Time to change the rules of the game

Over the past two years, more than 53 countries have suffered from damage caused by terrorism.

Scene of anti-terrorism operation in Verviers, Belgium (photo credit: TWITTER)
Scene of anti-terrorism operation in Verviers, Belgium
(photo credit: TWITTER)
The current wave of terrorism in Israel and the West Bank, as well as the wave of terrorism that has gripped Europe this past year, have received such extensive media coverage that viewers might be led to believe that this violence has sprung up from within a sea of calm.
The reality, of course, is nothing of the sort, and it’s important for us to know where we’re headed.
Every year, the Institute for Economics and Peace publishes the Global Terrorism Index, which tracks acts of terrorism that take place around the world, and data from indices published in previous years leave little room for doubt. The number of people killed as a result of terrorist attacks rose 80% in 2014 compared with the previous year and stood at 32,000 – an all-time record.
This record high figure remained constant during 2015 and 2016, which turned out to be just as violent, even though they had a slightly lower number of total victims. This violence was mainly due to the intensification of fighting against ISIS in Western countries.
Over the past two years, more than 53 countries have suffered from damage caused by terrorism. The countries that were the most affected were, not surprisingly: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan. In Europe, dozens of countries suffered from terrorist attacks in the past two years. Thirty-four of them experienced isolated incidents, but the number of casualties went up by hundreds of percentage points from previous years.
The GTI Index claims that the vast majority of these terrorist attacks in the last couple of years were perpetrated by: Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger and Central Africa; ISIS in Iraq and Syria; and the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we take into account that Boko Haram has sworn allegiance to ISIS and operates as a branch of ISIS in Africa, then we see that ISIS in fact is responsible for most of the murders. Iraq has been hit the hardest in terms of casualties and economic strain, and Nigeria is next in line, with thousands of people murdered by Boko Haram.
The Institute for Economics and Peace 2013 Index reported that the number of terrorist attacks rose 60% over the previous year, which at the time was considered a record high.
(This record was breached again in 2014.) Boko Haram and ISIS were responsible for most of these deaths back in 2013, too, and yet the world remained silent. The 2016 Index has not yet been published, but according to estimates, the findings will probably be similar to the previous report.
According to the 2014 Index, the damage to the world economy caused by terrorist attacks amounted to $53 billion, 10 times the amount caused in the year 2000. In 2015, this amount rose to $89b. and it is still steadily rising.
The Index shows a direct link between the extent of terrorist activity and the number of refugees in a specific country. In addition, the Index shows a direct link between the number of attacks in a country and the level of freedom and ability to exploit lenient legislation.
Another interesting and important statistic found in the Index is that 30,000 “fighters” left home and traveled to Iraq from Middle Eastern countries. However, following three years of successful fighting by the Islamists, Western countries and Hezbollah finally took military action, and ISIS has suffered many defeats.
More than one-third of the victims of terrorism are Muslim, and most of the attacks are carried out in Muslim countries. Whereas most attacks that didn’t take place in Muslim countries took place in Eastern Asia and South America, the most recent Index shows an increase in attacks taking place in Europe.
Even in Israel and in Palestinian Authority territory, most attacks were inspired by ISIS and other global jihad organizations.
It would be a little pretentious to predict what will happen during the rest of 2017, but it’s pretty likely that the trend will continue in the same direction. The Shin Bet will continue to thwart attacks planned by Hamas cells, but it will be hard put to prevent lone wolf attacks.
Unfortunately, residents of Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem will continue to move freely within Israel’s borders where they can carry out attacks.
Hamas will continue to strengthen its hold on the Gaza Strip and prepare itself for the next battle with the IDF, which will take place at a time to be determined by Hamas alone.
Hezbollah is busy fighting against ISIS in Syria, and so does not currently pose much of a threat to Israel’s northern border.
ISIS has suffered severe and debilitating defeats in the last few months of fighting, and yet has still managed to carry out a few isolated terrorist attacks in European countries.
This trend is expected to continue, especially since Turkey’s eastern border allows for relatively free and easy passage for ISIS militants making their way to the West. Many Eastern European fighters who went to Iraq to fight for ISIS have now returned home and are actively carrying out attacks in their home countries.
Although Turkey is also suffering from this wave of terrorism carried out by ISIS, it refuses to function as a defensive wall since its leader is an extremist Muslim himself whose biggest dream is to one day be the caliph of the entire Sunni world. The Sinai Peninsula will still be a war zone, in which the Egyptian military fails to overcome the threat of Islamist organizations.
Iran has the interest and the funds to finance terrorist organizations, but apart from Hezbollah, all the other terrorist groups in the Middle East are Sunni, and so Shi’ite Iran would not be willing to offer them support.
So what is Islam and how dangerous of a threat does it pose to the world? Islamist terrorist organizations number about 100,000 armed fighters, most of whom are located in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. There are another few hundred thousand people who support these organizations. The Muslim world numbers more than 1.5 billion people.
Less than 0.01% of them are actively involved in terrorist activity and less than 0.1% support these organizations. And at the most, 10% of all Muslims support the religious struggle for the destruction of all other religions and the establishment of a Muslim caliphate over the face of the earth.
So how is it possible that such a small percentage of our planet’s population can sow fear in all of us? The answer can be found here.
Western countries, led by Barack Obama and European countries, deluded themselves that Islamist terrorism would remain in Africa and Asia and would not find its way to their doorstep. They didn’t learn the lessons from the past, and didn’t internalize the fact that without treating the root of the problem, it would be impossible to stop the spread of terrorism.
US President Trump is showing initial signs of willingness to put up a good fight against terrorism, but European countries are still lagging behind.
If the EU is serious about preventing the escalation of terrorism in Europe, it must carry out a number of measures: Identify and map dangerous population centers; make legislative changes that would enable the authorities to carry out counterterrorism activity; carry out law enforcement; form an intelligence gathering network; have counterterrorism departments collaborate; and understand the difference between an organized jihadist Islamist network and lone wolf attacks.
Western countries – especially Israel – must understand that we cannot ignore terrorism.
Instead, we must fight against it with all the force, determination and courage we can muster.
We cannot let our guard down even for a moment, and must use all the legislative and legal powers we possess.
Empty threats and press conferences, talk about humanism and shelling empty plots of land won’t help at all – they will only perpetuate our struggle and encourage the continuation of terrorism. Even if terrorism does not constitute an existential threat to the planet, it’s time to change the rules of the game and start fighting a real war against it.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.