The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers

By Norwitz, Jeffrey H. | Naval War College Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers


Norwitz, Jeffrey H., Naval War College Review


Ganor, Boaz. The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2005. 334pp. $39.95

Among a cacophony of authors on terrorism writing since September 2001 is a small but refreshing group who offer specific, pragmatic, and tested solutions. Boaz Ganor joins this select few with a book aptly subtitled A Guide for Decision Makers. Ganor splendidly captures inescapable fundamental truths. First, defining terrorism is fraught with politics, emotion, and legal quandaries; however, the world must reach a consensus in order to move toward solutions. second, democracies are uniquely vulnerable to terrorism, and they are struggling with the question of whether to treat terrorism as a crime or as a method of war. Third, efforts to counter terrorism must be multigenerational. Finally, decision makers can and must take steps to inoculate society against the effects of terrorism, through a comprehensive education campaign.

This book is based on Ganor's doctoral dissertation, Israel's Counter-Terrorism Strategy, written for the Hebrew University. Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. Using the Israeli model, Ganor observes that democracies are uniquely vulnerable to terrorism where government must defend itself yet maintain principles of transparency, rule of law, and representative governance while remaining mindful of world opinion. Ganor explores ten explicit dilemmas that face democratic nations: defining the threat; defining counterterrorism; employing intelligence; deterrence policy; choosing offensive and defensive actions; public opinion and ethics; legislative and punitive policies; media coverage; damage to societal morale; and finally, dilemmas concerning international cooperation.

Ganor warns that if terrorism remains a subjective concept influenced by one's point of view, solutions will be similarly amorphous. Without consensus on the definition of what constitutes terrorism, global efforts to defeat it will fail. Ganor begins with a well considered definition of terrorism, including a rigorous analysis of why definitions matter. "Terrorism," he writes, "is a form of violent struggle in which violence is deliberately used against civilians in order to achieve political goals (nationalistic, socioeconomic, ideological, religious)." Ganor offers three elements upon which his definition relies. Violence is a key factor; it eliminates nonviolent protests, strikes, and tax revolts from discourse on terrorism. The goal is always political (e.g., to change the form of governance, to revise economic or social policies). Finally, if an act is to be called terrorism, its targets must be civilians. Terrorism does not include random injury inflicted on civilians who happen to find themselves in areas of conflict; it is, rather, violence intentionally and specifically directed at civilians.

One of the many unique strengths of this book is its personal interviews with pivotal Israeli authorities. These include Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, and Benjamin Netanyahu; a former adviser, Rafi Etan; former members of Mossad Meir Degan and Shabtai Shavit; a former member of Shin Bet, Yaakov Perry; and former defense minister Moshe Arens. …

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