Terrorism: May 5, 2005


In the last week, Islamic terrorist leaders in Algeria, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan were captured. Terrorists need leadership to be effective. Take away the leadership and the deadly terrorists become a lot of angry, noisy, but largely harmless, young men. Israel demonstrated this last year, when they killed dozens of  terrorist leaders, and saw the number of terrorist attacks dwindle as the number of dead terrorist leaders increased. The terrorist groups cried foul, accusing   Israel of  "murder" because they identified specific terrorist leaders, and then killed them (or captured them, when that was possible.) The terrorists, of course, would have preferred that the Israelis kill lots of civilians while going after terrorist leaders. To them, it was "murder" to just attack the guy who planned the murder of Israeli civilians, and then supervised those killings. 

The Israelis were able to go after the terrorist leadership because they were able to expand their informer network in the Palestinian areas, and they did this because they have a lot of police and security agents who speak Arabic. Israel also has a force of police commandos, composed of men whose ancestors came from Arab countries, and can pass for Arabs. These commandoes can move, openly and undetected, through Arab neighborhoods, to collect information, or make arrests. While some of the informants cooperated because they wanted to stop the violence, in many cases bribes and blackmail were used to get cooperation, and information. What was unique here was that Israel was obtaining information from a hostile population. In Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the informants came forward because they had become disillusioned with, or hostile towards, the terrorist groups. In all of those countries, the Islamic terrorists had made themselves unpopular by killing Moslem civilians. 

This is a pattern that has repeated itself time and again over the last few generations. While terrorist groups can last 10-20 years before fading away, if they kill enough of the people they depend on for support, the terrorists will disappear a lot quicker. What usually happens is that the government protects its own people and facilities well enough that more and more of the terrorist attacks kill innocent civilians. The media makes much of this, the terrorists have no adequate response. Civilians begin to provide information  about where the terrorists are, and it goes downhill from there. This happened in Egypt in the 1990s, and is happening now in Iraq.

Al Qaeda is particularly vulnerable because it preaches hate not just against non-Moslems ("infidels"), but also against Moslems who do not agree with the mainline Sunni brand of Islam. Thus in Afghanistan, the Taliban, and their al Qaeda allies, persecuted Shia Moslems. In Iraq, Saddam tolerated, and sometimes encouraged, hard line Sunni leaders who preached the use of violence against Shias, just because they were Shias. In Afghanistan, the fanaticism of  al Qaeda and Taliban turned most of the population against them. This was an interesting example of how terrorists self-destruct even when they achieve their goal and take over a country.

By definition, a terrorist terrorizes. That isn't hard to do in an age of mass media, mass media always hungry for scary headlines and stories of impending doom. But as a long term operation, terrorist groups are a lost cause. The news of their indiscriminate murder travels fast too, and dries up that minimal amount of grass roots support they need to survive, and put together their next attacks. While it's hard to tell who is winning in a war against terrorists, when a lot of the terrorist leaders are getting killed or arrested, the bad guys are not doing very well. 



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