The Islamist Jihad wave did not begin in September 2001 with the attack on the US. The Iranian revolution in 1979 marks the historic turning point where fanatical Islam began to gain strength and confidence. Iran's role as a Muslim state served as a source of inspiration for the emergence of al-Qaeda, the strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and the rise of Hamas – these are varying movements and often even rival ones, but they share the common goal of Islamization.
The lack of resolve and disregard by the US and western states vis-à-vis the Islamist Jihad threat, and even the aid often provided to Islamist forces fighting common enemies (for example the Mujahideen in Afghanistan), also contributed to its sense of security. Only the 9/11 attacks roused resistance against the threat.
President Bush's decision to shift from defensive to offensive operations changed the situation: The toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the targeting of al-Qaeda leaders made organization leaders go underground, making it difficult for them to carry out large-scale terror attacks. The awakening of the West led to intelligence cooperation that culminated in the foiling of attacks in the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, Germany, Africa the Far East and other places. The awakening of Arab states to the threat (including Saudi Arabia) delivered a further blow to Jihadist elements.
The success of phase A in the preventative attack, alongside pinpointed successes, led to a sense that Islamist Jihad was on the defensive and even in retreat. However, the US' entanglement in Iraq, in what was supposed to be phase B of the preventative attack, brought this to a halt – and in turn made Jihadists rear their head once again.
Iran (and Syria as well) found Iraq to be fertile ground for carrying out attacks on the US, against its allies and its interests in the region. Even the halting of Israel's counter attack against the wave of Palestinian terror and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip have put new wind into Jihad's sails, as did Israel's performance in Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War.
Jihadist elements in all their forms have been encouraged by these developments, perceived as the deterioration of the US' and Bush's status, and the gaining of political power by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in the Palestinian arena. Hence, the balance in the conflict between Islamist Jihad and western culture is at this point in time mixed.
Never surrender to terror
Jihad and the terror and guerilla organizations operating on its behalf can (and must) be defeated. Such victory requires a clear strategy by the nations of the free world that would combine political, economic, PR, educational and military measures. The strategy must include all the following elements:
1. Surrender to terror should not take place under any circumstances, under any conditions, or in face of any other threat.
2. An uncompromising war should be waged against all Jihadist elements, while leaders of the free world should be guided by the principle of "the best defense is offense."
3. A diplomatic campaign for strengthening "world order": Isolation and economic sanctions against wayward countries (such as Iran and Syria), and of course against Jihad organizations (such as al-Qaeda, Hizbullah and Hamas.)
4. Directing the West's economic aid to Muslim countries and elements that are prepared to instigate change; towards a culture that sanctifies life and not death. Many Muslims believe that a culture that sanctifies death has a self-destructive mechanism. These are the persons who should be spoken to and encouraged.
Even in the days leading up to World War II there were elements in the West who preferred not to confront the Nazi ideology, and were even willing to forgive it in order to buy short-term calm. Jihad's ideology does not match the intensity of Nazi Germany's and it does not equal the strength of the free world. Hence, if the countries of the free world have enough resolve, Islamist Jihad will be defeated even without the bloodshed of World War II.
The writer, a former chief of staff of the IDF, is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center