Home Terrorism is a Tactic and It Must Be Defeated
Home Terrorism is a Tactic and It Must Be Defeated

Terrorism is a Tactic and It Must Be Defeated

There are two dimensions to fighting a War on Terror. One is fighting terrorists and the other is fighting terrorism. In conventional warfare there isn't that much of a difference between fighting men and their tactics. There is a wider space between fighting terrorists and their tactics.

Conventional armies use tactics to defeat enemy forces and seize territory. Terrorists however use tactics to take over mental territory. A suicide bomber is not out to take over a particular block. He is out to change how the enemy and his side think about that city block and the larger conflict.

Terrorism has succeeded in accomplishing that goal in Israel. The scale of terrorism turned every piece of land into a mathematical equation. How many lives was this village in Gaza worth? How many lives is this West Bank town worth? How many lives is East Jerusalem worth?

This emotional calculus is misleading because it is an immediate response to a set of deaths. However terrorists are not trading an end to violence for a village or a town. They are calculating how many deaths it will take to force Israel to abandon that village or town. And once they have it, they will use it to inflict more terror on another town or village, this time using rockets.

Israelis were convinced that a price in lives had been put on Gaza and that if they withdrew, the killing would end. But Gaza was just the beginning. Not the end. There is never an end.

The goal of a terrorist movement is to change the relative perceptions of strength and the freedom of movement of both sides. Terror tactics create the perception that the winning side is losing. This perception can be so compelling that both sides come to accept it as reality. Terrorists manufacture victories by trapping their enemies in no-win scenarios that wear down their morale.

That is what has been happening to Israel. The entire carrot and stick of the peace process and the suicide bombing, the final agreement that never comes and the final solution that is coming, were designed to wear down Israelis, to make their leaders and people chase down empty hopes and argue among themselves over who is to blame because there is still no peace.

The last few decades were meant to create a sense of helplessness among Israelis.

Taking hostages is one form of the no-win scenario. If the winning side can't cut the Gordian Knot by rescuing the hostages, it faces a choice between releasing terrorists or having to watch its own people held captive or killed. Either one creates a sense of helplessness and defeat.

Terrorists are not attacking land or buildings. They are targeting morale. Their goal is to destroy the mental and spiritual resistance of a people by wearing it down with acts of terror, tying it down with moral and legalistic debates, and finally finishing it off with negotiations that are also designed to wear down the other side without ever concluding a final agreement.

As important as it is to defeat terrorists as individuals, it is even more important to defeat their tactics.

The first and best way to defeat terrorist tactics is to refuse to negotiate with terrorists. Terrorist tactics work best when they create complicity on the other side. The first wave of complicity comes from leftist activists and sympathetic terror lawyers making human rights arguments. But the second wave of complicity has to come from the authorities for terrorism to be successful.

Negotiating with terrorists makes the negotiators complicit in whatever plans the terrorists have. Once negotiations begin, the terrorists will force the negotiators to violate their own side's values and to sell out portions of their own population or those of allied countries. These tactics allow the terrorists to divide and conquer the enemy. And to use one enemy against another.

A terrorist group that seizes hostages from Country X in exchange for Country Y freeing prisoners has managed to turn two of its enemies against each other with a small investment of resources. If Country Y frees the prisoners, the terrorists win. If Country Y doesn't free the prisoners, they still win because Country X will now blame Country Y, rather than the terrorists, for what happened.

Swap the two countries for two groups of people inside a country and it becomes easier to understand what the terrorists are trying to accomplish by taking hostages.

Once you negotiate with terrorists, they will leverage those negotiations to make you complicit in their own violence against you. If you negotiate with them long enough, you will end up  defending and even validating their acts of terror.

Israelis were convinced that they could buy their way out of the problem by betraying their fellow citizens living in the West Bank and Gaza. And then by betraying the families of terror victims. European leaders are convinced that they can have peace in their time by pressuring Israel and restraining America. American leaders are convinced that peace will come if they can pressure the Europeans and Israelis to stop offending Muslims.

This is classic divide and conquer.

The greatest danger of fighting terrorists is falling into a reactive pattern. The more you react to what terrorists do, the more they set the agenda. Taking hostages is the ultimate reactive trap. The kidnapping of three Israeli boys has sent Israel into the same predictable pattern, rounding up the usual suspects, making temporary arrests and a public outcry that, like the one surrounding Gilad Shalit, can easily be turned into a campaign to pay any price to free them.

The only way to defeat a terrorist tactic is to invalidate it. The act of invalidating it is often painful, but it's less painful than not doing it. Refusing to negotiate with terrorists cripples their ability to set the agenda. It's hard to divide and conquer people who won't talk to you. It's difficult to make them complicit in the terrorism against them if they won't enter into a dialogue.

Human shields proliferate because they work. The only way to invalidate them as a tactic is by reacting to terrorists the same way, whether or not they are using a human shield. Hostages are taken because the terrorists have a realistic expectation of striking a deal.

Eliminate the deal and the hostage taking ends.

Terrorists create a sense of helplessness by forcing a society to experience pain without having any control over it. The experience of being terrorized is not merely horror and death, but the inability to control how it happens. It is this need for control that leads to Stockholm syndrome, identifying with terrorists and accepting their agenda in exchange for having some control over their terror.

It is not enough for a society to endure the pain that terrorists inflict. Every person and every culture has their breaking point. Instead a society must be willing to inflict pain on its own body to prevent greater pain and suffering. A society that is no longer able to do this is caught in its own sense of helplessness and is doomed. It is so focused on avoiding pain that it can no longer fight back.

War is a form of pain that we inflict on our society to spare ourselves the greater pain of conquest and defeat. Resistance to terrorism may also require other smaller forms of martyrdom that allow a society to assert control over its own destiny. One of these is not negotiating with terrorists.

When a society is willing to defy the power that its enemies wield over it by causing its own pain, it destroys their power over it and escapes the helplessness that will otherwise kill it. It breaks free of the chain of concessions that will inevitably lead it to betray its principles and lose its soul.

Israel has already gone too far down the road to helplessness. And it is not alone. Every nation, society and culture confronted with Islamic terrorism seeks ways to spare itself the pain. But the pain can only end when the terrorists are thoroughly defeated. A nation that cannot rouse itself to defeating the terrorists in an overwhelming and comprehensive campaign, must at least learn to defeat their tactics.

Defeating terrorist tactics can be more important than defeating terrorists. It is not that hard for a modern nation to kill a terrorist. It is much more difficult for it to take the harder route, to make a difficult sacrifice, to violate its own sense of itself and to challenge its own morality. Drones allow us to kill enemies from a distance at the push of a button. But drones cannot protect the morale of a nation.

Every society must find its own reasons for continuing on. A conflict forces us to question whether we can go on. It demands that we rise to the challenge with courage, determination and sacrifice. And in doing so, we rediscover ourselves.


  1. Kol Bo Gary23/7/14

    Right you are, Daniel. I was shocked today to read that the EU came down so hard against Hamas, calling for them to essentially surrender, renounce violence and disarm. Of course, Obama's voice was nowhere to be heard.

  2. Terrorist states must be ended first. Then terrorism will cease. The terrorist states, or states that sponsor Islamic terrorism, are: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Yemen, "Palestiine," the new "Islamic State of Syria and Iraq," Libya, Dubai, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Eliminate the governments of Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran (the two rival terrorist states), and the others will likely holster their funding and rid themselves of their terrorist clients. Am I forgetting anyone?

  3. What you so vocally describe is what, makes my wife interrupt me saying I have heard that often enough. When I start my rant on how by NOT giving in to the plane hijackers of the sixties but executing each caught hijacker on the spot would have saved all of us endless wasted time and money wasted on TSA's all over the world. We could have entered flights without body-scan, taking belt and shoes off and could have held on to our bottle of water, if it would not have been for the spineless and apologetic attitude of the European governments who gave in to all demands of those first terrorists.

    1. Anonymous24/7/14

      Tepid. Arm everyone. Then EVERYONE, ALWAYS, will be well-mannered, polite, considerate, and....... CIVILIZED. FUCK THE LEFT. A leftist must always be identified and ejected from any consideration. Then airlines and also airports, roads to airports, suburbs, malls, and schools will be safe.

  4. Or at least embrace it. If those are the rules they play by and more importantly those are the rules our better moral angels cheer them on to use well then there's not much of practical downside to using them too. Fire cheap rockets by the thousands randomly into the most densely populated parts of Gaza and Ramallah. Bomb their schools and hospitals w.o. warning. Assassinate the top 500 people of Hamas and all their immediate families. Wait till the tunnels are chock full of terrorists and then bomb them and flood them. Just rain down havoc on them like displeased voice of Allah.

  5. Daniel, I believe I have read one of your finest articles. I really pray that Netanyahu will not enter a cease fire. Please G-d, no. Let us finish them off. Let us please not negotiate with them. They are pure evil through and through.

  6. Anonymous24/7/14

    Baal kerry you are the sectary of state,
    but to Israel you are hostile and demonstrate hate,
    you accuse us of being an apartheid state
    as you dare try to determine our G-D given fate

    now let us determine as we examine the facts
    who uses children as shields these cowardly acts
    who launched rockets from built up areas and flats
    who build tunnels to attack like cowardly rats

    you want to broker peace at our misery
    as you act like Balaam using wizardry
    but our G-D assures us through prophecy
    that we have been redeemed from slavery

    now amidst all your main stream media buzz
    where you peddle lies and cause chaos and fuss
    where with intent you sow discord without any trust
    G-D does not want human sacrifice your peace process does.

    Korbanot Shalom sacrafices of peace said prime minister Rabin
    As We shook hands with Arafat in the rose garden
    What did we gain what did we win
    And you want us to do this again and again

    With these sacrifices of peace our children die
    Our leaders are useless as they shrug and sigh
    Families are bereaved as mothers cry
    And we are to believe your evil lie

    The world call out for an immediate truce
    but by that we just tighten our noose
    an Israeli can at any time become a cooked goose
    now is the time to let our army loose

    Netanyahu replaced Olmert who was put on trial
    He replaced Sharon for little while
    Sharon fell into a coma, to be replaced by Barak,
    who fell out of favor, can you believe this kak
    who was replaced by Netanyahu once again
    man this whole peace process is totally insane
    i think we are heading for the end game

  7. Anonymous24/7/14

    "Taking hostages is one form of the no-win scenario. If the winning side can't cut the Gordian Knot by rescuing the hostages, it faces a choice between releasing terrorists or having to watch its own people held captive or killed."

    You missed the option of executing the prisoners that the terrorists want released and executing them on a regular basis, such as daily or even hourly until the terrorists release the hostage(s) from your side.

    In the recent case of "the three Israeli boys" who were killed the answer there is to take prisoners from their side execute and a significant number of them, enough to change the "mathematical equation" to make it too painful for them to commit terror.

  8. Thank you for still keeping up the blog and going strong after all this time. My estimate is that you receive at least a dozen death threats a day.

  9. Anonymous25/7/14

    "When a society is willing to defy the power that its enemies wield over it by causing its own pain, it destroys their power over it and escapes the helplessness that will otherwise kill it. It breaks free of the chain of concessions that will inevitably lead it to betray its principles and lose its soul."

    There is so much truth in this article. If I had Bibi's fax number I would fax it to him.

    Regarding the quote I included with this comment: Israel did betray its principles and souls during the disengagement/ethnic cleansing. I'll never forget the videos of heartbroken residents of Gush Katif crying as they were physically forced from their homes and placed on a bus. I won't forget the confrontations, some angry, many crying they had with the soldiers and police--both the residents and the soldiers in tears as their elders accused them of being modern day kapos.

    I don't know how many of those soldiers, especially the ones in their early twenties who openly wept, as they were called kapos, recovered from that:( Stigmatizing socially but more likely than not emotionally and spiritually. I know some soldiers actually sent letters of apology.

    What happened that summer during the disengagement broke the nation's heart and many felt certain it would never happen again, but as you wrote, politicians continue to cave to international pressure and negotiate with Hamas.

    Sharon was culpable and helped to facilitate it, but I recently watched a video and apparently Bibi supported it as well.

    This will sound terrible but as fond as I am of Bibi I think he cooperates with the US officials because he spent so much time here. Almost like an Israeli-American leader of Israel. He's a brilliant man, and I do believe much, much better than the likes of someone like Olmert.

    I know I've referred to Gush Katif several times lately because of Operation Cast Lead 2, but it keeps reminding me of it.


  10. Anonymous25/7/14

    No offense to Israelis living in the US as US citizens nor Americans that made aliyah! I just mean that politically Bibi seems in conflict with loyalties to the US and Israel and he isn't an American.

    It's just confusing to me.


  11. Anonymous25/7/14

    ‘Human shields proliferate because they work’ That´s very true indeed. Nonetheless human shielding crew would rather die than work for a single day. They are just pretentious freeloaders. They claim to be ashamed that their lives are worthier than those of their Hamas brethrens. Well, for once I agree with them. Let´s hope the IDF treat them equally regardless of the passport they hold.


Post a Comment

You May Also Like