A Fresh Perspective: Defeating neo-terrorism

The latest terrorist attacks in Israel show the development of a new form of terrorism: neo-terrorism. Israel needs to adopt a new strategy to defeat this threat.

Scene of Jerusalem terror attack, November 5 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Scene of Jerusalem terror attack, November 5
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A new form of terrorism is ravaging Israel. Gone are the days where terrorist groups such as Hamas, Fatah or the Islamic Jihad would train recruits, provide them with weapons and send them on missions. Instead, neo-terrorism is about individuals independently deciding to plan and implement a terrorist attack.
If traditional terrorism could be combated by dismantling the network necessary for these attacks to take place, neo-terrorism does not need such a network. All that is needed is an individual with a car or a knife and a will to kill.
If traditional terrorism involved long periods of planning for each attack and a number of different people involved in this planning, all of which enabled the intelligence community to intercept these planned attacks, neo-terrorism is planned and executed by one individual who spontaneously decided the time has come to kill Jews.
The role of the terrorist organization has shifted from planning the terrorist attacks to using new media to incite individuals to commit terrorist acts. The rise in popularity of Islamic State only adds fuel to this existing fire and encourages radical Islamists to act on their beliefs.
The old strategies for combating traditional terrorism are not working anymore. As Israelis ask for solutions to the current wave of terrorist attacks, the number of these attacks keeps rising.
No solution is in sight. Israelis grow more and more frustrated by government inaction, while government officials, in private conversations, are admitting that they do not have a real strategy to deal with this form of terrorism.
Shifting our focus to the goals of the terrorists
It is time to shift our way of thinking.
Previously, Israel used intelligence means to prevent the planning and execution of terrorist attacks. While this strategy should still be used to ensure that traditional terrorism will not resurface, it is not helpful in fighting neo-terrorism.
To fight neo-terrorism, Israel needs to shift its focus from an intelligence-based strategy to a psychological-analysis based strategy.
First, Israel must ask itself: What are the terrorists trying to accomplish when using terrorism? What are their goals? What would be considered a successful outcome of a terrorist attack by those terrorists? Then, based on this psychological analysis, the response of Israel to each terrorist attack must ensure that, at the very least, the attacks do not achieve these goals. When possible, Israel should even make sure that these attacks should be counterproductive and bring about opposite results than those hoped for by the terrorist.
For example, the stated purpose of the latest wave of terrorist attacks has been the protection of al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount that the Palestinians falsely claim the Jews are trying to destroy.
If the purpose of the terrorist attacks is to ensure Muslim control over the Temple Mount, then every time a terrorist attack occurs, the Temple Mount should be closed for 24 hours to Muslims, as it is so often closed to Jews wishing to visit the holiest site of Judaism. Sure, at first thought, this might sound like a recipe for escalation.
However, if it becomes clear that every escalation will only hurt Muslim worship on the Temple Mount, the result will be that the terrorists will finally understand that violence and terrorism are not tools with which they will reach their goals.
The goals of neo-terrorism
While the stated goal of this new wave of terrorism, as mentioned, is the protection of the Temple Mount, there are additional reasons for it.
Of course, terrorism has been used as a way to scare Jews into leaving the parts of Israel liberated in 1967. The terrorists hope that as terrorism becomes more common, Jews will retreat and admit defeat. This would be, in their minds, the first step to the demise of the State of Israel.
If terrorists are trying to make Israel move back its borders, then the way to fight terrorism is to make every terrorist attack a reason for deepening our ties with the disputed territories.
Every terrorist attack should be translated into a new city being established in Judea and Samaria.
Very quickly, the terrorists will understand that instead of making Israel retreat, the terrorist attacks are counterproductive and make any hope for Israeli retreat much less likely.
Instead of bringing about the destruction of Israel, each terrorist attack should bring about the further building of Israel. Every terrorist victim should see a city rise in his name.
Another goal of neo-terrorism is to protest the treatment of the Palestinians in the disputed territories. People who feel oppressed use violence to battle their perceived oppressors.
While every society has its faults, and Israel can definitely improve some specific aspects of its treatment of Palestinians, it can in no way accept this as a result of neo-terrorism.
Rather, the opposite must happen. Every time a terrorist strikes at Israel, Palestinians must feel their standard of living go down.
First of all, the Israeli government must destroy the house of the terrorist who struck to make sure his immediate family’s standard of living will never be the same. Then, Israel must send massive troops around the villages in the area that the terrorist comes from to show a clear presence in this area.
Potential terrorists need to see that terrorism does not lead to a better standard of living for their fellow Palestinians. They need to understand that terrorism will only worsen the conditions in which their fellow Palestinians are living.
Setting a new standard
For this new strategy to be effective, it has to become a new standard.
Israel has to set clear rules as to the repercussions of terrorist attacks, and it needs to abide by these rules religiously, without thinking twice and without hesitation.
When the automatic consequence of a terrorist attack includes things such as the closing of the Temple Mount to Muslim prayer, the building of a new city in Judea and Samaria and the destruction of the terrorists’ homes, individuals being incited to wake up one day and commit a spontaneous terrorist attack will understand these attacks will not only be unproductive, they will be counterproductive.
Only then will we see a decline in the number of terrorist attacks in Israel.
Building a new iron wall
In 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote an essay, “The Iron Wall,” which has since been the foundation of Israel’s defense strategy. In it, Jabotinsky argued at length that it would be impossible to convince the Arabs to agree willingly to the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. He then came to the conclusion that the only way for Arabs to stop attacking the Jews in Israel is for them to reach a point in which they understand that Jewish presence in Israel is here to stay, strong like an iron wall, and that their attacks are not productive. Only then will they leave their extremist ways and approach Israel’s existence with a more moderate approach.
Jabotinsky’s worldview served as the basis for the establishment of the Hagana and the defense methodology in the Jewish settlements before the establishment of the State of Israel. It was then translated into the defense strategy of Israel’s army by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who understood that Israel could not destroy more than five Arab armies, but that Israel should rather focus on making it clear to these armies that they could also not defeat Israel militarily, which will stand strong forever like an iron wall.
Neo-terrorism warrants a new translation and application of those same principles. Israel cannot use intelligence means in order to stop every individual with a car or a knife from committing a terrorist attack.
However, Israel can make it clear that the terrorists’ goals will never be furthered through violent means. Israel can make sure that terrorists realize that these attacks will only be counterproductive.
Only then will neo-terrorism be defeated, the way Jabotinsky’s strategy defeated pre-state violence and the way Ben-Gurion’s strategy convinced the Arab armies to stop attacking Israel.
The writer is an attorney and a former legislative adviser to the Coalition Chairman in the Knesset.
He previously served in a legal capacity at the Foreign Ministry. He is a graduate of McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s master’s program in public policy.