The Arab Spring from a Counter-Terrorism Perspective
Vol. 11, No. 1 27 May 2011 The Arab Spring from a Counter-Terrorism Perspective Boaz Ganor World War III is occurring right now. It is not only a war of ideas, it is a religious war – not between Islam and the rest of the world, but first and foremost a war within the religion of Islam. It is a war of the culture of Islamic radicalism against the rest of the world, which includes the majority of Muslims worldwide. A few months ago, White House Counter-Terrorism Advisor John Brennan said, “Islamists and Jihadists are not our enemy.” In response, I wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post which explains that moderate Arab leaders know that Jihadists and Islamists are the enemy. By saying that Islamists and Jihadists are not the enemy, the United States – the spearhead of Western society and the protector of liberal values in the world – is sending a confusing message to its allies worldwide. In the competition between the Iranian axis and the pragmatic axis, the Iranian axis is winning. Hizbullah is growing stronger in Lebanon and Hamas is gaining power and scoring points in Gaza for the Iranian axis. Also, the decision of Turkey to choose the Iranian axis is becoming quite clear. Dr. Condoleezza Rice has said that her next book is going to refer to a pillar of American foreign policy: the introduction of democracy in the Muslim world. My upcoming book will address exactly the opposite. It will be about how terrorists and fundamentalists are misusing the democratic apparatus of the state in order to promote their goals. When fundamentalists win in democratic elections, it is one man, one vote, one time.
Is there anything we can do in order to change this negative outcome? I would call to immediately establish a second Marshall Plan, similarly to what happened after World War II, for those new regimes being established in the Muslim world and to support other pragmatic regimes that have not yet faced internal revolutions. Since imposing democracy on these societies might be counterproductive and dangerous, it should be an incremental process. At the end of the day, only Muslims can and should educate Muslims.A War within IslamWhat is the connection between terrorism and the processes that we are seeing in the Muslimworld? They are interdependent, have many common denominators, and will definitelyinfluence one another in the coming years.World War III is occurring right now. It is not only a war of ideas, it is a religious war. It is not awar between religions, between Islam and the rest of the world, but first and foremost a warwithin the religion of Islam. It is a war of the culture of Islamic radicalism against the rest of theworld, which includes the majority of Muslims worldwide. Essentially, the Muslims have aresponsibility to deal with those bad seeds which are coming from Islam.The Equation of TerrorismThe equation of terrorism involves two factors: motivation and operational capability. When agroup of people has both the motivation to conduct terrorist attacks and also the operationalcapability to do so, there are going to be terrorist attacks.In the equation of counter-terrorism, you either need to reduce the motivation or theoperational capability. The ultimate solution is to deal with both factors at the same time. Inthe counter-terrorism literature there is only one way to reduce the terrorists’ operationalcapability, and this is by attacking them. Once you do this, you raise their motivation toretaliate.Israel is the best example in the world of a state that understands the need to fight theoperational capability of the terrorists, and succeeds in doing that based on a very efficientintelligence capability, as well as defensive capabilities (e.g., the West Bank security barrier).At the same time, a lot more can and should have been done in the last two decades inunderstanding and countering the motivations that lead to terrorism, as, for example, inpeople-to-people activities and interaction. Among the Palestinians, many hate us, but manyunderstand at the same time that we were born to live with each other and that overcomingthe personal obstacles is crucial. This would never be a replacement for ending the conflict and 2
solving the political dispute, but even at times of dispute it is crucial to lower the flames ofhatred and establish the platform needed for the next step – to build a political solution.The American Approach to Counter-TerrorismAfter 9/11, America’s focus was on reducing the operational capability of the terrorists. Theoutcome was the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The effort was designed to reduce thecapabilities of al-Qaeda, the global Jihadists, and terrorists worldwide. Yet the Americans didnot pay enough attention to the simultaneous need to deal with counter-motivation.A few months ago, the White House Counter-Terrorism Advisor, John Brennan, discussed theObama Administrations counter-terrorism policy. He explained: “Terrorism is not our enemy.” Iunderstand that terrorism is a tactic and that a tactic cannot be an enemy. But then he said,“Islamists and Jihadists are not our enemy.” In response, I wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Postentitled: “If Global Jihad Isn’t the Enemy, What Is”?I explained that President Mubarak knows who the enemy is, as does King Abdullah of Jordanand other moderate Arab leaders. They know that the Jihadists and Islamists are the enemy. Bysaying that Islamists and Jihadists are not the enemy, America – the spearhead of Westernsociety and the protector of liberal democratic values in the world – is sending a confusingmessage to its allies worldwide.It is true that al-Qaeda has yet to succeed in establishing an Islamist caliphate, an Islamic radicalstate that will control the whole world and will be governed by Muslim Sharia law. But it issucceeding in achieving its intermediate goals to gain hearts and minds that buy into its versionof Islam. While the vast majority of Muslims have not bought into these views, the trend isnegative, as we see more and more people buying into it. From an historical point of view, theIslamists are winning the war.The Strengthening of the Iranian AxisFor the last decade in the Middle East there has been a competition between two players: theIranian axis and the pragmatic axis. Unfortunately, the Iranian axis is winning, point by point.Hizbullah is growing stronger in Lebanon, which in the future may turn into a radical IslamicShia state. We see the same process in Gaza, and some would say throughout the Palestinianarena. Hamas is gaining power and scoring points for the Iranian axis. Also, the decision ofTurkey to choose the Iranian axis is becoming quite clear.The current Middle East turmoil was not a direct outcome of any American initiative, but theAmericans are somehow responsible, due to their obsession with democracy. Dr. CondoleezzaRice has said that her next book is going to refer to a pillar of American foreign policy: theintroduction of democracy in the Muslim world. 3
My book will say exactly the opposite. It will be about how terrorists and fundamentalists aremisusing the democratic apparatus of the state in order to promote their goals. Whenfundamentalists win in democratic elections, it is one man, one vote, one time, and there is noway to get rid of them except through violence.Democracy is not only about free elections; nor are free elections the most important part ofdemocracy. Democracy is a state of mind and a set of values. Democracy is human rights andwomens rights. When you take people who for years have been exposed to incitement andindoctrination, it automatically leads them to believe that becoming a shahid, a suicideattacker, is the most important goal of every patriotic Palestinian youth. So do not be surprisedif, when you impose free elections on them, they will vote for Hamas.My Ph.D. dissertation was called “The Israeli Counter-Terrorism Strategy: Efficiency versusLiberal Democratic Values.” Of course there is an integral contradiction between liberaldemocratic values and security. Finding the correct balance is the counter-terrorism dilemma ofevery liberal democratic state.Popular Rebellions in the Middle EastThe current turmoil in the Middle East was not pre-planned. This was a genuine popularrebellion against those regimes. There is a connection between them because there is anepidemic effect at work. If you are a frustrated youngster watching Al Jazeera – which is playinga negative role in the whole process – and you see others succeeding, then you will do thesame.Islamic revolutions behave according to two different models. One is the Iranian model – arapid revolution. It took only 36 days to pave the way from Shapour Bakhtiars government –which replaced the Shah’s regime – to the takeover by Ayatollah Khomeini. The second model,that of Hizbullah and Turkey, follows a slower path. In Lebanon, the Islamic radical revolution ofHizbullah has been taking place for 15 years. Turkey is in the midst of a long-term process aswell.In Turkey, the Islamists are starting from a different point than in the Arab countries, takingpeople who were not fundamentalists and incrementally brainwashing them by changing themessages in the education system, by changing the constitution, reducing the power of themilitary, and putting their people on the supreme court. Similarly, the Iranians were one of themost pro-Western, pragmatic, non-radical populations prior to the Khomeini revolution. TheIranian people basically are not fundamentalists.Its still a question if the outcome of the revolution in Egypt will lead to a more democraticgovernment. Even if the Egyptians choose in a free election the most liberal and moderatefigure they can vote for, does anybody think that this person has the capability to meet the 4
expectations of the Egyptian public to change the current condition of Egyptian society, andchange the fact that every year there are one million babies born in Egypt? I tend to believethat frustration will come after their new elected government does not succeed in amelioratingtheir welfare, and the life of that government would end in a very clear mandate for the Islamicradical option of the Muslim Brotherhood.The United States is much weaker in the region today than it was a few months ago. Egypt wasa crucial ally of the United States, but it will not be as friendly and as close as it used to be. Evenif the regime would want to, they cannot. From the point of view of the United States, this is anegative trend.What Should the West Do?Is there anything we can do in order to change this negative outcome? I would immediately callto establish a second Marshall Plan, similarly to what happened after World War II, for thosenew regimes being established in the Muslim world. This Marshall Plan should also be used tosupport other pragmatic regimes that have not yet faced internal revolutions. The moneyshould also come from Muslim sources, from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Thosepragmatic regimes should be helped to improve the welfare of their nation and to introducethe values of democracy. Since imposing democracy on these societies might becounterproductive and dangerous, it should be an incremental process – using an educationalapproach.We need to bear in mind that it should be a Muslim educational approach, with Western helpand positive guidance. At the end of the day, only Muslims can and should educate Muslims.Only Muslims can and should interpret Islam in a pragmatic and moderate way.Finally, the Israeli government must not support a comfortable status quo situation. Israelneeds to support the pragmatic Palestinian elements. Abbas and Fayyad have a commoninterest with the pragmatic axis, and this is new because Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan,and even Saudi Arabia today have many common interests that they did not have before, andcommon enemies as well.Israel is currently enjoying a period of relative quiet. No doubt Israel’s intelligence capabilitiesare much better than they used to be, but there are two other important elements at work. Thefirst is the understanding by Abbas and Fayyad that terrorism is counterproductive toPalestinian national interests, something Arafat never understood. The second is theunderstanding by Hamas that right now it is counterproductive for them to let the situationdeteriorate into an all-out war because Hamas is eager to get international legitimization orrehabilitation, and to lift the siege from Gaza. Terrorist attacks are not going to promoteHamas’ immediate goals. * * * 5