The World From Here: Defeating ‘cocktail terrorism’

Israel faces a more complex challenge in its intensifying war against radical Islamic terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, whose have dual identities as ‘semi-terror, semi-government organizations’

Hamas supporters rally in Hebron 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas supporters rally in Hebron 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama and Syrian Dictator Bashar Assad are waging war even before the US Congress decides whether or not it will approve a US military strike against Syria. Obama’s multi-channel media offensive and Assad’s determined denials of ordering chemical attacks in his CBS interview with America’s top news anchor Charlie Rose are the latest reminders that winning the war for public opinion is essential both for terrorists, in this case a state sponsor as well, and states, particularly democracies engaged in counter-terror operations.
Clarity of message is key and judging from his international media campaign, Assad may be outplaying Obama. US Select Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers told The New York Times on September 10 that the “administration’s message is confused” and demanded that Obama “make a clear case to the American people.”
Author Max Boot reminds us of that in Invisible Armies, a history of terrorist insurgencies, writing that terrorists, insurgents and states alike “need to master politics, propaganda and public opinion.” General David Petraeus, former CIA director and former commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote in his counter-terrorism field manual that “winning hearts and minds is 90% of counter-terrorism.”
While Israel may need to defend itself against a chemically armed and bellicose Syria, the balance of sheet of international perception works in the Jewish state’s favor. This seems true regarding both the chemical weapons-wielding Syrian regime and its equally radical and dangerous Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood opposition. And Israel’s messaging on defending red lines have been sharp and clear.
However, Israel faces a more complex challenge in its intensifying war against radical Islamic terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, whose dual identities as “semi-terror, semi-government organizations” – Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza and Hezbollah a major power in Lebanon’s government – constitute a complex and potentially deadly “cocktail” terror threat.
Paradoxically, the upgraded threat to Israel is embedded in the international legitimacy accorded to Hamas and even Hezbollah as hybrid terror organizations.
Hamas launched thousands of rockets and mortars against Israeli civilian targets, particularly in its 2009 and 2012 rocket terror campaign, while simultaneously, Hamas’ Ministry of Justice, “Al Tawthiq,” mobilized its legal office in London and other Palestinian human rights NGOs to charge Israel with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide at the UN Human Rights council and the International Criminal Court.
The war criminal becomes the prosecutor. Official state visits to Hamas-ruled Gaza by some middle Eastern leaders and supportive declarations by Turkey – a NATO member – compound the problem.
In short, the “cocktail terror” strategy has been to attack Israel from the outside using classic terror tactics while at the same time attempting to unravel Israel’s legitimacy, its public’s trust and morale from the inside. The EU’s bifurcated treatment of Hezbollah as a military and political organization poses similar challenges. Fatah-Palestinian Authority-sponsored incitement to murder Jews while mobilizing lower-level terror – “popular protest” violence – has successfully challenged Israel’s legitimacy in international circles.
Shifting international perceptions of legitimacy of Hamas, Hezbollah and other Fatah-associated groups influence IDF strategy and tactics in counter-terror campaigns. This became clear in the IDF’s softer approach in the Mavi Marmara pro- Hamas flotilla following the IDF’s Cast Lead operation resulting in the UN Goldstone Report. The legitimacy war opposite semi-terror, semi-government groups is a zero sum game. The more they are perceived as legitimate, the more complicated it is for Israel to defend itself against them. In short, like the law of “communicating vessels,” Israel’s military legitimacy depends on the levels of its political and diplomatic legitimacy. This is true both domestically and internationally.
This is why this two-headed threat requires a multidimensional public diplomacy strategy as part of an overall counter-terror strategy by Israel. Dr. Boaz Ganor and the IDC’s International Institute for Counter Terrorism’s major forthcoming book on Israel’s counter-terrorism doctrine plays a pioneering role in this line of thinking.
“Cyber ops” should also focus on social networks.
The enemy attacks with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Israel and its “family,” friends and supporters must wage the same online counter-terror campaign.
This means positive branding of Israel and negative branding of its adversaries. The bottom line is that Israel’s security, political and diplomatic echelons must work together, in a unified, synchronized strategic campaign that moves from tactics and response to strategic initiative.
The Netanyahu government has taken important steps in this direction. There is still much work to be done.
The author is a Foreign Policy Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This column is based on his presentation to at the IDC’s International Institute for Counter terrorism’s 13th World Summit on Global Terrorism.