Jewish Journal


May 31, 2007

Israeli Institute tracks tricks and trends in terrorism


Boaz Ganor

Boaz Ganor

Every profession has its little inside joke, and terrorist hunting is no exception.

As Boaz Ganor tells it, a lady approached him at an airport and confessed that she was terrified that somebody might have planted a bomb on her upcoming flight.

"Here's what you do," counseled Ganor, executive director of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya. "Take aboard some explosives, because there's hardly any chance of two bombs being on the same plane."

This was about the first and last light moment at the seminar hosted here recently at the Israeli consulate, with the weighty title, "Combating International Terrorism: Current and Future Trends and Domestic Implications."

The event drew about 70 people from a cross-section of the Jewish community.

Four ICT experts spoke and if their well-presented talks can be summarized in two sentences, they are: The battle to contain global terrorism will be long and hard, but it can be done. Above all, don't panic.

Over the years, Al-Qaeda's modus operandi has changed from the direct attack of Sept. 11, to bombings by affiliated groups and now to actions by homegrown cells in Western countries.

The latter have become the most dangerous, Ganor believes, because they know the lay of the land, are convinced they are acting at Allah's command and are spurred by perceived humiliations and grievances.

In contrast to the homegrown cells, which often carry out operations on their own, Iran is spreading terrorism through well-defined proxies.

Taking Hezbollah as an example, ICT Deputy Director Eitan Azani said that from its headquarters in Lebanon, the Shiite terrorist organization runs a three-pronged social-political-military operation with a presence in 40 countries.

Terrorist groups have become quite adept at using Web sites for propaganda, recruiting and fundraising, noted ICT senior researcher Jonathan Fighel, using symbols whose meaning are instantly recognized by Muslims, but escape most Westerners.

Thus, the icon for "The Light" represents one of the 99 names of Allah; a rose symbolizes martyrdom for female suicide bombers; a finger pointed skyward, a favorite gesture of fervent public speakers, signals divine approval, and a snake stands for Israel.

Understanding the codes and mentality of the terrorists is a complex and subtle task, Fighel said, adding, "There are no cookbook answers."

The threat of chemical, biological, radiological or electronic means used by terrorists has gotten a lot of hype, but such "silent" weapons have not proven particularly effective and have caused relatively few casualties, according to Yael Shahar, who heads ICT's database project.

"Such devices are used primarily for their psychological effect," Shahar said. "Most casualties are caused by attacks using off-the-shelf weaponry."

On the diplomatic front, the sheer number of states hostile to Israel will always put the Jewish state at a disadvantage, said Israel Consul General Ehud Danoch, who hosted the event, which was organized by his deputy, Yaron Gamburg.

For instance, in the U.S. State Department or the foreign services of major countries, there will be 51 ambassadors who have served in Arab or Muslim countries and can identify with their viewpoints, compared to one ambassador who has served in Israel, Danoch said.

In a lively Q-& -A session, Ganor warned against lumping all Muslims into one category.

"Most Muslims are not extremists," he said, especially in such non-Arab countries as Turkey and Indonesia.

Inevitably, the role of the media came in for scrutiny, with the American press getting surprisingly good marks.

In a private conversation, Ganor evaluated the international media's coverage of the Lebanon War as "not too critical" and relatively restrained, but the same could not be said for the Israeli media.

"I met with news editors of the Israeli press and TV stations some years ago and urged them to help lower public anxiety by not showing close-ups of mutilated bodies or of panicky behavior," Ganor said.

His pleas were not heeded and his current warning to the Israeli media, Ganor said, is that "you are creating fear and you are being misused by the terrorists."

On the international scene, however, Israel's public relations efforts during the Lebanon War were more effective than during the first and second intifadas, the experts agreed, though unfortunately one doesn't win wars through PR campaigns.

Commented Fighel wryly, "The media was excellent, but we [Israel] screwed up."

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