Written by Dr. Miri Halperin Wernli and Prof. Boaz Ganor
The phenomenon of modern terrorism, in the framework of which non-state actors use violence targeted against civilians in order to achieve political goals by spreading fear and panic among the general public, is not new. The beginning of modern terrorism dates back to the second half of the last century and is based on even earlier phenomena. Modern terrorism is, therefore, the (temporary) culmination of an evolutionary process during which terrorism is constantly taking shape, adopting new methods and using new technologies to carry out terrorist attacks with ever-increasing damage. It is possible to note points of change during this evolutionary process when terrorist organizations began to use new methods of operation that eventually became the norm for other organizations and acceptable methods of terrorist attacks around the world, creating new waves of terrorism that require the development of new counter-terrorism methods. These waves of terrorism include the wave of airplane hijacking attacks during the late 1970’s, the wave of suicide attacks during the 1990’s, and the wave of cold weapon attacks by “lone wolves” or independent networks that characterize recent years, such as Islamic State-inspired attacks. Indeed, the last two years serve as an important landmark in the evolution of modern terrorism – the rise of the phenomenon of “homegrown” terrorism especially in European countries, the waves of migration against the backdrop of civil wars in Syria and Iraq, the lack of governance in North Africa, Afghanistan and other countries, and the incompetence of some European countries in coping with terrorism, which have raised the bar for terrorist attacks in Europe and some western countries to an unprecedented level. These attacks are generally carried out by Islamic State activists or by Islamist terrorists who underwent accelerated radicalization processes and who operate under the inspiration of Islamic State propaganda on social networks. In this manner, the terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, Toulouse, Brussels, Istanbul, San Bernardino, Orlando and many other cities were all carried out under the inspiration or operational involvement of the Islamic State from Syria and Iraq. The operational losses accompanying the territorial withdrawals from various cities and villages throughout Syria and Iraq that, until recently, were under the control of Islamic State fighters, against the backdrop of massive military operations by various entities – including the United States, western countries, Arab countries, Russia, Iran Hezbollah and Syrian supporters of Assad, and recently even Turkey – do not necessarily reduce the terrorism threat to Europe and western countries and may even increase it. Just as pressing on a half-inflated balloon causes air escape to other areas of the balloon, it seems that pressure exerted on Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq only accelerates the organization’s motivation to prove its ability to continue to execute terrorist attacks in other areas of the world. In our opinion, this motivation is liable to cause Islamic State members to try to distract world public opinion, and especially that of the Muslim community, from the organization’s defeats by executing a special showcase attack or attacks to draw the attention of the international media and its supporters and activists. One of the ways in which the Islamic State may try to achieve this goal is by using unconventional means in future attacks, especially chemical attacks.