ATbar Know your Enemies - The Spectrum of Terrorism Threats to Israel – ICT16

Know your Enemies - The Spectrum of Terrorism Threats to Israel – ICT16

13/09/2016 | by ICT16  

The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism".  It is only a matter of time before terrorists strike Israel again, most likely in the future. It is imperative that Israel is proactive in its deterrence and does not rely on defensive measures only. It is critical that Gaza does not collapse, but attempting to win the hearts and minds within Gaza may be futile. This strategy has failed in the past, and attempting to implement it in Gaza may fail in the same way the US failed in implementing it in Vietnam.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Itai Brun, Former Head, Research Department, Military Intelligence Directorate, IDF, Israel

Col. (Ret.) Miri Eisin, Associate, ICT, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Col. (Res.) Adv. Lior Lotan, Senior Researcher and Former Executive Director, ICT, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Nitzan Nuriel, Associate, ICT, IDC Herzliya & Former Director, Counter-Terrorism Bureau, Israel

The Honorable MK Ofer Shelah, Member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, Israel

Moderator: Mr. Alon Ben David, Senior Defense Correspondent, Channel 10, Israel


This session addressed the current security situation in Israel and the spectrum of threats the country faces. The session began with Col. Adv. Lior Lotan describing the status of the current negotiations with Hamas regarding the exchange of MIAs and POWs/ return of Israeli civilians and bodies of soldiers held by Hamas. He addressed the difficulties of attempting to negotiate an exchange with a terrorist organization that also has governmental responsibilities but does not necessarily have the same interest as the population they govern. The panel then discussed the implications of calling this current wave of violence an Intifada and the difficulties of reacting to individual-based violence as opposed to organization-based violence.

The speakers all agreed that the current wave of violence in Israel should not be referred to as an Intifada, because it does not involve most of Palestinian society but rather lone wolves or packs that are not necessarily affiliated with an organization. The speakers also emphasized that due to the individual nature of lone wolf attacks; the attackers' political objectives and demands are very vague. Col. Miri Eisin and MK Ofer Shelah spoke of the resilience of the Israeli society and the gap between the media’s discourse and the calm and willingness of the Israeli society to overcome fear. The speakers also expressed their concerns over the future and the limits of deterrence against external terrorist organizations outside and along Israel's borders. Finally the speakers addressed the motives for lone wolf terrorism and the importance of not allowing Gaza to collapse despite the poor management by Hamas.

This session focused heavily on the transformation of threats to Israel from states to individuals. Brig. Gen. Itai Brun spoke about each “generation” of threats to Israel and how each generation introduced specific challenges. The first generation consisted of states and territorial disputes and therefore more traditional types of wars were fought. He praised Ben Gurion for being able to identify the threats to Israel before and after its establishment. Brun then spoke about the second generation, which consisted of organizations with clear political demands, who fought wars of attrition that left both sides unsatisfied but deterred. The third generation consists of individuals who have access to information and platforms that allow them to connect with other individuals who might be able to meet their needs.

The rest of the speakers also noted the difference between “old” and “new” terror and their motivations and methods. Furthermore, the speakers addressed the spontaneous nature of lone wolf attacks in this wave of violence and how most attackers who were interviewed admitted to deciding to conduct an attack only minutes before the attack took place. To illustrate this point MK Shelah spoke about a woman who had been suicidal after fighting with her husband and decided in minutes to conduct an attack in order to die as a martyr.

The panelists also addressed the issue of deterrence and its limitations. Although the speakers seemed to agree that Israel had effectively deterred external organizations from going to war with Israel, they also agreed that it is only a matter of time before Israel has to fight an organization on one of its borders. MK Shelah cited Hezbollah as an example of an external terrorist organization that recognizes their limits in a full war against Israel but is willing to take the risk. Likewise, Col. Lotan also spoke about being proactive as a form of deterrence. He specifically spoke about the importance of not just thinking strategically in terms of deterrence but also considering the security threat that the collapse of Gaza represents. Brig. Gen. Nuriel and Brig. Gen. Brun also saw this “defense” attitude as problematic because it only buys Israel momentary quiet and peace.  

Furthermore both Nuriel and Brun agreed that it is in Israeli interests to enable Gaza to exist despite the fact that Hamas is actively going against the interests of the Gazan population. On the other hand, Col. Lotan stated that although Israel has a moral responsibility to prevent the collapse of Gaza, attempts to win the “hearts and minds” of other populations have not been successful in the past. To illustrate the effectiveness of the US attempting to win the hearts and minds of the population in Vietnam he used the metaphor of using a fork to eat soup.