Anxiety increases as ISIS shows its reach
Americans were as shocked as everyone else when two terrorists shot up the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine last January, but they did not think that they were threatened by an attack which had targeted the creators of a series of cartoons mocking Mohammed, a satirical genre that American cartoonists have not embraced. The attack on a kosher supermarket frequented by Jews was another story, but then clearly Jews alone were targeted, not French people at large.
Eleven months later, after terrorists carried out simultaneous attacks on Parisians at a rock concert, at a major sports event and in restaurants there was no denying what had transpired. Anyone and everyone was a potential terror victim. The ostensible reason the terrorists gave was French air attacks against ISIS in Syria. Americans were leading the air attacks on ISIS The implication for Americans was obvious. “How vulnerable are we?” became a national mantra.
Now they know. Expert assessments of the Jihadi danger have multiplied during the past two weeks, in part because of the deadly attack by a Muslim couple who killed 14 people at a Christmas office party in San Bernadino, California. Even more shocking was the fact that the married couple had a baby and the husband had worked at the office, making them most unlikely suspects until their past was investigated.
RAND Corporation associate policy analyst Jason H. Campbell told The Media Line that, “What is unknown is the degree to which [the Paris attacks are] replicable, especially with the heightened vigilance seen throughout the U.S., Europe and elsewhere” in the wake of the San Bernadino massacre. That attack left no doubt about the modus operandi of ISIS as well as its ability to do in the US what it has done in Paris and the northern Sinai Peninsula where it has killed dozens of Egyptian troops and brought down a Russian passenger plane with more than two hundred holiday-makers aboard. “Heightened vigilance,” he said, is not sufficient in itself. Nobody would have suspected the San Bernadino couple. Social media and the Internet provide a very effective way of turning apparently innocent Muslims into potential Islamic terrorists in the privacy of their own homes.
As the world has now grasped, the apparent ability of ISIS to order random terrorist attacks at will around the globe through agents it has planted or cultivated in western countries is now operational. Terrorism specialists have spoken of the necessity to understand that the war against ISIS cannot be restricted to conventional warfare as though against an organized military force, whether through air strikes or by putting boots on the ground, essential as those means are. The very success of western assaults which unleashes urban terrorism in Europe must be fought with different means.
Unfortunately, European societies – as well as many American agencies — tend to regard urban terrorism as crimes to be fought, like any crime, by diligent police work. This is an error, says Gen. Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israeli army intelligence and national security adviser. He told The Media Line that “The West needs to change its attitude toward terrorism and understand it’s not a criminal act, but something different. You can’t use the criminal and police systems to fight terror, you have to have special agencies and rules that allow you to fight terror, which include intelligence, interception and interrogation.”
According to Amidror, Western states are vulnerable to terrorist machinations precisely because of their adherence to a legal system that respects individual rights. If a criminal is planning to rob a bank safeguards can be put in place to thwart it and the criminal caught red-handed. For terrorists the target is not this or that bank or individual but the entire society. To catch them at the scene of the crime is too late. Therefore it is reasonable that “if you have information about someone who is going to rob a bank, you can’t arrest him because a crime has not been committed yet.” However, “when terrorists meet and speak together about a terrorist act you should arrest them.”
Amidror cites the case of a terror suspect in Belgium who escaped because the law would not allow police to break into a house between eleven p.m. and four a.m.
Detective First Grade Mordy Dzikansky, author of two books on terrorism and the officer selected by the NYPD to serve as liaison to Israel during the Second Intifada, agrees. He told The Media Line that there is a necessary difference in approach to terrorism and that the rules have changed when it comes to the vulnerability of civilians to terrorism. He gave the example of the Boston Marathon bombing, where Russia’s FSB had passed on information about the bombers to US authorities, suggesting that they be kept under observation. One of the US agencies apparently interviewed one of the brothers. Dzikansky disagreed with the methodology arguing that terrorists have a greater commitment than do criminals and the interview can only tip the hand of the counter-terrorism forces. He said that the hatred exceeds the monetary reward.
What makes operating against terrorists more difficult is that many potential ISIS terrorists are citizens of the countries where they operate. They have the same rights as other citizens to protection under the law of democratic states and cannot be deported even as they plan murderous random attacks against fellow citizens or citizens of neighboring European countries to which they can travel freely.
ISIS takes advantage of Europe’s compassion for the victims of the chaos in Syria, to which ISIS itself contributes. Referring to the mass influx of Syrian refugees to Europe, Simon Perry, co-director of a research program on policing and homeland security at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, told The Media Line that the French appeared to be stunned that several of the terrorists in November’s attacks were French. One assailant at least came to France via Greece posing as a refugee. He said the influx of refugees clearly “provided opportunities for ISIS to attack the West.”
Israeli analysts claim that what happens in Israel will happen later in Europe. “On terrorism, Israel is ten or twenty years ahead and twenty years ahead on the solution,” says Perry.
Kenneth Abramowitz, a New York-based analyst who established Savethewest.com, agrees. “What happens in Israel happens in other countries in five years,” he told The Media Line. Israel, he adds, is “the eastern border of western civilization.” Unlike Israel, “none of the Western nations is capable of defending its own interests.” He calls European absorption of masses of Syrian refugees not so much an indication of a kinder, gentler Europe as evidence that “Europe has made the decision to not save itself.”He gives the Europe Union “a few months to come to its senses or it will be overwhelmed by Muslims,” he warns.
The assault on Western civilization, of which the ISIS threat is only one component, according to Abramowitz, comes from both “the outside and from the inside.” In his view the terror threat is not from ISIS alone. The “existential threat” to the United States comes from Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons and ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) as well.
Pessimistically he envisages that only a serious attack will awaken democracies, including the U.S., to the homeland threat because “democracies act in a panic.”
Abramowitz fears a multi-front “attack to destroy the U.S. through … physical war, intellectual war, economic war, legal war and demographic war.” President Obama has spoken of the intention to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. That is not sufficient. Even if the war against ISIS terror is successful, Abramowitz maintains, the battle for survival must go beyond it.
Robert Swift contributed to this article.