The IDF’s Counter-Terrorism unit trains. (IDF photo)

PERSPECTIVE: The Forecast for Israel Is Terrorism, Terrorism and More Terrorism

There is no doubt that the Western nation faced with the most serious, and most persistent, terrorist threat is the tiny country of Israel. Right since its inception the land of Israel has been beset by angry neighbors keen to destroy it and violent extremist groups bent on the same mission. Israel features prominently and frequently in jihadi propaganda and, to a lesser extent, in right-wing screeds (anti-Semitism is always present, however).

In response to these threats, both of a military and a terrorist nature, Israel does what is has to: it protects itself. No one can say this is not a legitimate course of action. Every state has the duty to keep its citizens safe and its borders secure. Any government that fails to do so does not deserve to govern.

As a consequence, Israel has built up one of the world’s best (small) military forces, ones that punch well above their weight, as well as world-class security intelligence agencies (domestic and foreign). I had the privilege of exchanging views with both Shin Bet (domestic) and Mossad (foreign) and walked away very impressed with the men and women who serve their country.

At the same time, all these actions aimed at thwarting Israel’s enemies from hitting it must be carefully planned and judiciously executed. Mistakes can have serious repercussions and counterproductively make matters worse. Actions and reactions must be proportionate: if not, they can give fodder to more violence.

It is a valid question whether the current Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu gets this.

Mr. Netanyahu has, of course, just been returned to office in the third election in Israel this year alone. Just as on the previous two occasions, his Likud Party failed to win a majority and will have to cobble together a tenuous coalition with like-minded parties. It is far from clear at the time of writing (March 6) whether he will be able to form a majority government.

Nevertheless, there are signs that his administration is engaged in policies and deeds planned to better secure Israel’s security that are in actual fact undermining that goal. For sake of brevity we will look at two: the growing power of the Ultraorthodox Jewish parties and the practice of demolishing Palestinian homes.

Ultraorthodox Jews currently constitute only 12 percent of the population but are by far the fastest-growing constituency. Not surprisingly, given their name (they call themselves the haredim – those who tremble before God), they are very conservative and messianic. They reject the secular state and hew to the conviction that the biblical land of Israel, i.e. everything between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Hence they are often the most zealous among the settlers in the Occupied Territories.

The complicating factor is that the Occupied Territories is also where the Palestinian state should be. The expansion of Israeli settlements in that area make any future state untenable and provide fodder for violent reactions (i.e. terrorism). Some Ultraorthodox themselves are not beyond the use of violence to make their mark (and this too must be called terrorism).

In his quest for parliamentary majorities the Netanyahu government has sought the support of the Ultraorthodox parties, giving them a disproportionate level of influence. Furthermore, Mr. Netanyahu has never met an illegal settlement he does not like, complicating the situation on the ground and providing the seeds for more Palestinian terrorism.

Another questionable practice of this and other governments has been the demolition of houses associated with individuals suspected or involved in violent attacks in Israel. The latest one took place on March 5 when Israeli Defense Forces destroyed the houses belonging to two Palestinian prisoners accused of carrying out an attack in the occupied West Bank last year.

This policy is of questionable legal or moral standing and obviously creates the conditions for more, not less, violence. It also punishes people who themselves were not responsible for attacks against Israel. Why would any state think this is a good idea?

Israel is a hard place to govern. No party ever seems to get a solid majority in the Knesset. Lots of states have a particular hatred for it. Terrorism is a very real threat. The neighbors are anything but democratic and free. As a result, Israel has to make some tough decisions.

Those decisions need to be good ones, however. Untrammeled development in the Occupied Territories and unjustified revenge acts against the families of terrorists are not among those. The Netanyahu government needs to rethink this.

Israel will most likely never be as safe as many other Western countries and will have to be continually on its guard. This does not mean it should engage in actions that make an already difficult situation worse.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. (www.borealisthreatandrisk.com) and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). He worked as a senior strategic analyst at CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) from 2001-2015, specializing in violent Islamist-inspired homegrown terrorism and radicalisation. From 1983 to 2001 he was employed as a senior multilingual analyst at Communications Security Establishment (CSE – Canada’s signals intelligence agency), specialising in the Middle East. He also served as senior special advisor in the National Security Directorate at Public Safety Canada from 2013, focusing on community outreach and training on radicalisation to violence, until his retirement from the civil service in May 2015, and as consultant for the Ontario Provincial Police’s Anti-Terrorism Section (PATS) from May to October 2015. He was the Director of Security and Intelligence at the SecDev Group from June 2018 to July 2019. Mr. Gurski has presented on violent Islamist-inspired and other forms of terrorism and radicalisation across Canada and around the world. He is the author of “The Threat from Within: Recognizing Al Qaeda-inspired Radicalization and Terrorism in the West” (Rowman and Littlefield 2015) “Western Foreign Fighters: the threat to homeland and international security” (Rowman and Littlefield 2017), The Lesser Jihads: taking the Islamist fight to the world (Rowman and Littlefield 2017), An end to the ‘war on terrorism ’ and When religion kills: how extremist justify violence through faith (Lynne Rienner 2019). He regularly blogs and podcasts (An Intelligent Look at Terrorism – available on his Web site), and tweets (@borealissaves) on terrorism. He is an associate fellow at the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in the Netherlands, a digital fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies at Concordia University, a member of the board at the National Capital Branch of the CIC (Canadian International Council) and an affiliate of the Canadian network for research on Terrorism Security and Society (TSAS). Mr. Gurski is a regular commentator on terrorism and radicalisation for a wide variety of Canadian and international media. He writes at www.borealisthreatandrisk.com.

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