Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer’s Address
to the Conference on
"Trends of Terrorism Post September 11, 2001"

at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya

September 11, 2002

One year ago today, something momentous in the annals of the nations occurred when terrorism struck at the very heart of the free world in an unprecedented war. The 11th of September has become a concept – a date that will be marked in human history as a day of eternal horror. The 11th of September is one of those dates, which in history is marked by what happened before and what will happen after them. The 11th of September terrorist attacks perhaps most unequivocally characterize the times in which we live. Once more, this is not a declaration of a war between armies at a defined front. This is a painful blow by terrorists directed at civilians and at the symbols of the free world, designed first and last to capture the consciousness of the target audience, delivering an ideological and political message.

This is an elusive enemy most of whose work is done in dark places. This is an enemy who uses relatively simple, but no less murderous, means. First and foremost the weapon of suicide bombers, which are "smart bombs", as it were, programmed by brain-washing, and guided with great precision towards the target with the capability of sowing horrendous destruction. Above all, by virtue of the fact that it is a human bomb, it is designed to send a message to the West that the determination of self-sacrifice is something that cannot be easily countered.

To a certain extent, the September 11th attacks represented the interface between the weapons of terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction. After all, the September 11th attacks, in a single heartbeat, caused the mass annihilation of thousands of people, while non-conventional weapons under development today are designed mainly to serve as an "umbrella" for extortionist and strong-armed countries the same way in which they use the weapon of terrorism. It seems to me that it is no coincidence that the countries of the "axis of evil" according to both the American and Israeli definitions of that term have been, and are at present, occupied simultaneously in the development of both terrorism and non-conventional weapons.

In the wake of the September 11th, it suddenly became clear that terrorism is not what it had been considered previously – merely a tactical threat or a nuisance threatening to disrupt day-to-day living. It is, rather, a strategic threat to the very foundations of the physical existence and values of the free world. The United States understands that threat. Europe, in our assessment, has not yet understood this, since, luckily, it has not been the focus of this type of aggression. But Europe is also threatened by those same sources of culturally, religiously and ideologically motivated fanatic purveyors of hatred.

We have been facing this challenge for many years, as a matter of fact ever since the establishment of the State of f Israel. But even we have only begun to understand the full extent of the threat to the foundations of our lives in this small piece of territory in the last two years, in which we have been in terrible confrontation with Palestinian terrorism.

I believe that the result of the violent confrontation with Palestinian terrorism which was forced upon us in September 2000, is crucial to the State of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state. There is nothing that can justify murderous terrorist attacks on the heart of our national home or the cold-blooded murder of women and children. These attacks are intended to unravel the fabric of our nation and strike fear into our hearts.

This is a difficult task for us, no less than the wars were have fought in our short history as a state. What is being put to the test here is our national invulnerability at its deepest levels. If we surrender to this terrorism, we will encourage its use against us every time a problem arises between our neighbors and us and we will provide an excuse for others to join this violent circle. If we stand up to the challenge, we will pave the way to a better and more stable region. In the struggle over consciousness, we must make it clear to the other side that it will not achieve its goals through violence.

At the end of two years of violent confrontation with Palestinian terrorism, I think that it may be said, with the utmost caution, that there is a perceptible light at the end of the tunnel. The people living in Israel have shown strength and courage over and beyond what our enemies, and many among us, had assessed. As to the other side, there have been signs of a slowly increasing realization that the path of terrorism has failed and has led them to an impasse and to the brink of disaster.

In view of the challenge facing the United States one year ago, it became clear that in the situation in which the terrorist infrastructure is deeply rooted in a political entity that does not want to fight it – and even grants it protection – there is no choice but to go directly to its breeding grounds and nurseries, to fight it face to face and also to take steps against whoever grants it protection. This is what the Americans did in Afghanistan, and this is what we are doing, too.

Ever since the Defensive Shield Campaign, we have reinstated our responsibility over all of Area A’, and we are operating in the Palestinian towns in order to stop the wave of terrorism and provide security to our towns, settlements and civilians. We have indeed succeeded in considerably reducing the level of terrorism and are succeeding in preventing most of the planned attacks against us. On the West Bank, we have managed to strike hard at the terrorist infrastructure and to turn the terrorist into people on the wanted list mainly involved in protecting themselves. In the Gaza Strip, while we have not been able to gain control deep into the territory or to damage the terrorist infrastructure to the same extent, our defense and early warning means have also enjoyed relative success in lowering the profile of terrorism.

In this difficult and bloody struggle, we have identified the challenge of the suicide attacks as the most difficult. We have an apparatus that has been trained and prepared to fight an army, a tank, a plane and a division, but not a man or woman determined to commit suicide. It became clear to us, that this phenomenon is gradually becoming a kind of sub-culture of its own, part of the Palestinian national ethos. We came to realize that while from the quantitative aspect the suicide attacks made up less than one percent of the total attempted violent attacks in the course of the past two years, they caused more than 50 percent of the fatalities. This doesn not take into account the damage to our morale and image and the serious economic downturn we have suffered, after the economy had been sent into a spiral of uncertainty. Once again this is proof of the connection between security and socioeconomic affairs.

Moreover, as pointed out by the journalist Tom Friedman, in a certain sense we have become a kind of front line for the free world in its struggle against this phenomenon. Because if the weapon of suicide wins here, it will be more commonly used in other places.

We have asked ourselves: Whether, and how, this phenomenon can be stopped? Can a person bent on sacrificing his life be stopped? If so, how? We have reached the conclusion that something can be done only if we deal with it on a systematic basis and not with each individual case separately. Towards this end, I have established a special team whose task is to study the problem from each of its aspects and to come up with solutions regarding both the motivation for suicide attacks and the capability of implementing them. In the sphere of capability, for example, I believe that the security fence will make an unquestionable contribution. In the sphere of motivation, I will mention as an example that while the suicide attacker has no consideration for himself, he does have consideration for his family and for those who support him. Therefore, we have decided on punitive and deterrent measures also against the protective cloak of family and of those who dispatch these attackers and encourage them. These measures include the demolition of houses and relocation of family members that assisted the terrorist. With utmost caution I say that the steps we have taken thus far have begun to bear fruit. We have already encountered the phenomenon of potential suicides who have been turned in or stopped by their families, or who have had second thoughts. Thus, a situation in which there were more suicide bombers than explosives has become one in which the opposite is the case.

We are now at a critical point in our relations with the Palestinians. Despite what I have described, we are still very far from having reached a state of tranquility and security. We have succeeded in lowering the level of violence, but motivation and potential for terrorism are still there, as is the danger that in the long run they will increase again. We are operating in the Palestinian towns to quell terrorism, but we absolutely have no interest in occupying these areas. The friction caused by the security situation is also having some negative affects on both the short and the long term.

Thus, we must direct our thinking forward and search for ways of extricating ourselves from the crisis.

In the present situation, I can identify both the opportunities and the dangers. The main opportunity can be found in the deep processes which the Palestinian Authority is experiencing – mainly the growing realization, in the public as well as among the leadership, that the path of terrorism overseen by Yasser Arafat has failed and has lead them to the brink of disaster, and therefore it is necessary to try another path.

These are deep processes, not shallow ones. What we are mainly witnessing today is a real confrontation between a trend, which might be called the "new order," and the "old order". The tendency towards the "new order" reflects a sober view and increasing awareness on the Palestinian side of the failure of the efforts to achieve national goals through violence and terrorism, pressing for reining in terrorist activities and implementing internal reforms. The "old order", is personified in the image and positions of Yasser Arafat who is committed to the past and not to the future. Anyone who followed his address this week to the Palestinian Legislative Council understood that Arafat has not changed his stripes at all and is still committed to the traditional goals and to the strategy of terrorism as the major instrument for their implementation. In my assessment, those who would have change are gaining in support and there is a chance that in the end this will create of a new reality in the Palestinian camp.

To the extent that things are dependent upon us, we must encourage this trend without taking on any patronage. As for me, when I talk about reform on the Palestinian side, I am less interested in structural reforms. What really interests me are reforms in the ruling apparatus and reforms in policy and in trends of thought to the extent of abandoning the path of terrorism as the means of fashioning relations between the Palestinians and Israel.

All of the accomplishments I have mentioned are to a great extent the fruits of our policy of not giving terrorism any prizes, of not holding any dialogue with terrorists. And it is mainly the fruit of the determined and successful activities of the Israel Defense Forces and other branches of the security forces to obliterate terrorism. However, it is important for me to stress that we must not depend solely on superiority of military might. I have always believed that this confrontation cannot be resolved exclusively by military means, as necessary and as strong as they are. Political means are also required in creating realities. It is not enough to prove to the Palestinians what they are losing through having chosen the path of terrorism. No less important than that is our need to create a political future that will show them in general terms what they have to gain by pursuing a different path, the path of negotiations and agreements. We must never assume that time is only on our side; this can result in stagnation.

Thus, at this critical crossroads in the confrontation with the Palestinians, and in view of the process, which I have, as I mentioned, discerned on the Palestinian side, I believe that the time has come for us to take the initiative and to come up with a political initiative, by-passing Arafat, that will encourage that "new order" I talked about, within the Palestinian apparatus as well as in relations with Israel. As one who has recently presented a clearly defined political vista in our relations with the Palestinians alongside the determined battle against terrorism I believe that this is our duty, putting to the test political initiatives designed to resolve the crisis, not resting on the laurels of our achievements in the military sphere and the prevention of terrorist attacks. While it is true that Arafat is not a partner, I believe that at the present time and in view of processes within the Palestinian camp, the initiation of political options will assist in the growth of a fitting partner. At this critical juncture, we can continue exerting military pressure until total surrender, which would mean actual occupation, or we can extend our hand and try to lead a joint move out of the crisis. I choose the second option.

As things appear at this point in time, a challenge is awaiting us down the road, which will have significant strategic implications for us: the possibility of an American attack on Iraq.

In my view, an American attack designed to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s regime is a direct continuation of the counterattack by the leaders of the free world against those problematic foci supporting the use weapons of mass destruction and terrorism and threatening the stability of the region and the world. Not surprisingly, most of them are located in our region.

Firstly, from the strategic viewpoint if the United States attacks Iraq and eradicates Saddam Hussein’s regime, it would be a positive development for Israel. Secondly, one should not exaggerate the theory of the Iraqi threat. Yes, the Iraqis do have a certain strategic capabilities including chemically and biologically equipped SS missiles, but so far as can be assessed regarding their possible use against Israel, it would seem that they are not equipped with large numbers of carrier platforms (for planes and missiles) or quantities of combat means.

I should now like to mention briefly a number of central conclusions regarding the war on terrorism that I have formed over the past year and a half in which I have led the defense apparatus as Minister of Defense.

Firstly, in view of the complexity of the war against terrorism, it is essential that at its core our position must make a clear differentiation, morally and politically, between good and evil, between the permissible and the impermissible.

Terrorism is terrorism and it is basically flawed, and it does not matter in the name of which ideology or concept it is employed. One cannot accept the norm that blurs these distinctions and comes to terms with its legitimacy and with whoever encourages it and gives it protection. In our special situation, we found ourselves facing a political entity, which with one hand maintained negotiations with us and with the other promoted the path of terrorism and terrorists as a political tool. Our conclusion is that there must be a clear and uncompromising division in this matter.

Secondly, the struggle against terrorism must not be allowed to focus solely on the terrorists themselves, but rather on those who allow them to flourish and prosper the support elements, countries which provide shelter and the like.

Thirdly, we must always look forward and foresee the threats lying in ambush, including the threat of non-conventional terrorism. In our immediate surroundings we are threatened not only by Palestinian terrorism, but Hizballah poses no less of a threat to us. It is the spearhead of the Iran-Syria "axis of evil", which the American Assistant Secretary of State recently defined as a terrorist body no less dangerous than Al-Qaeda. We must also not forget that Syria encourages not only Hizballah terrorism but also hosts the HQs of Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PLA and the like, operating in Damascus determined to carry out a terrorist attack in our territory, totally ignoring any attempts at moderation in the Palestinian arena. In the war on terrorism, we must not rest on our laurels and we must not cease our efforts.

Fourth, globalization in the modern era makes it easier for terrorism to operate and to spin an international web through the possibilities for travel, transfer of information, transfer of funds, etc. Nevertheless, globalization also facilitates better international organization in the war against terrorism, and that is the goal we are trying to reach. I particularly call for international cooperation in everything that has to do with the war against free flow of money financing terrorism.

Fifth, it would appear that our case, and that of the Americans, points to the fact that new norms must be created in the sphere of international law as well as in the sphere of international political codes in dealing with the terrorist phenomenon in its various aspects. The international legal system underwent its last reshaping during World War II and against the background of that war. I think that some rethinking is required to create an updated international legal and political infrastructure capable of dealing with present-day threats endangering us and the entire free world.

Finally, it is important to mention that without the determined leadership of the United States and its President, it is doubtful whether we and the entire world could so efficiently face up to the evil lurking at our very doorsteps. The leadership of the United States serves in this instance as a role model and ray of hope for all those who value humanitarianism and progress.

I should like to conclude on an optimistic note and say that it is my firm belief that we have the strength to overcome the difficulties facing us and I also staunchly believe that if we act prudently and combine military and political moves, we will emerge into a better region.