The world views terror incidents as sporadic, high-profile, and one-time events. They arouse fury, anger, and pain, yet they do not undermine the power of the state where terrorism takes place. Years ago, when Palestinian terrorists were blowing up airplanes, a terror leader was asked about the benefit achieved by his men while perpetrating horrifying incidents where hundreds of innocents are murdered. His response was as follows: “I get full attention – in the two minutes where the entire world’s attention is directed at me, I can express my message regarding the injustice done to me, and this is enough for me.”
Ever since that time, terrorism underwent a series of changes. The Vietnam War changed the conception of terror organizations and made them think that a terrorist army was not only meant to sting, but ultimately it also had the power to win. In a meeting held at the end of the war between representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and North Vietnamese General Giap, the PLO men congratulated him on his great victory and asked when he thought terror groups would be able to defeat Israel. He responded with one word: Never. When he was asked why, he replied: because of lack of determination.
Some observers believe this was one of the turning points for Islamic terror groups, as it prompted them to build an educational system that lauded suicide, thereby laying the groundwork for suicide terrorism. Their immediate interpretation was that determination meant willingness to offer personal sacrifice, and that the more people prove their willingness to die, the greater their determination would become, ultimately resulting in victory. Eventually, terror leaders realized that suicide bombers have a demoralizing effect and can create grave damage and prompt a government shakeup - for example, the attack on the Madrid subway system in 2004 that prompted a change of government in Spain.
Skilled terror armies
However, terrorism upgraded itself into combat units. The Hizbullah terror organization does not premise its power on sporadic terror incidents. By now it has accumulated 42,000 rockets aimed at undertaking military terrorism and causing mass casualties, while challenging Israel militarily.
For a while now, Hamas has dealt not only with suicide terrorists, but rather, it is building an offensive arsenal of continuously upgraded rockets, while also forming military units whose modus operandi is wholly different than that of terror cells, and training a terror army that is also involved in military activity.
This conception has also been applied by the Iranian army that alongside combat units maintains the Revolutionary Guards, which in turn nurture paramilitary organizations combining terror and anti-terror activity with military activity. This is combined with a public relations war, which is the secret weapon of fundamentalist organizations and where they are more powerful than all Western states.
Al-Qaeda too has shifted from sporadic terror to military terror, and its operations are more complex and integrate more elements. They reflect the face of future warfare, which combines local terror with wide-scale terror that potentially includes biological and chemical weapons, and aspires to achieve nuclear terror using combat units operating differently than terror groups that attempt to undertake a local one-time attack.
India constitutes a broad testing ground for terror forces aiming to take over a large city while using military terrorism. The country constitutes a tool for learning terror’s new conceptions as they manifest themselves at this time, in the face of the conclusions of the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and terror attacks in Pakistan.
Therefore, the war on terror’s doctrine must change. The old-time suicide bombers mostly operated alone or in small groups, in order to prove their power and hurt the enemy as much as is possible. Yet their time has passed.
Today, we see the emergence of a dark, new, and different army, with new branches that include all the components of a military, yet still utilize the terror doctrine. The advantage of terrorist armies is first and foremost the fact they are not subjected to any law or international convention. They do not face any pressure and they are not accountable to anyone.
They tie the hands of the responding force, which is the only side subjected to conventions pertaining to human rights, war captives, and the targeting of civilians.
Every terror event makes it increasingly clear that the danger to the stability of societies and regimes is much greater than we thought. The Mumbai events must serve as a turning point in the way we address terror armies. This is no longer a conventional war. The war codes formulated in the wake of World War II are no longer relevant. Instead, an international anti-terror force must be created; this force must be specialized, it must study the new threat, and it must be able to provide an immediate response by forces trained especially to that end.
Dr. David Altman is the deputy chairman of the Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College