness, but the terror attacks are not viewed as undercutting the authority and power of the state in which the terror attack takes place. During the period in which Palestinian terror focused on airline attacks, a leader of one of the Palestinian terror organizations was asked in an interview, "What advantage does your organization gain from a shocking incident that results in the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians?" His answer was, "I receive attention. In the two minutes in which the entire world is giving me their attention, I can send a message about the injustice being done to me." Since this time, terrorism has gone through a series of changes. For a long period, terrorists attempted to harm the public, bringing attention to the message that they were trying to promote. The Vietnam War changed the terrorist organizations' conception, and brought to the forefront the notion that a terrorist army is not meant only to "sting" the enemy, but that in the end, it has the ability to be victorious. During the meeting that took place at the end of the Vietnam War between representatives of the PLO and of the commander of the North Vietnamese army General Võ Nguyên Giáp, the PLO representatives congratulated the commander on the North Vietnamese victory over the American superpower. They asked General Giáp when he predicted terror organizations would be victorious over Israel. General Giáp answered in one word: Never! When asked the reason for this response, he stated, "You will never be victorious due to lack of determination." There are those who believe that this meeting represented a turning point in the development of Islamic terrorism, which began to educate its society of the sanctity of suicide and initiated the era of suicide terrorism. The initial implementation defined determination as self-sacrifice, believing that the more people willing to prove their readiness to die for a cause, the greater the determination and the closer the victory. The heads of terror organizations quickly understood that suicide terrorism caused great demoralization, damage, and shock to the governing authority. For example, the subway terror attack in Madrid in March, 2004 brought about an immediate change of government in Spain. Since the period of suicide terror, terror organizations have upgraded to include paramilitary fighting units, as opposed to singular acts of terror. Hizbllah, a full-fledged terror organization, is not constructed on the notion of individual terror attacks, but upon a complete military arsenal: Today it has amassed 42,000 rockets to enable continuous military terror, causing victims on a large scale, and thus presenting a serious threat to the state of Israel. Hamas has long ago abandoned the use of suicide terror exclusively, but has built a military capability comprised of rockets (that are being slowly upgraded) and fighting units that operate wholly differently than terror cells. Hamas's army of terror combines terror activities with military activities. This concept is also applied by the Iranian army, which, alongside fighting units includes the Revolutionary Guard, which cultivates a combination of paramilitary activities, terror activities, and propaganda campaigns, the secret weapon of fundamentalism's ability to gain power in the West. Al-Qaida has also undergone the transformation from sporadic terror attacks to a prolonged war of terror. This organization's activities are more complex and integrated, exemplifying the future of terrorism that combines local attacks with broader strategies that include fighting units that operate in a completely different manner than the perpetrators of sporadic terror attacks, biological and chemical weapons, and a goal of achieving nuclear terror. Mumbai, India does not constitute the ultimate battlefield, but serves as a site for broad strategic maneuvers, in which terror units have taken control of a major city through a war of terror. Unfortunately, this example will likely serve as a conceptual test case for future activities. Without question, the approach towards fighting terrorism must undergo major rethinking. Times have changed since the main focus was the suicide bombers operating independently or in small groups, whose purpose was to injure the enemy and to draw attention to their cause. Today, a new, different terror army, with several branches is being developed. This army includes all the elements of a military, but exploits the approach of the terrorist. The terror army enjoys the advantages of feeling exempt from any international law or convention, and of being exempt from international pressure or accountability. In addition, they handicap the power of their opponent through exploitation of the claims of internationally accepted values of human rights, correct treatment of prisoners of war, and prevention of harm to civilian populations - though none of these values apply to them, but only to their opponent. Unfortunately, the world is slow to prepare for this growing threat. Every new terror attack illustrates that the danger to the stability of a range of governments and societies is much greater than we could have imagined. The events taking place in Mumbai must act as a warning and turning point in the world's treatment of the local terror armies that base themselves in various parts of the world, and threaten the world's stability as a whole. The writer is the Senior Vice President of Netanya Academic College and the Deputy Chair of the College's S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue.