Summer has barely gotten underway, and its bright sunshine has already been darkened by a series of horrific terror attacks. In early June Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded six others in a shooting at Tel Aviv’s popular Sarona market. Later in the month, a massacre by a single shooter in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. left 49 dead and 53 injured, the worst mass shooting in this nation’s history. And in the last days of June, three suicide bombers infiltrated Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, killing at least 42 and wounding dozens more.
These attacks stemmed from different motivations — the Sarona killings reflect Palestinian, and particularly Hamas, enmity; the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was a home-grown terrorist with an easily-acquired gun; the Istanbul attack appears to have been carried out by the Islamic State, intent on making its mark throughout the world. All came as shocks, the way such events always do, yet undoubtedly there will be others, escalating, as these have, over time.
Terrorist activities of all sorts have deep roots in history. In ancient times governments used terror, including summary arrests and torture, to keep tight control over their own and conquered populations. France’s Reign of Terror after its revolution of 1789 (where the term “terrorism” probably originated) led to widespread beheadings on the guillotine, including the assassination of revolutionary leaders themselves. In the 20th century, Adolf Hitler in Germany and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union adopted terror techniques to suppress opposition to their totalitarian rule. A former secret service agent told me that the Soviet KGB would randomly choose someone in a neighborhood to execute on phony anti-government charges, thus intimidating everyone else in the area.
Randomness with the intention of frightening the public is at the heart of all terrorist tactics, whether utilized by the state, nationalist groups, or individuals. Groups like ISIS, especially, count on the fact that nobody knows when the next attack will occur or who will be its victims, leaving people everywhere on edge. Terrorist attacks garner much desired publicity for their operators, the most spectacular example being al Qaeda’s 9/11 assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Yet whatever form terrorism takes and whatever its motives, the most persistent assaults have been directed against Israel. From its pre-state days to the present, the Jewish state has been the target of constant hostilities.
In the 1920s, Arab villagers ambushed Jews traveling on the roads and attacked Jewish settlements, among them Tel Hai in the Galilee, where the early Zionist hero Josef Trumpeldor lost his life. In 1929 Arabs massacred Jews in Hebron and Safed, and in the 1930s, Arab murders, arson, and other violence against Jews led eventually to the British White Paper of 1939 that restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine at a time when it was most needed. In the 1950s, bands of “fedayeen” (those willing to kill themselves) sent by Egypt, murdered and plundered on Israel’s borders. But terrorism as we know it today became most prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and affiliate groups opened fire at airports, hijacked planes and took hostages, with the aim of focusing world attention on Palestinian demands. As Yasir Arafat said at the time, “The end of Israel is the goal of our struggle.”
Golda Meir, then Israel’s prime minister, had to cope with terrorism on a scale no prior head of government faced. Although she entreated world leaders not to succumb to terrorists’ demands but rather to unite in fighting them, most made deals with militant organizations to protect their own citizens. Terrorists roamed freely around European airports, and some countries did not even allow El Al security guards to be armed. Security was weak at the Munich Olympic Games of 1972, when, in one of its vilest deeds, Black September terrorists murdered 11 members of the Israeli athletic teams. Compounding the crime, Germany later freed the surviving terrorists in exchange for hostages held in a hijacked plane. Israel responded with targeted assassinations against Black September leaders, an operation that limited international terrorism afterward, according to former Mossad chief, Zvi Zamir.
Now global terrorism is upon us again. But now the Western world recognizes that only by uniting and helping one another can nations beat back the Islamist terror that menaces them all. In fact, one of the worries expressed about Britain’s vote to leave the European Union — another recent shock — is that it may also pull back on sharing its intelligence information. That’s not likely. June’s suicide bombings clearly demonstrated that the world is in too precarious a position for any one nation to go it alone in fighting terrorism. As is so often the case, what had once been shrugged off as an Israeli problem is now recognized as everyone’s headache.
Francine Klagsbrun’s most recent book is “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.” Her new biography of Golda Meir will be published in 2017.