Confronting the terror threat

Sep. 25, 2007

It began with Imagine, John Lennon’s immortal song. The audience loved it. Some joined in singing quietly, others hummed. If some had forgotten the lyrics, most recalled the tune… and the message.

Thunderous applause was followed by silence. No one was under any illusion – all knew what was to follow. Facing the audience on stage was no longer a troika of musicians but General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Avi Dichter, Minister of Internal Security, Shabtai Shavit, a Former Head of the Mossad, Boaz Ganor, the founder of the Institute of Countert-Terrorism and Prof. Uriel Reichman, Founder and President of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. The venue was the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and the occasion, the launch of the seventh annual International Conference on Counter-Terrorism.

If people could “Imagine,” they could also recall that John Lennon, the iconic musician of a generation now middle-aged, had been brutally cut down by four flat-tipped bullets into his back.

That this was a conference embedded in reality and the harshness of the fluctuating global terrorism landscape was menacingly revealed in Ganor’s welcoming address to the nearly 1,000 participants from all over the globe. “We hold this conference each year during September to commemorate those who were grotesquely murdered in 9/11, the worst terror attacks in history,” he said.

The ominous tone of why conferences of this nature are necessary was reinforced when Ganor continued, “and I hope that the day will never dawn when we may have to change the date.”

His meaning was clear. Would there be in the future a terrorist attack with casualties greater than 9/11 that would necessitate changing the date of the annual conference to commemorate an even greater catastrophe?

For MK Yuval Steinitz, a former chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, there was no doubt. “I predict that in one to three years, we are going to be confronted with a new and devastating type of terror. It will be non-conventional – could be chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear.”

Steinitz had the audience at the edge of their seats. His argument was simple and spine-chilling. The fanaticism that fueled the 9/11 hijackers to direct planes into the emblematic icons of the world’s superpower has not dissipated – on the contrary, it has intensified. “They used what they had at their disposal and the results?” He allowed the question to hang in the air. “Make no mistake, when they have access to some serious destructive technology, they will not hesitate to use it. It’s not a question of if, only of when and where.”

What is to be done? The conference participants ranged from world leaders and politicians to members of the security and intelligence communities, representatives from law enforcement bodies, academicians, researchers, people in the scientific and business communities, movie producers and directors, political cartoonists and the media. If some sets of shoulders would metaphorically droop, others were rapidly drawn back, chests out. The task ahead would be long and arduous, “but we will win in the end,” asserted Steinitz confidently, but “there will be casualties, many casualties.” Few in the plenary session had doubts.

In order to combat terrorism, one has to understand the ideology fueling it. Steven Emerson, Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of The American House of Saud – The Secret Petrodollar Connection, explained that “it is incorrect to talk of a ‘War against Terror.’ Terror is a tool, a tactic, a strategy. War is never against a tool – it’s against an ideology.”

And if the ideology is global Jihadism, how is the civilized world responding to a menace that ironically is killing more Muslims than any other religious group? Not very well, by all accounts. The heart of the battle is often less against the actual perpetrators of terror than the mindset that protects them. Emerson revealed that two weeks prior to the conference in Israel, the New York Police Department (NYPD) issued a seminal report on homegrown radicalization of Islamic terrorism. “Unsanitized (sic), the report was pioneering in that it did not whitewash the conduct and rhetoric of some of the most prominent Muslim organizations in the US, as was customary with previous such reports. Providing names and specific cases, the report found that Arab Muslim males were the most likely subjects to be radicalized.”

“What was more interesting,” added Emerson, “was the reaction of the Islamic groups throughout America to the report. With few exceptions, most of them condemned it as racist and discriminatory.”

Instead of acknowledging much of the findings that had been based exclusively on facts in the field, “they proliferated,” according to Emerson, “a narrative that there is a conspiracy by Jews and Christians to subjugate and repress Islam in order to prevent it from emerging as the ultimate sovereign power in the world today.”

What the Muslim organizations were ultimately doing, says Emerson, “was paving the way for the violent manifestations of their rhetoric.”

This will explain how a Muslim doctor or student can surprise a wife or mother, who will one day cry out in anguish: “I cannot understand it. Somebody must have led him astray.” Who is this “somebody?”

Lubricating this trend to terror, said Emerson, are the Muslim organizations posing as human rights groups. “Having anointed themselves as human rights organizations, they have free reign in presenting the Muslims of America as victims of hate crimes. Nobody questions the credentials of human rights groups. How can you? They stand above suspicion.”

The irony, he revealed, is that “there are 10 times more hate crimes in the US against Jews than against Muslims. Nevertheless in terms of news coverage, there are 100 times more articles and news reports about hate crimes against Muslims. And what constitutes a hate crime by these human rights groups? Look at their list. It includes the arrest of a prominent Hamas operative with suspected links to terrorism.”

Emerson is recognized as being the first terrorist expert to have testified and warned about the threat of Islamic militant networks operating in the US, and their connections worldwide. He specifically warned about the threat of Osama Bin Laden in a Congressional hearing in 1998, four years prior to 9/11. Nearly every one of the terror suspects and groups first identified in his 1994 film have been indicted, prosecuted or deported since 9/11. Today, people take keen note of Emerson. Unfortunately, so do his enemies, and he now lives under false cover in the US.

Another brave participant (“I dust my spoor behind me,”) was Hussein Solomon, a Muslim professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Director of his university’s Center for International Political Studies, he addressed the session on sub-Sahara terrorism focusing on South Africa. “I have received seven death threats to date,” he revealed to Metro. “What was my big crime? Being invited by the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) in Johannesburg to share a platform with Jews to discuss the Israel/Palestine issue! That I am against the occupation in the West Bank was irrelevant. The mere fact that I had accepted a public invitation by the ‘Zionists’ was in the eyes of the local Muslim community an act of treason. The next thing a rumor had been circulated that the SAZF only invites Mossad agents; therefore I must be an agent. Soon the rumor had become accepted as fact and I had become a legitimate target to be bumped off.”

Solomon takes issue with a naïve world that “is still locked into the ‘miracle’ of 1994 South Africa, when Nelson Mandela became president. They have this image of a country, frozen in time, bathed in the light of eternal morality. My country has moved on, and yes, while much has been achieved, there are also serious faults, ethically and morally disturbing. Sadly, South Africa has become a breeding ground for Jihadi activity.”

He makes no bones that al-Qaida and Hamas have established cells in South Africa. While the Muslim community represent only 1.5-2 percent of the total South African population, it would be a mistake, according to Solomon, to believe it poses no threat. “You must understand that the Jihadi activists today are not bound by the model of the nation state. Their aspirations are global and they see themselves as warriors for world domination. South Africa is merely a stepping stone for these guys towards the creation of the Caliphate.”

Solomon revealed a program where young South African Muslims are selected for training overseas, mainly in Pakistan. “Some receive only ideological instruction and will resume their positions in society as doctors, accountants or lawyers, while others will acquire skills in, say, reconnaissance and bomb-making. I accept that the Pakistani leadership is unhappy about this; they had long ago created a Frankenstein, when Kashmir was the main issue to rally the faithful. Now that the cause has shifted from a territorial dispute to a global phenomenon, it’s well-nigh impossible to suddenly put a lid on it. Indoctrination, once it takes root, cannot be switched on and off like a light switch.”

Solomon cited further examples of how South Africa has become a haven for Jihadi activity. “The government virtually turns a blind eye, so long as the violence is directed elsewhere. That is why it comes as no surprise that the bomber in the Dar e Salem attack in Tanzania a few years ago found a safe house in South Africa, and why so many Muslims fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and before that with the Mujahedin insurgents against the Soviets.”

While South Africa today prides itself on having introduced strict exchange control, it will not prevent cases like “the Muslim doctor nabbed recently on the South Africa-Mozambique border with a suitcase full of American dollars. He had apparently been crossing the border every four days with $130,000 for some 10 years. And where do you think the last case was destined for? Hizbullah.”

No less chilling was the ideological connection that Prof. Irwin Cotler made between the “new” South Africa and the current global hate campaign directed against Israel. Cotler, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, reminded his audience that while we commemorate the sixth anniversary of 9/11, we should also remember the sixth anniversary of the Conference against Racism that took place in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The UN world forum was turned into a convention of hate against Israel and the Jewish People. “If 9/11 overshadowed Durban, then Durban foreshadowed 9/11,” said Cotler.

Stressing this point he quoted a colleague who had written: “If 9/11 was the Kristallnacht of terrorism, then Durban was its Mein Kampf.” What had taken place in a seaside resort in South Africa six years previously was the ideological precursor for the evil that was to follow.

THERE WERE moments of light relief, too. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman had no plans of attending the conference. When he arrived in Israel for a week’s break, he received a call from Prof. Uriel Reichman, President of the IDC, Herzliya.

Reichman: “I heard you were in Israel. Well I have a question for you.”

Gillerman: “Yes, what is it?

Reichman: “You have been in the US for some years now, representing Israel at the UN. Have you taken the opportunity to study the American Constitution, particularly the aspect of Free Speech?”

Gillerman: “Of course, you must know, I am a strong advocate of Free Speech.”

Reichman: “Good, because I am expecting you to give one tomorrow night at the IDC.”

“And that ladies & gentleman is how I come to be here tonight,” Gillerman told his audience.

There was little else to laugh about. As Gillerman said, conferences on terrorism are by their very nature “gloom and doom.” Nevertheless, the ambassador did see “a ray of light.”

If 9/11 represented a watershed or the crossing of a red line, then the Second Lebanon War, asserted Gillerman, “was a wake-up call to a world that realized that the kidnappings on our northern border did not lead to a confrontation between us and a terrorist organization, but an all-out war between a democratic, secular Israel and a radical Islamic regime – Iran. Hizbullah was nothing more than the hired gun of its master.”

Gillerman revealed how in the first week of the war, fellow ambassadors at the UN – many of whom had not been too friendly to him previously – approached him before and after Security Council meetings or in the corridors, putting their arms around him and saying, “Go! Don’t stop. Finish the job.” They realized, he explained, that the war was a preview “of what awaited them. Like they say in America, ‘Soon to come to a theater near you.'”

Even more important, said Gillerman, “the message was heard not only in Washington, London and Paris, but in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and the Gulf States. Maybe for the first time, the moderate Arab world realized that the threat to them lay not from Israel but from Teheran. The Israel-Palestinian conflict appeared less important to them than the export of Shi’ite extremism and Iranian imperialism.”

Participants at the conference could choose a workshop from a list including “Combating the Ideology behind Islamist Terrorism,” “Financing Terrorism – Following the Money Trail,” “Terrorism, Narcotics and International Crime,” “Public Resilience and Counter Terrorism” and “CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) Terrorism.”

Metro approached a few of the participants during the tea break. Ilan Weinglass is a terror investigator with a law firm in New York that is representing a number of plaintiffs, whose children were either killed or injured in terror attacks carried out by Hamas during the Second Intifada. “We are suing the New York branch of The Arab Bank of Jordan, who we argue has been channeling money from various charities in the States to Hamas to commit specific acts of terror,” he explained.

Weinglass’s fascination with terrorism stemmed from an experience in Jerusalem’s Rehov Ben Yehuda in 1987, “when a suicide bomber blew himself up right in front of me. I was lucky to survive. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the attack.”

Even when he had worked on Wall Street, “My focus was investigating Palestinian corruption.”

“A lone suicide bomber changed my life forever,” he added.

For retired international commercial lawyer Gerry Adler from Brighton, UK, “it was a case of anti-Semitism in the UK. I am sick of it.”

He had good reason to be. Attending a Palestinian solidarity meeting in a public hall, he had the temerity to ask a question. “The next thing a young Muslim male lunged at me with a knife. Fortunately, four people standing beside me grabbed the assailant and disarmed him before he could strike. That is the depth of hate of Jews who dare to ask questions or appear to support Israel today in the UK.”

Adler came to the conference for very practical reasons. He has nearly completed a book, “more like a manual on the legal issues pertaining to Israel. It will not be for sale and I will disseminate free to newspapers and TV networks in the UK. I am here to clarify certain issues to incorporate in the book.”

“It’s been a great conference,” Annette Sobble, a retired US Major-General from Arizona, told Metro. “I have made new friends, met old colleagues and been totally enthralled by the standard of discussion. I attend many conferences in the US, where they tend to be too focused at the expense of a broader perspective. Here at the IDC, which advocates an interdisciplinary methodology, the cross-pollenization of ideas is staggering.”

Critical of the “tunnel vision approach” in the US, Sobble says, “I have learned that every morning you exit your front door in this business it’s a new day and the best way to see through that day is to pool resources and collaborate with your collogues. That is the message of the IDC, Herzliya and particularly this conference.”

This point was raised by many of the American delegates active in Homeland Security. Michael Balboni, Deputy Secretary for Public Security in the State of New York, explained how they are moving away from the crippling milieu where rival departments refused to share information. “You could have a situation where an official at one end of a corridor was keeping vital information from a fellow law enforcement agent at the other, the reasoning being: Why release information if you don’t receive credit for it? The central issue of any employee in the US is job promotion, and decisions are influenced by this consideration.”

Information in America, says Balboni, “is a tradable commodity, an asset.”

Is it any wonder that 9/11 occurred when you have a malaise in your security apparatus that personal interest triumphs national interest, he wondered aloud.

The use of children as instruments of terror was exposed by Brooke Goldstein, an American lawyer who produced and directed a documentary called The Making of a Martyr, shortly to be aired on Channel 2. “Since 2000, approximately one in every five Palestinian suicide bombers have been 18 years or under,” Goldstein told Metro.

To explore this troubling phenomenon, Brooke together with filmmaker Alistair Leyland risked their lives and traveled to the Palestinian towns of Jenin, Ramallah, Tulkarm and Nablus, seeking out and meeting with leaders of terrorist organizations responsible for recruiting children for suicide attacks. Goldstein was at the Cordoza law school in New York when she saw on TV how 15-year-old Palestinian Hussam Abdo voluntarily surrendered at an Israel checkpoint, “choosing life rather than to proceed with a suicide bombing.”

It then occurred to her that the child suicide bomber was as much a victim, and the people responsible for molding the child should be subject to criminal prosecution. “It was an area that I felt had not been explored and needed to be.”

In making the film in the West Bank during 2004, “we were horrified to learn how Palestinian children were being taught and incited to take their own lives as human bombs. It is not only the terrorist organizations that are responsible, but the whole of Palestinian society, including their state-sponsored media and schools, as well as the religious clerics who are teaching kids to aspire to kill themselves. This amounts to nothing less than a new form of infanticide.”

Goldstein makes the case that contrary to public opinion, “these kids are acting not out of desperation, but aspiration,” and that no less culpable is UNRWA, “which is sponsoring the schools and paying the salaries of teachers who espouse through the curriculum this death cult.”

Goldstein exposes the irony of this UN body, which is working to harm the young people it is mandated to protect.

MONDAY EVENING and the participants were treated to a riveting panel discussion between the former heads of Israeli security and intelligence. Ya’akov Perry, Shabtai Shavit, Moshe Arens, Maj. Gen. Aharon Farkash (former OC IDF Intelligence, Aman) and Shlomo Aharonishki (former Police Insp.-Gen.)fended off questions from the moderator, Boaz Ganor and participants from the floor. The debate became quite heated over Sderot. What is to be done?

“We should reclaim as much land in Gaza as will be necessary so that no Kassams will reach Sderot,” asserted former defense minister Arens.

“And if they then switch to long-range missiles?” interrupted Perry, a former head of the internal security agency, Shin Bet.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” replied Arens.

If any of the participants in the seventh annual Conference on Counter-Terrorism retired to bed that night thinking that international conferences tend to be too academic, the next morning they received a rude awakening when they turned on the news. Seventy Israeli soldiers were wounded after a Kassam rocket launched from northern Gaza landed on a military base in the western Negev early Tuesday morning. This was the largest number of casualties to date resulting from a single Kassam attack.

The delegates arrived at the conference in Herzliya that morning ready to ask a lot more questions.

Is the War on Terror winnable?
here’s a gap between understanding the threat of terrorism and the actions being taken by the international community,” said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at the conference’s closing ceremony. “I don’t believe in the phrase that one’s man terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. There is no just cause for terrorism, and only when the international community and international leaders understand this will they be able to pursue the right actions to combat it,” Livni stated.

Even less compromising was the US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, who noted: “It is inevitable that we will continue to use force. On September 11 our enemies showed that they were willing to literally murder thousands of civilians and commit suicide to accomplish their goals. Those who plotted this atrocity, along with their apostles in this region and around the world, are still committed to violence and will not be stopped except by the use of force.”

Picking up on the conference’s central themes, Jones stressed, “We must recognize that the war on terror is also a political and ideological struggle without well-defined geographic boundaries. The ideological and political front of this war is fought in homes and workplaces, in town squares and shopping malls and, perhaps most importantly, in the media and cyberspace. We need to take the battle in each of these places and we must win this battle.”

Learning how to counter terrorism
For the past seven years, the Lauder School of Government has been offering courses on terrorism, counter-terrorism and homeland security. These courses are taught by leading scholars and Israeli security professionals, all staff of the International Institute of Counter-Terrorism (ICT), a research institute at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya.

Dr. Boaz Ganor, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the ICT and Deputy Dean of the Lauder School of Government, is the program’s director.

The Jerusalem Post spoke to a few of the students who attended the conference. Daniella Sanit from Dallas, Texas will be going into third year at the School of Government. She attended the workshops entitled “Financing Terrorism” and “CBRN-Chemical, Biological, Radium and Nuclear.” “I had the feeling at times that people were holding back and that what was said in public was a taster for interested persons to then follow up in private. If so, I believe that this is just as well, considering the nature and scope of the subject matter.”

Also going into third year at the School of Government is former South African Gideon Scher, who found the workshop on “Democratic Dilemmas in Counter-Terrorism” the most intellectually engaging. “Speakers after speaker grappled with finding a global definition of terrorism. Not easy when one country’s definition of a terrorist appears to another as a ‘freedom fighter.’ We need a standard definition, not subject to interpretation in order for all countries to tackle this scourge. I agree with Ganor, who removes ideology and motivation from the definition, and concentrates exclusively on the deliberate killing of civilians.”

For more information on counterterrorism Studies

ICT at IDC Herzliya, 09-952-7277,,

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