ATbar Advice and Food for Thought for the French during these Difficult Times
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Advice and Food for Thought for the French during these Difficult Times

18/11/2015 | by Shavit, Shabtai  

Mr. Shavit Former Head of the Mossad, Chairman, ICT Board of Directors, and Chairman of Athena Human & Technology Integrated Solutions Ltd., Israel


Bismarck is credited with coming up with the following wise saying:

“No one is rich enough to buy his enemy through concessions!”

And I found another saying that also conveys a valuable insight:

“If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got!”

The underlying message of both of these sayings – in my personal opinion, of course – is that there are situations in the life of a nation or in the life of an individual when in order to make the correct decision, it is necessary to find the strength to paint reality in no other colors but black and white. The decision can be based only on those two colors – and then you must follow through on what was decided to do (with the emphasis on to do).

The war that was declared yesterday (November 16, 2015) by the President of France is a war declared against an enemy. An enemy, described by Professor Bernard Lewis – who has been consensually recognized as the “Dean of Middle East scholars” in the second half of the last century - for whom every outcome that is less than total victory and univalent, in relation to Radical Islam, is viewed as total defeat. The winning side is permitted to use any means at its disposal in order to overcome the enemy (demonstrations of malevolence). And only after nobody at all casts doubt on the clear victory, can the winner express good will and compassion for the loser.

During a press conference in Anatalya yesterday (November 16, 2015) a CNN journalist asked President Obama a simple seven-word question: “Why can’t we take out those bastards?” [meaning: why don’t we go over there to Syria and kill everyone in ISIS?]. The president of the world’s top superpower clearly lost his composure - first he hesitated before responding, and then his body language gave away his lack of decisiveness. And when he finally started to speak, he said something like – “Before we shoot we have to aim”. This answer was similar to something he once said about Libya. “We will lead from behind.” But just as a real leader can’t lead from the rear, an experienced soldier doesn’t aim before he shoots at a threatening target the size of Isis.

But back to the characteristics of ISIS:

  • There is no reason for investing time and resources in an effort to identify the intentions of the gang known as ISIS. Their stated goal is to eliminate all the apostates (everyone who isn’t a Muslim), and their cultural values (whether Buddism or Christianity). The significance of this understanding is that the one and only answer to this threat is an offensive, pro-active one, and not a defensive one.
  • This gang is a cult - a group of people who believe in nihilism and the sanctity of suicide.
  • This gang is composed of marginal groups of Iraqi Sunnis, former military people from the Iraqi Bath government who were in the jails in Iraq and were forcibly released by ISIS, and a mixed multitude of thousands of Muslims from many different countries around the world who connected to ISIS since it was established.
  • Their source of funds, until now, was money they stole from the cities they conquered, and from sales of oil they produce from the oil fields they took control of.
  • Their military forces are based on a wide variety of modern weapons that the Americans left behind and ISIS appropriated, and on military skills learned from former Iraqi Army people.
  • A big number of the organization’s members hail from Western countries, and they brought with them both knowledge of and experience in plugging into Western media, the computer networks, and information bases – harnessing them to promote the organization’s goals.
  • The recent attacks in France prove how ridiculously easy it is for those terrorists to master European languages at the level of mother tongues, to move freely and simply with the help of authentic foreign passports, and to assimilate into environments that are familiar to them - within supportive local communities.

With regard to defining global terror, first of all as terror and second as a subject that takes priority in the framework of threats to Western European countries in general and France in particular – the United States and Israel, and to some extent England, are light years ahead of the pack.

As a result of the events on September 11, 2001, the United States underwent revolutionary changes, with the most prominent being the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. It is the largest administrative body established in the United States since World War Two, and with 187 federal agencies and departments, coordinates all the aspects of coping with world terror. All the intelligence collection, research, and analysis agencies; all the technological research and development bodies; all of the bodies that develop warfare doctrines in every branch of the US military – they all work in tandem around the clock in a mental state of coping with global terror, despite the “policy of calm” promoted by the White House.

Israel exists in an environment of coping with political, local, regional, global, secular and religious terror since the 1860’s and until today.

Britain has woken up to the threats in the wake of a wave of attacks that occurred in the last decade within its territory, and has invested much in studying the threats and formulating capabilities for coping with it at home and abroad.

All of what is mentioned above is of course the answer to the question of what happened to France, why it was so taken by surprise, and why we all witnessed how it suffered such a debilitating blow.

President Hollande’s declaration that France is at war was perfectly warranted, but he has the responsibility of embedding this understanding about war into the DNA of every French government body as well as that of the French people. War is not won with a single strike of a sword. The global war on terror, with the emphasis on ISIS, will continue for years and must be at the top of France’s list of national priorities.

Simultaneous to internalizing the decision to wage war and the public’s acclimation to that decision, there is a need for moving on to an active mode.

The recommended strategy is offensive and pro-active. Why? Because the basic assumption applied for coping with jihadis terror is that the enemy does not wait for provocation, and does not stop planning to attack at every opportunity that presents itself. Therefore, a defensive strategy is counterproductive. You must constantly attack - to cause the opponent to lose his balance, to cause him to invest his own efforts in trying to survive, and only then will you be able to prevent him from being able to attack you.

The capabilities which you must quickly develop are:

  • In the intelligence arena – The ultimate goal is to create, non-stop, a stockpile of targets, people, and facilities. The outline for an asymmetric war focuses on the lone terrorist, and therefore the process of intelligence gathering must focus on the definition of individual targets.

The tools for gathering intelligence must cope with huge amounts of information, and must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. The process must stand on three legs: technology, analysis, and doctrines that connect the first two.

  • In the operational arena – A doctrine of real-time action must be adopted. Since the targets are people, and since people are usually mobile, every scrap of information that is not translated into real time operational action becomes history. Therefore, the doctrine must allow for interaction between the intelligence people and the operational people, for them to work in cooperation during real time.

The required operational capability must be designed in a manner that provides the best possible response to the target description. The outcome of the operational action must be based on the working premise that the target is a lone terrorist, and on the doctrine of “the targeted killing" . This doctrine integrates high quality, focused intelligence about the target that can be followed (Target Acquisition), and high precision weapons that minimize injury to innocent people (Collateral Damage). The actualization of this doctrine requires high capabilities in the use of drones (UAVs), and in the field of intelligence research (VISINT).

The integrated intelligence-operational development relies on a sophisticated command and control center.

That, in a nutshell, was what needs to be and can be done in a relatively short period of time, to significantly improve the coping capabilities in the face of the jihadist terror threat.

One more word of advice: The mantra we never stop hearing says that a balance must be maintained between security and the liberal, democratic value system. This way of thinking is rooted in the need to sound “politically correct”, but it is not relevant when speaking about an enemy in the form of ISIS. Regarding that type of enemy, and to paraphrase former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: Sometimes there is no choice, and there is a need to use non-democratic means to protect Democracy!


The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).