Suicide attacks are never random, they are a cold calculation’s result that involves several factors. The most important is the capability to spread anxiety and fear among the population, not only those directly injured. Modern democracies have sophisticated weaponry, bomb military targets with drones, launch missiles at impossible distances, yet exhibit some uncertainty against the determination of a single man and his lethal load. Israel is one of the most affected countries by this plague. The government, with the help of National Police and Security Agency, has developed a prevention policy that often reveals controversial aspects, but that ultimately has been able to limit terrorist offensives. There’s a basic attitude upon which Tel Aviv rests its defensive line, almost never shared and condemned by Western governments: to fight the terrorists, it is essential that all renounce, in a reasonable manner, some liberties. Just a few months ago, after horrific events some European Union countries have decided to curb legal practices which risked compromising their internal security.
The climate of global insecurity has forced nations like France, Germany and Italy to question some Schengen Treaty articles. The precautions can have short or long term effects and, although it does not resolve the problem, prevent the devious terrorists’ logistics. Short-term security measures are the most direct, visible to all, and in some cases, disliked: stressful road barriers, long airport or station checkpoints or careful inspection at the entrances to public places. In Israel, for example, Hamas suicide campaigns have used citizens near soldiers’ presence and at checkpoints. The Israelis have firsthand experience that this kind of life is a heavy price to pay to ensure a minimum level of security. The shahid have a cold-blooded requirement to attack anywhere, however compassion in men in uniform may cause them a noteworthy hesitation. With these solutions you are always on “thin ice” and the related difficulties to the identification of a possible suicide terrorist act have an infinite number of variables. Security officers must, indeed, be careful not to fall into “false positive” or “false negative” traps. In the first instance the police omit the necessary attention leaving the potential bomber the option of access; in the latter case the police enthusiasm can cause terrible mistakes, as happened in London on July 26, 2005 when a Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by Scotland Yard after being mistaken for a terrorist with explosive jacket. Every suicide bombing’s counter measure is connected to careful Intelligence work, considered the basis for success against the Islamist cells modus operandi. What happened in Paris, Brussels and Nice revealed the investigative system flaws: suspected members of al-Qaeda or Islamic State cells must be put under close observation, eventually arrested and interrogated (this article is not examining the Lone Wolves). The fight against terrorism may also oblige the state to take unpopular measures, at the edge of legality.
On November 9, 2000, the Israeli secret service killed Hussein Abayat, the Fatah military branch leader in Bethlehem, responsible for some bombings in Jerusalem. Abayat’s death paved the way for the new targeted killing strategy or namely predetermined or preventive killings. According to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon this tactic would be the only valid option to seriously reduce suicide attacks in Israeli cities; a never-ending challenge, useful to put pressure on Palestinian leaders forced to hide and to use non-conventional media. Of course, there are those who expressed the opposite view, accusing Israel that such a strategy is immoral and increases Palestinian hatred.
The latest suicide bombings that have hit Europe and Europeans all over the world, have paralyzed governments demonstrating a total lack of preparation to deal with such a dramatic event. The leadership of the European Union are scared about the terrorists, but – at the same time are – afraid to harm civil liberties by introducing overly strong counter-terrorism measures.
What to do? First of all Europeans have shown to know how to react to the radical Islamist attacks. Despite the first moments of panic, populations in Paris and Brussels (the Nice carnage has not been a suicide attack) have taken back their daily lives. Some issues, however, remain open in counter-terrorism policies that clash badly with the immigration problems and the poor level of control that politicians have on them. Every day on the Italian coast thousands of immigrants from Libya or Syria are disembarking. They are checked, but it is not easy to identify a terrorist and what has happened has confirmed this challenge.
London July 7, 2005: Europe’s first suicide bombing
A further question is the “radicalization” among Europe’s Muslim community. After the underground bombing attack of July 2005, the British were the first to seriously address this dilemma. The London Underground bombs caused a general increase in security measures across the EU, especially to address the problem of suicide attacks. Any public and private office was forced to re-examine their emergency management policies; in some cases this led some companies to considerable financial investment in security. The British government implemented social policies in a more concrete way, in particular to prevent the recruitment of terrorists in British Muslim communities. The Metropolitan Police and the Intelligence learned from their mistakes and began exchanging information. If we extend this matter to all of Europe, we note that the alert level has been significantly lowered in recent years. The Islamic State and the foreign fighters’ crusade is certainly a new challenge for counter terrorism. What happened in Paris and Brussels (for many people almost a replica of the July, 7th attacks) marked a new setback for the international intelligence system, but even more for European Union social policy. “Decision makers – argues Boaz Ganor director of International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (Herzliya)– would be wise to adopt a general framework for a flexible counter terrorism policy, one that enables rapid transition from one tactic to another, in accordance with needs.” Probably many underestimated the issue, without knowing that the main counter-terrorism rule, and a fortiori to tackle suicide bombings, is that state actors must always be one step ahead of terrorists.