Friday, July 22, 2005

A Template for Defeating Terrorists

After the most recent terrorist attacks in London--perhaps I should say attempted attacks--the chattering classes will, inevitably, trot out so-called experts who will endlessly opine about how the west should respond to this threat.

As The Wall Street Journal points out, there is already a model for dealing successfully with terrorism. The government of Israel has, over the past three years, reduced the number of suicide bombings and other attacks within its borders by roughly 90%. The Israeli methods wouldn't be applauded by the ACLU; large numbers of suspected terrorists have been rounded up and detained indefinitely; terrorist leaders have been assassinated by Israeli Air Force Apache helicopters--including one who was dispatched by a Hellfire missile while rolling along in his wheelchair. And, of course, there's that infamous security fence, so roundly criticized by everyone from the U.S. State Department to the so-called Palestinian leadership.

But it's tough to argue with success. Israeli citizens now ride city buses and eat at sidewalk cafes with less fear of being of being dispatched by homicide bombers. There has also been a noticeable change in the attitude of some Palestinian leaders, who now seem more willing to talk seriously with their Israeli counterparts.

Reading newspapers and "informed" analysis from the height of the Intifada, there was little support for the tactics eventually adopted by the Sharon government. The supposed experts stressed that the Israelis had to offer major territorial concessions and fast-track statehood to the Palestinians, in hopes of ending the violence.

Fortunately for the Israelis, their leaders didn't heed the advice of U.S. and European liberals. They offered territory to the Palestinians--as evidenced by the current Gaza pullout--but only after taking the steps required to crush the Intifada. Deciding that discretion is better than spending the rest of your life running from rotor blades, many Palestinians now seem willing to try Sharon's version of a peace plan.

Are the U.S. and its European allies willing to make similar, tough choices in their own war against terrorism? Even after the attacks in New York, Bali, Madrid and London, the jury is still out on that one. The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved an extension of key elements of the Patriot Act, but that measure faces some opposition in the Senate. In Britain, the Law Lords struck down a law that allowed the government to retain non-British terrorist detainees indefinitely, if they faced possible torture in their home countries. As the Journal notes, such rulings suggest that Britain plans to fight a 21st Century threat with 19th century laws. It is a design for failure.

As the Israeli leaders learned, defeating terrorism means making hard choices, and sticking by your guns once those decisions are made. So far, some of their counterparts in the west seem to prefer easlier choices, with the option for further waffling when the going gets tough.

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