Defining Terrorism

Following the understanding that terrorism is not a tactical act, but a strategic approach, the world must take stock of the meaning of both the current terror war and state of the war on terror. The current terror war is different in nature that traditional warfare, and its character and meaning must be understood. For decades, the international community attempted to convince itself that terror is a set of sporadic events which tactically attempt to advance a larger political goal. No longer. Today, the global consciousness is coming to understand that terrorism is a new type of war. There is a need to study and understand this terror war, not as a strategic attempt to alter our reality. We must come to understand its goals and methods.

Over the years, various military doctrines with specific tools have been established to respond to changes in warfare. In the early 20th century, conventional warfare viewed armory as the central factor in warfare, which resulted in the development of a military doctrine which placed the emphasis on armory and tank units. Even peace-loving Switzerland built along its intercity highways tank roadblocks, in the event that Switzerland were to face an armory attack from neighboring states.

During World War II, air forces became more central in offensive and defensive warfare, resulting in the development of a military doctrine for for defending civilians against air attacks. In Israel, for example, every building erected was required to include a bomb shelter. The siren warning system against air attacks became a central aspect of our lives, and has been used by numerous other states. Indeed, civilian defense systems have become central in many states and were eventually developed into home front commands.

With the transition towards high trajectory missile warfare, military doctrines have been adapted to facilitate units dedicated to developing anti-missile systems. In Israel, anti-missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome and Magic Wand, became central to Israel’s military doctrine.

The Israeli military doctrine has also adapted to the threat of chemical weapons, as all Israeli citizens have been equipped with gas masks and atropine shots to prepare against chemical attacks.

Aviation terror has resulted in new measures for flight security, including locking cockpit doors, and additional security checks of passengers. Indeed, security measures have turned airports into military-like compounds, as travel restrictions have increased over the years.

Even nuclear warfare has resulted in a change in military doctrine, with radar systems and anti-missile systems, and second strike abilities serving as central components of the nuclear military doctrine.

Despite this, the terror war has not resulted in the needed change in military doctrine and has not been dealt with seriously. As long as we deny that knife and scissors terrorism is part of the same picture as atomic and missile terrorism, the phenomenon cannot be dealt with seriously. As long as the world refuses to understand that terrorism is more than just a tactical path to advance a political goal, but an attempt to end our legitimacy as a society, to instill social anxiety, and to prevent citizens from enjoying normal daily lives, there will be no serious action against terrorism.

We must only look at the example of how North Korea faces the world with contempt and defiance, both with its nuclear tests and ballistic missiles. The world has placed its head in the sand with respect to nuclear terror and the terror war of knives and scissors.

Terror has declared war on the free world, on democracy, and on stability. As with cancer, the terror war must be discovered in its early stages, if we want to survive, before it advances an encroaches upon societies which will be unable to defend themselves.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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