December 6, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Dr Reuven Paz

A well-known counter-terrorism expert from Israel, Dr Reuven Paz is director of the International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzliya. With years of research into the Israeli-Arab conflict behind him, he tells Ramesh Menon that a frightening scenario of terrorism is taking shape in the West. Excerpts:

Where is the future of terrorism going to be?

The future of global terrorism is going to be in the West. Generally speaking, the Arab world succeeded in most cases in countering terrorism within their countries and pushed their terrorist organisations outside the Middle East -- to Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Chechnya and wherever there was a conflict between Muslims and Christians or a conflict of a national nature, and from there to Afghanistan as a base.

Following the attacks on the United States and also the fact that the Americans are determined, I do not know what the future of the attacks will be on Afghanistan. However, if the Americans succeed in making the Taliban fall all over Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden groups will have to leave Afghanistan. They will have to find refuge elsewhere. But what is more important is that the terrorist infrastructure is very deeply rooted among the Muslim community in the West.

How did they build an infrastructure of this kind?

This infrastructure was built using sophisticated methods, most of which were legal. All kinds of institutes, legal charity funds, through which money was laundered. They were using Western freedom and Western liberalism to get support for their activities. Western countries until now were not fully aware of the extent of these activities. If you look at the number of people arrested in the United States and all over Europe, you will find there were more than 800 arrested. It shows how widespread this infrastructure was.

How does it operate?

I visited London twice in the last year to witness from close quarters how this activity was organised. I visited mosques, bookstores and Islamic institutions. I then realised how widespread it was. Using a huge infrastructure of social, cultural and recreational activities, they were in certain places using it as a front to get both financial support to aid terrorist activities and also draw in volunteers to carry on their work. I found that the British authorities were not even fully aware of what was going on.

You were saying that there is a brotherhood forming for a global jihad...

This is the way 'global jihad' is being organised on the basis of ideology. I call it a brotherhood of people from different nationalities and cultures who were suffering from social illness of being immigrants. They suffered from alienation, unemployment and hatred of foreigners. Some of the terrorist groups could easily recruit people to fight with them or support their activity against the West.

So you are saying that the future of terrorism is going to be in the West now...

I am afraid so. I am afraid [of] that as there is another element that is developing -- that Western countries are promoting anti-Islamic feelings. This might widen the gap between Islamic immigrants in the West and Islamic societies. This might add to the present motivation to support Islamic groups. There might be an added notion that there is a global war against Islam and Muslims. This might create a sense of opposition to Western culture. A part of it could be translated into terrorism against the West.


For example, the attack on Afghanistan is viewed in many parts of the Muslim world as unjust as they see it as an attack against innocent civilians. Many supporters of these groups choose to see injustice in the American attack, but ignore the Taliban behaviour in regard to their own people.

The future of terrorism might be against the West and in the West. It might also be with a greater intensity.

This is a frightening scenario...

Yes, it is a frightening scenario. I was wondering how many people in Afghanistan could have been fed with the money spent on one missile. Americans should instead invest in the Afghan economy and improve their economic conditions to solve terrorism.

The problem of immigrants within the United States should be seen differently. America has done little to improve the situation of the immigrants. There might be Hispanic and Mexican groups who from their despair will start to use violence against the United States or Americans.

Often, the roots of terrorism lie in the despair of people who are not necessarily poor. Educated people who are not poor see themselves as a social elite who can fight against the West in order to throw light on the problems of their community.

Osama bin Laden was not poor...

Not at all. All those 19 hijackers that carried out the operation were not poor. After they became pilots, they could have earned a lot of money. They preferred to give it up for a mission. The Western mind cannot analyse this. It was a mission, which was a combination of social and religious elements that lead a few people to take to violence. They feel as pioneers to lead the weaker parts of society that cannot take such measures.

Will religious fundamentalism be a major force behind terrorism of the future?

You cannot know for sure. I have no proof. But there is a danger that such operations could affect secular groups to imitate them and start carrying out terrorism of a similar kind.

There could be other motivations too.

Yes. For example, last year there was a movement against the globalisation of the economy. There were riots and violent demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Milan, Prague and other places. Following the success of terrorism on a religious basis, others who have social motives could also get in.

Which way is the Arab-Israeli conflict heading?

Who knows? It is very complicated. The solution to this conflict is very long. The architects of the Oslo Accord made one mistake: they thought that in five years such a conflict could be solved.

The solution will come from future generations that will start to look at the advantages of peace instead of the advantages of fighting each other. The solution will come when moderate elements from both sides will become effective. Moderate elements will think like businessmen who will look at the economic advantages of cooperation in the Middle East rather than the advantages of fighting. This is a very long-drawn issue and a solution is still far away.

Palestinians are obsessed with their identity. But so is Israel...

Israeli society developed after the establishment of the Israeli State, which had come out of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a major thing that affects the Israeli way of thinking. All over the world there is only one Jewish State. That is why the Israeli identity is so important. But the Arabs have 22 states. Many Israelis feel that Palestinians should go and live in these states and cannot understand the Palestinian wish for self-determination and identity.

We can never meet unless there is a change in our attitudes. Both Palestinians and Israelis see a conspiracy in what the other does. We have to try and understand each other. In Israel, you can find so many who can speak Arabic, but in the Arab world you will hardly find anyone who can speak Hebrew.

Israel signed an agreement with Egypt and Jordan, but actually we signed an agreement with the Egyptian president and the Jordanian king and not with the people of Egypt and Jordan. Even if we sign an agreement with Arafat, it does not mean that the people of Palestine are behind it.

It is going to take long for peace to happen.

What is going to be the shape of Indo-Israeli ties as far as counter-terrorism goes?

There is a start of good cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism between India and Israel. There is some fear in Israel because of how the nuclear capability of Pakistan could be given to some Arab countries. This fear is real. So both India and Israel view many things globally today.

How relevant is India in Israel's scheme of things?

When I grew up in the fifties and sixties, we knew nothing of India. We read books about the history of India. We grew up admiring Gandhi. But during the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the relations between India and Israel were not good. India did its best to get closer to the Arab world. India was far away from most Israelis.

But in the last five to ten years a lot has changed. Israelis are now visiting India. I wish Indians would come and visit Israel. Maybe, Israel should offer scholarships to Indian students.

In the past two or three years there [has been] a lot of improvement in Indo-Israeli ties in various fields. One-fourth of Israeli youngsters are now visiting India for several months to travel and study. They carry a lot of impressions of the Indian way of life and have helped create a better understanding of the Indian problems. It will lead to better cooperation.

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