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Diseases and cures
By Steven Martinovich
Americans have had to ask themselves some very difficult questions in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The one that may be the most important, given that the very nature of the constitutional republic that the United States is, deals with the efforts to prevent future attacks. As civil libertarians looked on anxiously, politicians from both sides of the divide called for measures that included national ID cards, increased monitoring of private communications, relaxed legal protections and tightened border security. Benjamin Netanyahu's absorbing 1995 terrorism study Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists recently re-released with a new September 11 related forward argues that even deeper fundamental changes must occur.
Few world leaders are as familiar with the international terrorist movement as Netanyahu is. The former Israeli prime minister began his adulthood as a soldier in an elite anti-terrorist unit and founded the Jonathan Institute in 1979, named after a brother who died during the Entebbe Raid in 1976, which has held several high profile conferences to educate the western world about the growing threat of terrorism. Netanyahu is well-placed to give an Israeli perspective on terrorism but whether he's qualified to do the same for the United States is up to the reader to judge.
Equal parts justification for Israel, sketch of terrorist movements and prescription for the United States, Netanyahu argues that terrorism is a kin to organized crime, except that the gains are ostensibly political and not financial. Like traditional organized crime, terrorism requires organizational structure and support in order to achieve its aims. Its primary engine is a hatred of the west with the United States representing what Iran referred to as the Great Satan. No less than the very survival of western civilization is at stake, Netanyahu argues.
To fight terrorism, he writes, the United States must come to realize that the movements themselves are a proxy for rogue governments like Sudan or Iran. Unable to defeat the United States militarily, rogue governments instead sponsor groups like al-Qaida, Hamas or Islamic Jihad to fight their battles. In order to destroy terrorism, or at least blunt its power, Netanyahu urges America's political leadership to understand that the ultimate objective is to end its state sponsorship. Without assistance of nations, the abilities of the movements immediately becomes limited.
Of course, the war on terrorism has many fronts, as US President George W. Bush has come to learn intimately. Along with the targeting of governments that provide succor to people like Osama bin Laden, Netanyahu argues that fundamental changes must occur within America itself, the ultimate prize for the terrorist. It's here that Fighting Terrorism may prompt the reader to wonder if the cure is as bad as the disease.
According to Netanyahu, there exists essentially two ways of fighting terrorism. The first is passive: hardening targets and increasing security, something Netanyahu says is of limited usefulness to the United States because of its size. There are simply too many targets of opportunity to adequately protect them all, a point proved by Timothy McVeigh on April 19, 1995 when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City.
The second cure calls for an active approach by giving law enforcement the resources necessary to monitor groups and individuals and the nearly unprecedented powers to preemptively detain people, interrogate them and prosecute them if necessary. Netanyahu also calls for some curtailment of basic and absolute constitutional freedoms such as those of free speech, practice of religion and firearms ownership, arguing that the threats to those basic freedoms from terrorism are worse than any limitations.
Netanyahu wraps up his slim but very compelling book with a series of measures for governments dealing with terrorists to undertake including sanctions on those who supply nuclear technologies to rogue states and the rogue states themselves that sponsor terrorist groups and a revision of laws to allow greater surveillance and action against groups. His central argument, that nations must never deal or negotiate with terrorists, informs every suggestion or admonishment. It's a formula that, depending on your point of view, is either responsible for Israel's continuing survival or is a brutal set of policies that exacerbated its problems with the Palestinians and by extension the rest of the Arab world.
Ultimately, it may not be a choice for us whether we begin to mimic Israel, it may be something forced on us. Already America is beginning to look a little like Israel with an increased willingness to trade away some liberty for increased security, something that Benjamin Franklin likely would find regrettable. Whether it's price Americans are willing to pay over the long haul is a question for future historians. If Netanyahu is right, Americans will have to pay regardless and it's better to choose your payment terms then have someone decide what they will collect from you.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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