March 26, 2004

March 26, 2004 | Commentary on Asia

Targeted Killing...

As world leaders in Madrid grieve the deaths of more than 201 victims of the train bombing, and Israel takes flak from the Europeans for the targeted killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, three anti-terrorism models emerge.

(1) The first model is bureaucratic. It has been articulated by Javier Solana, a Spaniard and European Union foreign policy chief. "Europe is not at war," Mr. Solana said. "We must oppose terrorism energetically, but we must not change our way of life. We are democrats who love freedom.

His boss, Romano Prodi, EU Commission president said the answer to fighting terrorism is, among other things, quicker adoption of the EU Constitution. European heads of state are adopting a declaration of solidarity with Spain and a call to jointly fight terrorism and "root causes of terrorism - conflicts, poverty, deprivation and frustration."

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said "a hard-line security policy does not improve security unless it is complemented by a political strategy." But 21/2 years after the September 11 attacks on the U.S., "political strategy" has not prevented the Madrid massacre.

Mr. de Villepin's answer to fighting terror is also to speed transfer of power from the coalition to the United Nations in Iraq. He apparently believes terrorism will stop afterward.

Mr. de Villepin's information on Iraq seems deeply flawed. He said, under Saddam, "there was no terrorism in Iraq." However, Baghdad harbored such terrorists and operations as Ansar Al Islam, the Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda branch; Mohammad Abbas, hijacker of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murderer of disabled American Leon Klinghoffer; and Abu Nidal, the 1970s superterrorist. Saddam's $20,000 payments to each Palestinian murder-suicide bomber's family is certainly terrorism.

The European answer in their "no-war" on terrorism is more bureaucracy: Mr. Solana is appointing the Dutchman Gijs de Vries, former state secretary of the interior, as the new EU antiterrorism co-ordinator. However, European politicians warned Mr. de Vries will be a "technical man," "not like Tom Ridge" and the new structure will not become "an EU CIA."

A Europewide security service is vital in view of disappearing borders in the EU, the Madrid bombing and the Greek pleas that Athens' security is not ready for this year's Olympics. However, uniting European spooks will be like herding cats.

German Interior Minister Otto Schilly, one of Europe's toughest terror fighters, has warned that historic and operational differences between European security services and intelligence agencies will prevent effective information-sharing. Small countries' services are woefully underfunded.

Most importantly, continuous Europe's anti-American rhetoric and anti-Israel stance will impede Europe's effective struggle against terror's financial, political and ideological sponsors. Mr. Solana has called Israel's targeted killing of the Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin "extremely terrible," a killing most European foreign ministers harshly denounced. This included the Russian Foreign Ministry, which initiated U.N. condemnation of the Yassin operation, while mopping up after Russian intelligence operatives who have assassinated Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, a Chechen terrorist leader in Qatar.

(2) The second antiterror model has emerged in Pakistan, where 7,000 troops failed to storm an al Qaeda compound harboring up to 500 terrorists. President Pervez Musharraf announced a high-value target, possibly al Qaeda's No. 2, Aiman Al Zawahiri, has been trapped. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis suffered casualties, were ambushed, and fought to a standstill. They now are negotiating with local tribes for an honorable way out.

The Pakistani army, prodded by the United States, failed to use overwhelming artillery, armor and air power to finish off al Qaeda. There was a great intelligence failure. Pakistan's ISI - the spy agency originally tied to the Taliban and al Qaeda - supposedly did not know the besieged compound had a mile-long escape tunnel. It is also possible al Qaeda sympathizers inside Pakistani military and intelligence service intentionally sabotaged the operation - and their president's orders.

(3) The third model was demonstrated by Israelis in Gaza. Hamas leader Sheik Yassin and his retinue were killed by three helicopter-launched missiles in the four minutes it takes to walk from a mosque to the Sheik's home. Yassin, on the U.S. global top terrorist list, founded Hamas as a militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist organization that aims to destroy Israel and moderate Arab regimes.

Something like the killing of Yassin takes months of meticulous intelligence preparation and coordination between high-tech assets, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Israeli Air Force helicopters. This operation was akin to elimination by a U.S. Predator UAV of a senior al Qaeda operative responsible for the USS Cole attack in Yemen.

Sheik Yassin was one of the Middle East's biggest mass murderers of Jews and Arabs, sending Palestinian boys as young as 12 for suicide bomber training and sanctioning mothers to become human bombs.

Yassin was responsible for the deaths of hundreds and lifelong maiming of thousands of Israeli women, children and elderly. He set up brainwashing factories in mosques and schools to legitimize and enable murder of Jews whom he called "sons of monkeys and pigs," in preparation to total destruction of Israel. Glorifying him as a "spiritual leader" is like glorifying Joseph Goebbels as a "spiritual leader" of the Third Reich.

While not perfect, robust antiterror operations will remain the most effective tools in a policymaker's arsenal when diplomacy and deterrence fail. These operations need supporting measures, such as:

  • Interruption of terror financing.
  • Coordination of police.
  • And most important, the "war of ideas" - the battle for hearts and minds of Muslims.
I n absence of effective nation-states able to control global radical Islamist terrorist networks, from Madrid to Gaza to the North Western Province in Pakistan, targeted killings are legitimate acts of national self-defense.

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Asia

First appeared in The Washington Times