Josef Olmert
Josef Olmert

Fighting Terrorism-Myths and realities

The American debacle in Afghanistan is exactly what is being said about that-A catastrophe of major proportions which is going to have very quick and deep repercussions on the ability of the Western world to counter terror regimes and movements. Such predictions were voiced after the Soviet debacle/catastrophe in the same Afghanistan, and then were watered down by ”experts” , mainly in the US, but the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 was a grim reminder that dire warnings can even materialize, though the full and most painful realization of that came only in 9/11. The point which I am going to dwell upon here, is not the history , causes and implications of American involvement in Afghanistan , and that applies also to the most recent developments. It is rather to examine the long-held notion, almost a sacred principle of ”not negotiating with terrorism”, because with them we can have ONLY war to the end. In order to emphasize the point of discussion , I will relate also to Israel and its war on terror.

In Israel this notion became the official policy and near religious creed after 1967, and even more so after the 1973 war which gave strong impetus to Palestinian terrorism , something which was highly dramatized in 1976 with the Entebbe situation and the glorious Israeli operation led by the hero of Israel , Yonathan [Yoni] Netanyahu. So long as it was mostly an Israeli problem, the overall global interest in the question of terrorism and the ways to counter it was limited, though there were enough examples from other countries, including in Europe , where the plague of terrorism was hitting hard. It was no other than Yoni Netanyahu’s brother Binyamin Netanyahu who wore the mantle of the Great Priest of the war on terror and his book ”Terrorism; How the West can Win”, became the gospel of the view , that there can be a military solution to the problem, IF only the West was to adopt the recommendations in the book, which, to a large extent, matched the official Israeli policy about terrorism. It was only after 9/11
that the War On Terror became a global issue, with President Bush reaction to the atrocities and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which became the strongest possible proof, that the US meant business this time, and in a way it was also a confirmation of the older Israeli strategy , first about the danger of terrorism and second about the ways to counter it.

It is NOT a coincidence , that recent events in Afghanistan and much nearer to Israel in Gaza seem to undermine , at least the notion of ”no negotiating ”with terrorism. GAZA?. Yes, because under a P.M called Binyamin Netanyahu the book he himself wrote became SO irrelevant. Under Netanyahu , and in order to gain peace and quiet in its Southern border, Israel did the exact opposite of what young Netanyahu wished it to do-the older Netanyahu tried to bribe the terrorists by accepting the deal with Qatar according to which Israel encouraged and enabled the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas. What Hamas did with this money is not difficult to know-they bought and developed arms, the same arms which were used against Israel and its civilian population since 2009.

The problem here is, that the entire approach of money in return for quiet, totally failed in the operational side of it, because there was NO quiet, but also from its ideological standpoint. You cannot bribe motivated terrorists, and this is EXACTLY why the young Netanyahu was so right in his book, and so wrong in his actual policy. Let us be honest here-Netanyahu was NOT the first and only P.M who negotiated with Hamas-All his predecessors did it after the establishment of Hamas, especially when negotiating prisoners exchanges .This is a fact, not a blame, as this piece is not supposed to judge the moral value of such exchanges, but a simple fact. The point is, that Netanyahu perfected this situation by trying to do what no P.M did before him-to buy the terrorists with cash money. That is new, that is wrong, that is dangerous and that shatters irreversibly the idea of ”no negotiating” with terrorists and turns it into a slogan, more realistically a myth. Let it be clear-Israel does negotiate with terrorists. And so does the US.

President Trump negotiated with the Taliban, maybe because he understood already two years ago, that while they are a terror movement, and they will be terrible rulers of Afghanistan, they are the only ones who, like it or not, can deliver. In the current calamity in Afghanistan, Trump hands are clean. The Biden Administration had seven full months to prepare the withdrawal, and instead of turning it into a panicking flight use it as an example of orderly evacuation. They did not do it, maybe because they did NOT negotiate with the Taliban, but they negotiate with them now about the terms according to which the ”nice” guys of the Taliban will facilitate the escape of the number one power in the world from this tormented country. Let us not make another mistake about that-when you negotiate with the Taliban about the escape from a position of weakness, then you open the gate to other negotiations, which will be political in nature. Put in sum-where is the principle of ”no negotiations” with terrorists?. In the dustbin of American policy, perhaps in the dustbin of history.

So where does it all lead us to ?.Am I suggesting here the final surrender to terrorism because both Israel and US have acted the way described above-not really. I promote two other conclusions-First, let us renounce empty sloganeering designed to score domestic political points, and stop pretending that we do not do what everybody, and first and foremost, the terrorists know that we do. Second, exactly because we negotiate with the terrorists when we find it most convenient to us politically, and use it as a carrot, let us also use the stick, but in actions, not in words. Heavy stick, one which will indicate to the terrorists that dealing with them is an expedient move , not a sign of weakness, and create a double-edged dialogue with them-of words and fire, a lot of the latter, as little as possible of the former. Now is NOT the time to do it to the Taliban, as the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan is the utmost priority, but very soon it will be the time. That will be the right test of President Biden, and that is and should be also the right test of P.M Bennett with regard to GAZA.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina