April 20, 2004
Terrorism ReduxBy Gregory A. Collins
The Iraqi and Israeli Conflicts Compared
Iraq: The resistance to the coalition during the invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003 was initially almost entirely comprised of the Iraqi state's conventional army forces. These Iraqi conventional forces were either swept aside or melted away during the coalition's three—week trek to Baghdad. An insignificant number of foreign fighters were inside Iraq during the war, but were not capable of much resistance at the time and did not have any underground organization. Moreover, these foreign fighters were armed and trained by the Iraqi state and were not allowed to have any organization, as it might have posed a threat to Saddam's rule.
Growth of Terrorist Resistance
Israel: During the 1970s, a large number of terror groups, with few ties to one another and modest organizations at best, attacked Israeli targets. These groups initially received little if any support from Arab countries, which saw them as a threat. In Jordan in the early 1970s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), attempted to take over the country, which led to a crackdown and expulsion of the terrorist group, during what became known as 'Black September.'
Attacks against Israel by terrorists were initially poorly coordinated and planned —— with a few high—visibility exceptions such as the murder of nine Israeli athletes at the German Olympics (by a group calling itself "Black September"). Terrorists had little training and tended to shy away from directly attacking Israeli troops, instead favoring undefended civilian targets, such as schools and buses (including the brutal attacks in Kiryat Shemonah and, Maalot). During the 1980s terror cells began carrying out more sophisticated attacks. Attacks against military targets, on top of civilian ones, became more common. Eventually the terrorists improvised their own weaponry, and attempted to obtain longer—range, more powerful weapons directly from radical states like Iran, rather than simply rely on small arms smuggled from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.
Over time, Arab states co—opted the terrorist organizations, which accomplished a number of goals. Virtually all the Palestinian terrorist organizations established offices and bases in Syria and Lebanon. This indicated to Arab populations that their rulers were indeed intent on the destruction of Israel; and it also removed potentially dangerous radicals who might otherwise direct their energy to toppling their own government. Terror attacks against Israel increased the pressure on Israelis to negotiate better terms with the Arab world, and the structured training and equipping of terrorists by Arab states improved the effectiveness of each attack.
The toppling of the Shah of Iran in1979 significantly increased the amount of state—sponsorship of terrorist groups. Public support for terrorists attacking Israel across the Arab world remained strong, and leaders and government—controlled media from Arab countries regularly professed commitment to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Iraq: Once the Iraqi Army was completely destroyed and coalition forces firmly established across Iraq by the beginning of May, 2003, there were several months of relative calm. It was during this period that a flood of foreigners moved into Iraq (mainly through the borders with Syria and Iran) to link up with home—grown radicals in the main Sunni cities of Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, and Tikrit.
As in Israel during the 1970s, there was initially very little organization among terror groups fighting the coalition. Attacks by insurgents were poorly—coordinated and met with failure. Soft—targets were preferred, as was seen in the horrific bombings of the UN and Red Cross during the summer of 2003. As time passed, more sophisticated attacks took place, and direct attacks on armed coalition forces increased on top of the usual attacks on civilians. The sophistication of individual attacks improved rapidly over time. For example, roadside bombs were initially detonated by wires with the insurgents standing nearby. Detonators on these bombs were later linked to radio—control devices, and then cell—phones.
During Autumn 2003 the number of attacks increased, and a number of different terrorist organizations vied for prominence. Videos surfaced regularly of heretofore unknown terrorist groups, each one pledging allegiance to the fight against the coalition. Attacks reached their peak in November of 2003 and then receded for several months while the terrorist organizations consolidated underground due to the fierce coalition response.
Government—controlled media in the Arab world, along with Arab satellite—television such as Al—Jazeera, Al Arabiyah, and most venomously, the Hizbollah network Al Manar, regularly portrayed coalition troops as brutal, illegitimate occupiers committed to the destruction of Islam. Terrorist acts inside Iraq were justified and even glamorized in the Arab media as 'martyrdom operations,' while Arab leaders condemned coalition actions and refused to accept the notion of a democratic Iraq.
Maturation of Terrorist Resistance
Israel: The terrorist resistance against Israel matured during the early 1990s. Four terrorist groups fighting Israel became the most prominent —— Hizbollah, in Lebanon, and the PLO, Hamas and Islamic Jihad within Israel and the territories. Hizbollah, a Shiite terror group sponsored by both Iran and Syria, is viewed as the model for Arab terror organizations, since most Arabs believe it was successful in forcing Israel out of its security zone in southern Lebanon in 2000. Hizbollah has achieved political legitimacy within Lebanon, and now effectively runs the southern border area with Israel, an area from which the PLO was expelled by the Israelis in 1982 (after Arafat had worn out his welcome in the years after he was driven out of Jordan in 1970).
With the Oslo process, Israel began negotiations with the PLO, with the presumption that Arafat represented Palestinians and could perhaps end the violence. By negotiating, Arafat gained legitimacy and distinction as a supposed moderate representative of the Palestinians with whom the West could deal. The degree to which Arafat actually controlled activities of the armed groups affiliated with his organization was never clear.
Arafat was able to empower and enrich himself by creating the image of a reasonable negotiation partner. Foreign aid, intended to help build the West Bank and Gaza into a functioning state that provided basic services to the population, instead went into the personal accounts of Arafat and his friends and family. As time passed, Arafat found it difficult to both negotiate with Israel and at the same time placate the population he purported to represent. Palestinians again felt betrayed, this time by Arafat's corrupt, ineffective rule as well as his perceived compromise in the fight against Israel.
Large segments of the Palestinian population (particularly in Gaza) now support Hamas, not only because it delivers more services such as health care and education than Arafat's government, but also because it will accept nothing but the total destruction of Israel. The US and Israel ceased to negotiate with Arafat after new governments came into power in both countries (Bush and Sharon). Both leaders viewed Arafat as too weak to command the allegiance of the Palestinian population, and also too personally involved in terrorism itself (for more than forty years), to be able to end it.
Iraq: So far the terrorist resistance in Iraq has yet to mature as far as that in Gaza and the West Bank, but it is following the same path. During early April of 2004. entire cities, such as Fallujah and Najaf, were taken over by large terrorist organizations that had more complex chains—of—command similar to the PLO and Hamas. The organizations in Iraq are more diverse in aim and background than those fighting Israel —— some are Sunnis interested in a return of Ba'ath party rule, and some are Shiite who support radical fundamentalists like al Sadr. Nonetheless, the organizations are more established and have some type of leadership with which emissaries from the coalition or third parties are currently negotiating. In Fallujah, the coalition is sending envoys from the Iraqi council and in Najaf, Iranian mediators are attempting to negotiate a settlement with al Sadr.
While it is clear that large terrorist organizations coordinated the takeover of Fallujah and Najaf, as in Gaza and the West Bank there are signs that control of the terrorists is difficult. For example, in Fallujah the 'cease—fire' declared by the leadership of both sides is regularly violated by fighters in the city, which suggests that some terror cells operate autonomously. It is also likely that the lines of authority within the largest terror groups, just as in Arafat's organization, are unclear.
Indications that Arab states sponsor terrorists within Iraq are impossible to confirm, but Syria and Iran have made no significant effort to control the flow of jihadists headed from their countries into Iraq. Again, as in Israel, this works in the favor of Arab governments since a radical fighting coalition troops is one less potential radical fighting against their authoritarian Arab regime.
Al Sadr may similarly lose power, especially if he indicates that he is willing to negotiate, or if he is effectively isolated by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who has allegiance among the larger Shiite population. Sistani, however, also cannot appear to be caving to the pressure of the coalition forces, especially in light of the appeal of the more full throated resistance from al Sadr.
If the terror groups in the Sunni Triangle or in Shiite cities are allowed to continue organizing, they will eventually provide more services to the citizenry than the central Iraqi government does. So far, by deploying gunmen to the streets of Fallujah and Najaf, the terrorists are already providing the most basic social service: security. If left alone, the terrorists will begin running hospitals and schools, ensuring that a new generation of Iraqis is indoctrinated with the terrorist party line. As services provided by the terrorists begin to rival those provided by a weak or corrupt Baghdad government, more and more Iraqis would see the terror groups as legal governors.
The worst—case scenario is a Hamas—style organization in Iraqi cities that gains legitimacy for its terror acts by also providing services to the impoverished population that the Baghdad government does not. The current policy, to try and capture or kill the terror leaders and destroy their growing organizations, must be accomplished as soon as possible. The more time goes by, the more likely the leadership of the terror organizations will gain legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis and some Western governments and NGOs such as France and the UN. The terrorists will place their leadership on Western television in order to fabricate the image of a legitimate organization that represents normal Iraqis (and just wants the occupiers gone), a tactic which Arafat and Hizbollah perfected. If this occurs, capturing or killing the terror leadership in Iraq will receive the same worldwide condemnation Israel received when it killed Yassin, the leader of Hamas.
Ultimately in the Iraq case, the problem lies with the population that sees any compromise as failure. Those in Iraq supporting terrorists will continue to suffer until they decide that compromise, a central component of democracy, is an acceptable idea. This has been the Palestinian history for more than half a century —— choosing armed struggle (for its dignity) rather than compromise, and the promise of better lives (and its perceived humiliation).
The author graduated from West Point in 2002, and was commissioned as an officer in the Army's Military Intelligence Branch. After being seriously wounded in Baghdad in May of 2003, he was evacuated back to the United States and is currently undergoing physical therapy as part of his recovery. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.