The multiple, simultaneous explosions that took place today on the London transportation system were the work of perpetrators who had an operational capacity of considerable scope. They have come a long way since the two attacks of the year 1998 against the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam, and the aircraft actions of September 11, 2001.
There was careful planning, intelligence gathering, and a sophisticated choice of timing as well as near-perfect execution. We are faced with a deadly and determined adversary who will stop at nothing and will persevere as long as he exists as a fighting terrorist force.
One historical irony: I doubt whether the planners knew that one of the target areas, that in Russell Square, was within a stone’s throw of a building that served as the first headquarters of the World Zionist Organization that preceded the State of Israel.
It was at 77 Great Russell Street that Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a renowned chemist, presided over the effort that culminated in the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, the first international recognition of the right of the Jewish people to a national home in what was then still a part of the Ottoman Empire.
We are in the throes of a world war, raging over the entire globe and characterized by the absence of lines of conflict and an easily identifiable enemy. There are sometimes long pauses between one attack and another, consequently creating the wrong impression that the battle is all over, or at least in the process of being won.
Generally speaking, the populations at large are not involved in the conflict, and by and large play the role of bystanders. But once in a while, these innocents are caught up in the maelstrom and suffer the most cruel and wicked of punishments meted out by those who are not bound by any rules of conduct or any norms of structured society. For a while, too short a while, we are engrossed with the sheer horror of what we see and hear, but, with the passage of time, our memories fade and we return to our daily lives, forgetting that the war is still raging out there and more strikes are sure to follow.
It cannot be said that seven years after this war broke out in east Africa, we can see its conclusion. We are in for the long haul and we must brace ourselves for more that will follow. The ‘Great Wars’ of the 20th century lasted less than this war has already lasted, and the end is nowhere in sight.
There will be supreme tests of leadership in this unique situation and people will have to trust the wisdom and good judgment of those chosen to govern them. The executives must be empowered to act resolutely and to take every measure necessary to protect the citizens of their country and to carry the combat into whatever territory the perpetrators and their temporal and spiritual leaders are inhabiting.
The rules of combat must be rapidly adjusted to cater to the necessities of this new and unprecedented situation, and international law must be rewritten in such a way as to permit civilization to defend itself. Anything short of this invites disaster and must not be allowed to happen.
The aim of the enemy is not to defeat western civilization but to destroy its sources of power and existence, and to render it a relic of the past. It does not seek a territorial victory or a regime change; it wants to turn western civilization into history and will stop at nothing less than that.
It will show no mercy or compassion and no appreciation for these noble values when practiced by us. This does not mean that we can or should assume the norms of our adversaries, nor that we should act indiscriminately. It does mean that the only way to ensure our safety and security will be to obtain the destruction, the complete destruction, of the enemy.
Much has been said in recent years about the vital need for international cooperation. There is no doubt that this is essential. Yet no measure of this will suffice and it cannot replace the requirement that each and every country effectively declare itself at war with international Islamist terror and recruit the public to involve itself actively in the battle, under the direction of the legal powers that be.
In the past, governments have been expected to provide security to their citizens. The responsibility is still there, in principle. But in practice, no government today can provide an effective ‘suit of protection’ for the ordinary citizen. There can be no protection for every bus, every train, every street, every square. In these times the ordinary citizen must be vigilant and must make his personal contribution to the war effort. Private enterprise will have to supplement the national effort in many walks of life.
The measures that I have outlined above will not be easily adopted
overnight. When the US entered World War Two, Congress approved the momentous decision by a majority of one vote. Profound cultural changes will have to come about and the democratic way of life will be hard-pressed to produce solutions that will enable the executive branch to perform its duties and, at the same time, to preserve the basic tenets of our democratic way of life. It will not be easy, but it will be essential not to lose sight of every one of these necessities.
This war is already one of the longest in modern times; as things appear now, it is destined to be part of our daily lives for many years to come, until the enemy is eliminated, as it surely will be.
The writer, who heads the Center for Strategic and Policy Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is a former head of the Mossad.
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