Israeli Lessons in Counter-Terrorism

After the attacks in Brussels, what can we learn from the Jewish state?

Yesterday, the world bore witness yet again to a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common. Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the EU, was rocked in the morning by a string of bombings at its international airport and a metro rail station. As of now the death toll is at least 30 with over 230 wounded, and all signs show that this attack was carried out by radical Islamic extremists. Of course, this came as no surprise to anyone in the international intelligence community, or anyone who closely follows international security issues and geopolitics.

This style of terror is hardly anything new to the world stage, in fact over the past twenty-five years, there are literally hundreds of international terrorist attacks carried out by radical Islamic militant organizations. Of all of these attacks, the average person only remembers fewer than twenty, and that excludes terrorist activities in and against Israelis at home and abroad.

Regrettably, this has become the new normal in the modern world, a threat that Western society has accepted and adapted to our way of life. Airports, trains, busses, cafes, hotels and shopping centers are all approached in two ways; one for their primary function, and the other as a potential target. When you walk into a large transit terminal, the first thing you do is find out where your departure gate or platform is located, but after that, you immediately start scanning the area and making a contingency plan. Where are the closest security personnel? Who here looks the most suspicious? Where is the nearest exit? What is this place’s evacuation plan? If there’s an explosion, do I run? If there is an active shooter do I lock down the room where I am?

Welcome to the world of the security-state, where we Israelis, unfortunately, feel right at home. Many military experts and international security professionals look to our country as a model for how to address their security needs. Strong intelligence, diversification of military capabilities, a general quick, but calculated response mentality, and a vigilant citizenry are some of the things that lead to Israel earning the title of  “the counter-terrorism nation.”

Not everything that Israel does to keep its citizens safe can be successfully replicated and implemented everywhere.  For example, I’m not sure how the American people would adjust to having to go through security every time they entered a grocery store, while the average Israeli won’t enter a large public space unless there is a feeling that security personnel are present. Another great example is as follows: Israelis like to complain (a lot), it’s probably our second national pass-time only surpassed by bureaucracy, but rarely will you encounter an Israeli who complains about airport security, whereas in the United States the easiest ice-breaker for a stand-up comedian has shifted from “so how about airline food,” to “how about those lines or the TSA at the airport?” The overall point is that our society adopted a mindset in which we are willing to be inconvenienced to preserve human life though I’m skeptical that other countries are prepared to make the same sacrifices we have made here.

There are, however, a few short lessons that the world community can learn from Israel and implement immediately, and in my opinion, these have been the most crucial tools in Israel’s general success in combating terrorism.

You must call your enemy by their rightful name.

We are a country that values religious freedom and honors the traditions of all of the Abrahamic faiths, and some of our greatest contributors to the society are proud and practicing Muslims, but we as a nation (including said Muslims) will never deny that Islamic State, Hamas or Hezbollah are motivated by a twisted off-shoot of Islam. Do these organizations represent Islam? No, they do not, but are the terrorists who carry out these heinous acts Muslims motivated by religious fanaticism? Yes, and we are not afraid to call it like we see it, because we do this for Jewish extremists as well (though far fewer and their attacks less frequent). When you can look your enemy in the eyes and declare openly and with confidence that you recognize them for who they are and intend to defeat them, you have what it takes to do just that.

There is no moral equivalency between why we fight, and why your enemy does.

Many like to argue (especially when it comes to Palestinian terror groups) that they are in a “political struggle” and they are acting out to “express their frustration” or “bring to light their grievances.” Here is the Litmus test: If frustration or passion manifests itself as preemptive violence that specifically targets non-governmental, non-authority figures (civilians) with the intent to cause fear in that group, it is terrorism, not a political/ethnic/religious struggle. This is why a lone-wolf knife attack in Jerusalem is terrorism in the same sense as these latest attacks in Brussels. Both are terrorism motivated by the same religious ideology that raises the glory death and martyrdom above the sanctity of human life. If you whitewash Islamic terrorism in one part of the world, you do it everywhere, and you grant legitimacy to those who wish to carry out the same acts in other places. Civilized Nations do not fight each other anymore because we have learned the value of human life, this enemy has not and; therefore, we are not on the same moral plane.

The spirit of the fight is even more important than the tactics.

Religious fanaticism is one of the best ways to motivate and manipulate people, and that is why Islamic extremists are so effective in both recruiting and execution of operations. They have a clear and defined purpose of why they fight, and we must adopt a similar mentality to combat such an enemy. If you think that the only secret to defeat an enemy like this lies in the tactics of where to strike and how, who covers who when you enter the building, if you go through the wall or window, you will not succeed. A clear sense of purpose and a desire to pursue justice to the fullest extent possible, not vengeance, but justice, are vital because they give you the best possible motivation for the fight, and without that motivation a soldier will not carry out the mission as it needs to be done. Vengeance is something that fades away with time, but morality and values will always endure, especially when you are on the side fighting for the preservation of human life, rights, respect, and dignity.

The most important things in life are the ones that are worth fighting for, and defeating an evil like this will come with a price, just ask us, the people of Israel, about our friends and family members who had to pay it. But their deaths are anything but in vain, because we use their memories as a light that guides us forward and not their deaths as a darkness that consumes us.

In Israel, we see every day that Islam is not our enemy, but those who fly its flag and do terrible things motivated by ideologies within it are, and every time we have to, we will stand on the battlefield (whether the actual field of combat or in the diplomatic arena). If you find yourself too in this position, remember to call your enemy by their rightful name, establish that you are the moral side in the fight, and carry with you the spirit of everything we fight for.

About the Author
Ariel Brodkey, born and raised in the United States, made Aliyah in 2012. He completed his military service in a special operations unit, and now studies government, diplomacy, and strategy at IDC Herzliya. His independent research focuses on international relations, political analysis and philosophy, and strategic policy development.
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