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Don't fight the last war

Analysis By Barry Rubin September, 28 2001

WASHINGTON (September 28) - America is understandably obsessed by the bloody and tragic attack. There are more flags around than ever and much patriotic talk.

Endless discussions take place in government, the media, and among citizens regarding what this experience means and what to do about it.

Yet despite all the good instincts and intentions expressed by the American leaders and people - and the virtually endless discussion of such matters - it seems as if the debate over security arrangements and implications has gone seriously astray.For those used to Israeli concepts on this subject, there are a number of mistakes already being made that seem dangerously wrong and likely to lead to more debacles in the future.

And the United States could learn a great deal from Israeli experience, methods, and technology.

Here are 10 points that are being neglected and virtually never mentioned in the hours of coverage, meters of printed pages, and chattering of newly self-appointed instant experts.

1. Avoid panic. While some emotions are properly strong in the aftermath of the attack, others are less appropriate. The terrorists are being handed an additional, if perhaps temporary, victory by the irrational fear of immediate repetitions. The economy is suffering seriously while the airline and travel-related industries are particularly hard-hit.

Shouldn't someone tell the American people every few hours that if the terrorists needed three to four years to plan this last attack, another one is unlikely to occur soon? A terrible thing has happened, but this doesn't mean that it is going to take place every week. Osama bin Laden's forces last struck effectively against US embassies in Africa more than three years ago. His operatives are now heading for cover and it will take them some time to regroup.

2. Focus resources. America is a big, powerful country used to having all the resources needed to meet any goal. But security resources are inevitably limited. Don't waste assets trying to protect everything or spreading your forces to thin. To cross the ocean and hit America, terrorists are not going to focus on a shopping mall in Muncie, Indiana.

Priority must be put and kept on high-profile targets, especially in New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles, along with specific buildings in other key cities.

3. Don't fight the last war. America is now gearing up to protect itself from a group of terrorists who hijack aircraft using knives and fly them into buildings. Much of the American security strategy seems keyed to preventing precisely the same attacks as those occurring on September 11.

But terrorists, too, read newspapers and know this is happening. Moreover, the whole point of terrorism tactically is an ability to change targets and methods. The next attack could involve anything ranging from renting private planes to chemical warfare, or an Oklahoma-type attack using a car bomb, to just shooting at people. Counterterrorist planners need to have some imagination - but not too much (see point 2, above) - in figuring out the more likely threat and not just a rote repetition of the previous assault.

4. Basic defenses are the most effective ones. With all the attention focused on security failures, a simple but obvious point is being neglected. If the X-ray machines and metal detectors had been run properly, the terrorists probably would not have succeeded.

Rather than invent all sorts of new technology and defensive forces, it would make more sense to ensure that the existing ones perform properly. At a recent congressional hearing, a senator recounted how he had gone through an airport - after the September 11 attack - and those staffing the X-ray machines had been engaged in horse-play rather than paying attention. You don't need air marshals or armed pilots if you do proper inspections on the ground and keep the cockpit door locked. Most of Israel's airport security systems have been in use since the 1960s with relatively little change.

5. High-quality people. There is no substitute. In Israel, the best people go into security and intelligence work. At airports, security relations with passengers are handled by bright young people who know the importance of what they're doing and are especially conscientious because this is their first job. In America, with exceptions of course, those doing this work are there simply because they cannot get other employment.

There was a warning about 15 years ago that the airport security people were paid less than those working at fast-food restaurants. No matter how much you spend on technology or what clever plans you develop, these are only as good as the people implementing them.

Precisely because attacks are so rare, Americans have a very hard time taking security seriously. Given the high levels of crime, though, this is a luxury that cannot be afforded. I visited a famous journalist friend who lives in a community where residents pay thousands of dollars a year for protection. A few days after the attack and practically within sight of the World Trade Center, the guard waved me through when I mentioned my host's name. It became quickly apparent that he thought I lived there without checking anything. In America, the job title "security guard" is a joke, and it is not unknown that the "guards" may have criminal records themselves.

6. The security issue that dare not speak its name. America is not under attack by tribes from the Amazon river, Eskimos, Polynesians, or Zulus.

Everyone knows this fact, but even to mention it is to invite the most vicious personal attacks and name-calling. But let's say it for the record: the terrorist attacks on the United States are being planned and implemented by Muslims from the Middle East, primarily Arabs. Therefore, it may be politically correct but it is also politically insane to pretend otherwise.

The great majority of Muslims and Arabs in America (or in the Middle East for that matter) are not involved in such terrorism. The civil liberties of all Americans should be respected. Nevertheless, if intelligence and security resources aren't focused on this area, then how can anything be effective? Everyone is at great pains to stress that prejudice is wrong and innocent people should not be harassed.

Yet almost no one has pointed out - except for Daniel Pipes - the extremely important point that key Muslim groups, including those invited to meet with President George W. Bush, are controlled by radicals who support terrorism. If the lives of thousands of people are at risk, the importance of being politically correct or not hurting someone's feelings may seem less significant.

Ethnic profiling does make sense. Anyone who believes this has never stood on line behind a Colombian citizen at an American customs' station. Surveillance of Islamic and Arab groups in the United States does make sense. There is a valid reason for national and ethnic profiling.

Sorry, but that's the truth. Ignore it if you want to do so, but understand that this puts lives at risk.

7. Avoid questionable allies: If Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon are invited into an anti-terrorist coalition, can one expect success? Whatever grudge some of these leaders have against the Taliban or desire to get some reward for fooling the United States, are these regimes really going to help fight terrorism?

Let's face it: When and if the current crisis cools off, bin Laden may be a respected consulting terrorist living in Teheran, Damascus, or Baghdad. These countries are going to sabotage any US military strike or pressures, because they know that similar methods could be used against them some day. They don't want to turn in the names of terrorists, because they might be hiring them in a few months. Already the US government has been whitewashing such countries as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which it was castigating only weeks ago for their refusal to cooperate in solving previous terrorist attacks against Americans in their countries.

8. Tell the American people the truth about what's being said in the Arab world and Iran: Most of the statements cited in the American media are formal expressions of regret from Middle Eastern leaders. Yet the support and sympathy for anti-American terrorism is sharply understated.

Here is one example from MEMRI, one of the groups (Palestinian Media Watch should also be mentioned) doing a remarkable job of making this material available. The chairman of the state-sponsored Syrian Arab Writers Association, Ali Uqleh Ursan, wrote in the group's "intellectual" organ that, on hearing about the attacks, "I felt like someone delivered from the grave; my lungs filled with air and I breathed in relief, as I'd never breathed before."

And incidentally, he cited American attacks on Korea, Vietnam, and Libya (in addition to support for Israel) as reasons for taking revenge. I have compiled about 300 pages of this material from a wide range of sources since September 11, including many expressions of joy on non-public Islamist chat groups.

9. If you don't deter today you will pay tomorrow. In 1998, hundreds of people were killed in attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Most of them were black Africans and a number were surely Muslims, though the terrorists didn't care about that. The American response was a joke: an hour-long bombing attack on Sudan and in Afghanistan. And even this was criticized as excessive by many observers, who questioned whether there was full evidence for hitting the site in Sudan.

If punishments are so limited, why shouldn't states sponsor terrorists, including bin Laden, and individuals become terrorists? Why aren't American leaders and opinion makers saying every day: The failure to hit back hard after previous terrorist attacks is one of the main reason why 5,000 people are dead in New York? Such a conclusion certainly suggests the importance of tough - and violent - action today.

10. Listen to those who have been right all along. Instant experts are proliferating everywhere: people who a month ago couldn't have told you the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim are now expounding on the details of Islamic doctrine and radical Middle East politics.

The first time I heard about the dangers of a major terrorist attack in the United States was from Israeli experts almost a decade ago. While I doubt that Israel had any remarkable intelligence on the current attacks, very detailed material on revolutionary Islamist activities within the United States and the efforts of Middle East groups to build agent networks in America was being passed by the Israeli government to the United States as long ago as the early 1990s.

And the United States now faces issues of countermeasures and responses similar to those confronting Israel for more than 40 years. Perhaps Washington will at last be ready to listen to some of these perspectives and experiences.

And yet, even aside from the huge problems of punishing or catching the terrorists, there are real doubts about how this crisis is being handled today. I can't help but wonder whether, say six months or a year from now, the US response to the September 11 attacks will become known as the disaster that followed the catastrophe.

(The writer is the deputy director of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.)

This article can also be read at

Copyright 1995-2001 The Jerusalem Post -

-- Swissrose (, September 29, 2001


"And the United States could learn a great deal from Israeli experience, methods, and technology. "

Perhaps if Israel were living today at peace with its neighbors, had not been condemned by international groups for both racism and using excessive force against civilians, and armed guards were not riding buses in downtown Tel-Aviv, I would be a bit more interested in learning from the way Israel deals with terrorism.

As it is, the Israeli model is one of continuing violence that I would rather _not_ emulate.

Perhaps instead the U.S. should start by admitting its own role in international violence. Other posts pn this board identified some of that violence. Our continuing arms sales are another-- but of course that's just business. And then there is the fact that the U.S. supported Sadam Hussein, Bin Laden-- and countless other dictators including the currect Saudi royal family-- with arms, weapons, and training while it was convenient to do so.

Let's get the U.S. itself out of the international terror business and perhaps we can avoid the bottomless pit of violence that the state of Israel faces.

-- neil (, September 29, 2001.

"And the United States could learn a great deal from Israeli experience, methods, and technology."

Perhaps if Israel were at peace with its neighbors, had not been condemned by international organizations for racism and for using excessive force against civilians, and if soldiers with machine guns were not riding buses in downtown Tel-Aviv, I would be more inclined to pay attention to the Israeli methods of dealing with terrorism.

Personally, I think the Israeli's have chosen a path of never-ending violence and I suggest we look elsewhere for solutions.

This country might begin by publicly acknowledging its own role in international violence. Posts on this board have already discussed a few of the wars and bombings this country has perpetrated against civilians around the world-- I won't repeat the list here.

I will mention the big business of arms sales, in which the U.S. is the number one player. Add to it ongoing and historic U.S. support for dictators-- often vicious ones-- all over the world. Then add in U.S. support-- arms, money, and training-- for people like Sadam Hussein and Bin Laden as long as they are doing what we want.

The U.S. government itself is a leader in international terror. It is not innocent. Let's get our own government out of that business. Then perhaps the terror against our civilians will end.

-- neil (, September 29, 2001.

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