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February 26, 2017 7:33 am

Israel’s Leading Counter-Terrorism Expert on His ‘Art’

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Boaz Ganor. Photo: IDC Herzliya.

Boaz Ganor. Photo: IDC Herzliya. — In 1996, when Boaz Ganor founded Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), top security figures around the world gave short shrift to the academic study of terrorism. That is, of course, until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Only then did the world take note of the great importance of bridging the gap between the subject’s academics and its practitioners.

The study of counter-terrorism is now considered crucial in the fight against global terror. But the “art” of counter-terrorism, as Ganor calls it, is anything but intuitive for heads of state. The Israeli academic and his team believe that world leaders often self-sabotage with counter-productive policies and doctrines. The following factors are what Israeli counter-terrorism experts like Ganor deem some of the most important current challenges in their field.

The prison system

Europe’s prison-to-terrorism pipeline feeds young, second-generation Muslim immigrants to Western jail cells where they are radicalized, and then, after being released, sent on to perpetrate many of the deadly terrorist attacks on the continent. In addition to advocating for heightening awareness of radicalization in prison and the need to block leaders of terrorist organizations from communicating within the same jail, Israeli counter-terrorism experts argue for a better long-term prison system.

Western culture

Some aspects of Western culture contribute to the sociological processes within Muslim immigrant communities that lead to radicalization and terrorist recruitment. Ganor cited video games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” in which the player acts as the villain, as contributing to the mindset of raping, killing and torturing innocents. He also noted the impact of television series such as “Game of Thrones” that portray beheadings, torture and Islamic State-like behavior that resonates with Muslim immigrant youngsters. Islamic State utilizes these images from Western pop culture in their advertisements targeted at young recruits.

Socia media

“The writing is on the wall,” said Ganor, referring to the Facebook walls of lone wolves who hint at their intentions before carrying out terror attacks. Organizational propaganda then capitalizes on the stories of lone wolf attacks to further inspire and incite terror. As the individual terrorist plans the propaganda-inspired attack, he or she often justifies the attack on the internet, fertilizing future incitement and propaganda. Counter-terrorism experts call for carefully monitoring this social media-driven cycle, and investing more in open-source intelligence and building big-data capabilities to prevent lone-wolf attacks.

Striking the balance

Counter-terrorism practitioners must balance many, sometimes competing factors, including consideration of terrorist groups’ motivations and operational capabilities, with liberal democratic values and effective counter-terrorism techniques, with public awareness and resilience. While many in the counter-terrorism world automatically jump to decrease terrorists’ operational capability by destroying infrastructure, this often motivates terror operatives to retaliate. It may not make sense to negotiate with a terrorist group vying for a country’s destruction, but Ganor maintains that there are means of deterring motivations for terrorism, including economic avenues.

Leaders must also find the happy medium between showing no restraint when protecting their people and maintaining their values. Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the ICT, said that although some liberal democracies are hesitant to describe groups as “terrorist” organizations, the first method of truly understanding and countering terror is to apply the designation.

Liberal democracies, according to experts, must also be ready to put boots on the ground to achieve a decisive victory over terrorist groups. When President Barack Obama declared war on Islamic State in 2014, but refused to put any boots on the ground, Ganor said the former president essentially declared, “We declare a war that we will not win.”

While Ganor views the Obama approach as too far to the Left, his ICT colleague, Prof. Assaf Moghadam, considers President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” as too extreme of a security measure.

“Islam (the religion) is not the threat; jihadism (the ideology) is the threat. The travel ban played into the hands of terrorist organizations that have been arguing all along that the U.S. is waging a war against Islam,” Moghadam said.

Finally, leaders must weight public awareness with the public’s well-being. From an early age, people must be educated about suspicious signs, such as bags being left unattended or a person wearing a heavy coat on a summer day. On the other hand, if the public becomes obsessively anxious and fearful, morale is destroyed. Terrorism wins when day-to-day activity is paralyzed by fear. That said, Ganor’s simple solution to fighting terrorism? Go out and play basketball. By simultaneously being vigilant and getting on with life, he said, anyone can strike a blow to terrorism, one hoop at a time.

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, New York Daily News, Forbes and The Hill.

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