Is Israel a model for Europe confronting terror? Yes, and no


In the wake of the car-ramming attack in Spain and the stabbing in Finland several important articles appeared looking at how Europe is learning from Israel in how to confront terror threats. This is an important subject and one that has been developing over the last decades. The increase in the types of attacks in Europe by lone wolves using methods borrowed from terrorists who have attacked Israelis, means that there is a parallel and increasing conversion between the nature of some of the threats Jerusalem and various cities in Europe face. And yes, this is mostly a city issue, because most terror in Europe targets London, Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, and other cities.

Col. Richard Kemp and Arsen Ostrovsky write at International Business Times about what Europe can learn regarding vehicle and lone-wolf terror. They argue that it is important to name the enemy, “The enemy has a name and that name is radical Islam.” They note, “European leaders need to engage their Israeli counterparts, both in the public and private spheres, to learn and apply these best practices to monitor online channels and conduct surveillance, including of Mosques.”

David Patrikarikos writing at The Spectator argues that the “recent terror ‘successes’, however, are more to do with state failings than terrorist brilliance. In too many countries counter-terrorism measures are still insufficient. And the reason is simple: We are fighting 21st century terrorism with 20th century methods.” Part of this relates to coordination. “European countries must now come together as one to combat terror.” And what about Israel? “If someone can now be radicalised just by going on the internet, what can be done? Well, for a start, in Israel, the police have a dedicated Facebook page where people can report terrorist content they find posted on social media, and, critically, all of which is checked. It has saved lives.”

Anna Pazos at Haaretz also looked at this subject in how Europe has adopted Israel style security measures. Concrete barriers are one symbol. “Over the weekend, the authorities set up concrete barriers in locations ranging from the shopping galleries of Milan to the old port of La Rochelle on France’s west coast, while other cities increased or strengthened barricades already put up after previous attacks.” Authorities have supposedly repeated a warning Israelis have heard, “It is nearly impossible to prevent all attacks, especially when they are carried out by lone wolves or small, independent cells using easily available materials.” She looks at how Israel and European police forces and security agencies have shared methods and intelligence. “In this scenario, the high-tech surveillance that European agencies relied on might not be as relevant as old-school human intelligence such as espionage and infiltration,” one source explained. Her article also looks at cooperation as a key and a “flexible” judiciary. That probably means administrative detention without saying it. Ely Karmon was also quoted; “But while these attacks will remain difficult to predict and prevent, when they do happen it is important to restore a semblance of normality as soon as possible.”

This isn’t the first we’ve heard about the convergence of Israel and Europe. Amichai Magen discussed it for Fathom in 2015. He explains; “Salafist jihadism represents the most serious and immediate terrorist threat to Europe.” After narrating threats, he noted “No functioning democratic state has ever been overrun by a terrorist organisation and that record will not change as long as Western societies pursue determined and sensible counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation policies in a level-headed manner.” Europe must not deny the threat though. “Overcoming denial, building societal awareness, and pursuing evidence-based understanding of jihadi extremism in a rational and systematic way, is the most important – and perhaps most psychologically and culturally difficult – first step.” Herein Europe can partner with Israel. “The best way to deal with a terrorist threat is to prevent its emergence or spread. Understanding processes of radicalisation and developing effective de-radicalisation policies ought therefore to be at the heart of European-Israeli dialogue about prevention of Islamist political violence.”

So what are the conclusions of these articles.  They primarily look at several facets of the phenomenon. First of all there is discussion of methods of fighting terror. That means things in Europe start to look like Israel. Heavily armed and trained security presence at large events or major landmarks. Learning to respond quickly and effectively and with deadly force. This wasn’t actually mentioned above, but it’s clear European security has learned this in the last two years. Concrete barriers and other types of Israel-style checks are a symbol of the convergence.

Then we hear about methods of intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing.

Some of the articles look at the need to be aware of and “name” the enemy and to focus specifically on countering Islamist extremist networks.

The articles claim Israelis have gotten used to terror and accept it as a fact of life.

Social media is mentioned as a tool to investigate and confront terror.

All of this is great but what’s missing?

IMG_5659 (1)

Security in Jerusalem’s Old City (Seth J. Frantzman)

How Israel is not like Europe

Israel and Europe likely share similar threats and terrorists using similar tactics. They also may have to deal with terrorists who have the same ideology.

But there are a lot of things they don’t have in common. First of all the EU borders of Europe mean that European countries cannot police or secure their borders as Israel can. In Israel Hamas activists or Hezbollah operatives can’t slip across a border. Terror cells are confined to certain areas. There is no part of Europe that resembles the West Bank nor would Europe want to concede defeat and end up with an internal military occupation of part of its own country. There is no West Bank in Europe because there are no terror groups that are part of larger nationalist organizations seeking to create a “state” of Moroccans in France or a state for Muslims in Germany or the UK. Israel is involved in a national struggle, Europe is not.

So the part of Israel that resembles Europe is the part inside the Green Line. That part is threatened by terrorists who slip through from the West Bank, and in the past used to do the same from Sinai or Gaza. There are very few terror cells that have grown up inside the Green Line, although that could change in the future. Nevertheless Israel has detained numerous members of the Arab minority who sought to join ISIS.

It is true that Europe must confront the reality of the pool of extremism from which terrorism emerges. But this is one of the greatest differences with how Israel confronts terrorism. Israel gave up long ago pretending that Palestinian nationalism among Arabs or even Islamist extremism among them, would ever go away. There is no real myth of “integration.” Israel accepts the fact that it is primarily a Jewish state with democracy and that there are different ways of life that govern the Arab minority and Jews, and even different laws. Israel has Shariah law for Muslims, and Rabbinical courts for Jews. Communities in Israel are often officially segregated. There is no semblance of Arabs really becoming “Israeli” the way that Pakistani Muslim immigrants to the UK might become British. Of course many European states have an ethnic nation-state and a national religion within their history and culture. It is a new concept largely that Turkish minorities would be “German” or that Algerians are “Belgian” when Belgian was generally synonymous with “white” and “Catholic.” But mass immigration has forced most European countries to accept a more American view of national identity divorced from race and religion.

European security forces can confront terror learning from Israel, but the long path of “de-radicaliation” integration is totally different. Europe wants its Muslim minorities to be part of its society and equal members, it doesn’t want them to become like Israel’s Arab minority, much of which feels alienated from the nature of the state and connected at least in part of the Palestinian national struggle. Does Israel do “de-radicalization” programs, or does Israel primarily ignore the Islamist movement as long as it doesn’t think it seeks to overthrow the state. Israel has banned the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, but not the Southern part. To pretend that the relations between Israel and either are normal or something European countries would like to have with their own Islamist groups, is nonsense. Arab members of Israel’s Knesset speak openly and in support of a “third intifada.” They visit the families of Palestinian prisoners who are terrorists, some show support for them and speak of the “martyrs.” This is not an “Integration” or good relations. Leaders and activists from large sections of the Arab community in Israel not only loathe Israel but argue for dismantling either the nature of the state or the state itself. Is that something Europe wants to borrow from Israel, having a large national minority that loathes the state?

The problem Europe faces is that some minorities, even second or third generation immigrants and some converts are turning to Islamist extremism. They yearn for war and killing and praise the genocidal crimes of ISIS and find them romantic. They want to fight and join in “militant” activities. They like guns and fast cars and they view becoming a terrorist like people view becoming a soccer hooligan. They worship religious extremism as a form of supremacism that they think guarantees them the right to decide who lives and dies. It’s both a privileged form of Nazi-like terror, combined with their faux-victimhood, fostered because they are able to preach hate and soak up hate while hiding among a larger minority group that doesn’t challenge their views enough.

The motivating factor behind Palestinian terror is not the same as the motivating factor behind Islamist intolerance and extremism in Europe. That doesn’t mean that religion and talk about “martyrs” and ideology don’t overlap. However the tools to confront them are different. Europe has chosen to take in millions of immigrants, yet it has not figured out a way to blend their culture with the extremely secular culture in Europe. How does a society where almost no one goes to church or believes in God and where the average birthrate approaches 1.5 per woman, integrate with a society where belief in God is almost universal, where birthrates are around 5, where marrying at a young age is normal, where chauvinist views of woman are common and opposition to gay marriage, homosexuality and abortion are normal. No where in the world are the cultures of very conservative people thrown together with cultures of the very secular and liberal. The challenge for Europe is that this is a recipe for some people embracing extremism. Instead of confronting hate speech by imams, they want to put up concrete barriers. They don’t even aim to prevent ISIS fighters from leaving, but reward them upon return in some EU states. And even if one EU state has a strong security force against ISIS, another has mosques encouraging support for ISIS and hiding behind free speech. Israel doesn’t have a secular-cultural clash with Muslim minorities, Israeli Jewish society is  religious and more traditional. The clash is primarily on the national level.

In Israel the challenge is very different. Palestinians are from the country, not migrants. They are largely rural, compared to Muslim minorities in Europe who are urban. Often terror derives, at least through the claims of the terrorist, attachment to a national struggle. It is laden with anti-Jewish views and clear antisemitism among Hamas. But it is largely an ethnic-religious-national struggle.

How can Europe “learn” from that. Israel’s Jewish citizens largely see Palestinians as “the enemy.” Jews and Arabs inside the Green Line are deeply divided, almost totally divided, socially. European states don’t want to view their minorities as “the enemy.” They don’t want a national struggle. They don’t want a future of total division between groups. Their future ideal is not Israel. And they don’t want their majority citizens to view all Muslims as “the enemy.” In fact they struggle for the opposite, to confront “Islamophobia” so hard that they refuse to often acknowledge the problem of Islamist extremism until it is to too late. That is why in the UK it took so long to deport Abu Hamza in the UK and so long to finally imprison Anjem Choudhary. The general view in Europe, as in the US, is that alienating Muslim communities by making them feel targeted by law enforcement is counter-productive. In Israel the challenge is different because the security services openly target Palestinians as a possible security threat. The High Court has legitimized screening through open discrimination at the airport.

Consider that in France there have been several Muslim women who made it into high level government political appointments. Muslim women have served in other parliaments in Europe, such as the Kurdish woman Amineh Kakabeveh in Sweden’s parliament.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali was also elected in Holland, although her story has become a cautionary one perhaps. This is far more integration than has happened in Israel’s parliament over almost 70 years.


Gare Du Nord, Brussels (Seth J. Frantzman)

So while Europe has a deep problem with hatred and intolerance rising up among religious extremists, it also has positive success stories and the future it wants is not the one that is in store for Israel. Even in the best case scenario where Israel separates from the Palestinians in the West Bank, there is no recipe that Israel has put forward for reconciling its Arab minority. Much evidence shows either reconciliation or radicalization among many parts of the Arab minority inside the Green Line. The situation in the Negev, for instance, is only going in the wrong direction in relations with the bedouin.

Europe can learn some things about tools against terror, but those tools are primarily effective against fighting a forever-insurgency. They are effective at keeping in check a hostile minority that rejects the state, they can be successful against youth rioters, or lone wolves. They can be effective at checkpoints and administrative detention and monitoring to some extent incitement online. They can also invade civil liberties and include harsh interrogation or administrative detention or outright screening based on religion or ethnicity. They can many things. They can effectively train to “neutralize” terrorists. But what they cannot do is train for reconciliation or integration. The Israeli model doesn’t have that. It never assumes that will happen. There is no recipe in the Israeli playbook for how East Jerusalem becomes integrated with West Jerusalem. There is only a playbook for confronting different threats with different security measures.

But does any European mayor mean to admit he or she has surrendered their city so much that they want to treat part of it like East Jerusalem, like a foreign country. That’s not a recipe for ever getting those other parts of the city back, those parts simply become a “no go” zone and an alien and foreign part of the city treated like an enemy country where police are seen as the enemy and they largely see the people as the enemy. One cannot imagine a European city wanting that.

Another false lesson from Israel is the view that Israel has conditioned its people to accept terrorism and to know that terrorists cannot be stopped. That isn’t actually how Israelis view terror. They aren’t all fatalistic “live and let live” about terror as a “fact of life.” Israelis have gotten used to the threat of terror but they hate terrorists and they view the struggle against them generally as part of their national struggle. It empowers and strengthens and steels them. That’s not how Europeans talk about terror when they say to get used to it, they speak almost like the way to defeat terror is to ignore it and just “go on.” That’s not exactly how Israelis make do with terror. Israelis have strong social solidarity when it comes to fighting terror. But they don’t throw up their hands and pretend it doesn’t exist or treat it like the weather. European media tends to seek to hide the root cause of terror and encourage candle vigils and “thoughts and prayers” which is not what happens in Israel. Israelis know where terror comes from and it tends to strengthen a sense of national mission in Israel. That’s not what has generally happened in Europe as people throw up their hands and don’t know how to respond, except with some candles.

So in the end Europe is learning from Israel and starting to look like Israel. But part of that is due to failure in Europe. Failure to confront hate and instead allowing it to grow. If Europe wants to end up in a different situation than Israel it should only learn certain skills from Israel, Israel does not have a recipe for defeating the root causes of terror or reconciling society, it only has a recipe for defeating it in the short term and fighting an endless war against it.








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