Lessons from Israel after London terror attack

Israel doesn't have a magic formula for eradicating terrorism of the kind that hit London. But it does have the best strategies for minimising the risks. Israel is our greatest friend and ally in this struggle, and, for our own sakes, we should embrace her more fully

Lighting up the flag in Tel Aviv
the commentator
On 24 March 2017 08:06

Wednesday' terror attack in the heart of London raises a number of questions: How can we protect Westminster better in future? Will it ever be possible to stop terrorism completely? Are there examples of better practice from other countries that we can emulate?

Only the last question has a definitive answer, but it can help give clarity about how we handle the other two.

Israel, of course, is the Western country with by far the most experience in confronting Islamist terrorism. Indeed, it is a sad fact that the London attack illustrates yet again that what happens in Israel first often happens elsewhere subsequently. Israel truly is the front line state in this wider war against terrorism.

Knife attacks and vehicle attacks by lone terrorists have been going on in Israel for years. Partly, they arose because Israel became so good at stopping other types of attack such as suicide bombing. The security barrier has been effective, as has the Jewish state's extraordinary intelligence apparatus.

But even the Israelis can't guarantee there will never be another suicide bombing. Nor can they do much to stop someone with a concealed knife walking up to a police officer and stabbing him, especially if the terrorist doesn't care if he dies in the attempt. It's the same story with a determined terrorist driving a car.

That sounds like bad news, and in a certain sense it is. It just isn't possible to reduce the threat to zero. That said, there are at least a couple of things that Israel does that we need to emulate more closely.

The first is that the Israeli authorities do not fall prey to ambiguity about where this threat is coming from. They know full well that not every Muslim is a potential terrorist. But they know and say clearly that the threat is coming from within Islam, even if percentage-wise only a tiny proportion of Muslims represent a danger.

Far too many Western governments have come out with the preposterous line in recent years that "this has nothing to do with Islam". Well, it obviously has something to do with Islam and neither the security services nor the wider public are going to be in a position properly to focus their efforts on protecting us if they are operating on the assumption that terrorism might just as easily be emanating from the Women's Institute.

The second point follows from the first. The Israelis use profiling. Again, they know that the vast majority of Muslims -- 20 percent of the Israeli population is Muslim -- are not terrorists. But both at airports and in areas such as the West Bank, they do not allow political correctness to get in their way of making their counter-terrorism strategy as focused as possible.

More generally, we need to understand that our own approach to Israel has all too often muddied the waters about just how complete our opposition to terrorism really is. Significant sections of Western society have been engaged in a demonisation campaign against the Jewish state for years.

Totally dishonest and defamatory attacks on Israel as an "apartheid state" are all but routine in our universities and among many NGOs. Many politicians -- Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is an example -- have therefore found themselves flirting with or apologising for anti-Israel terror groups.

Western governments have not been at all reliable as allies with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the vile terror group that launches attacks against Israel from Gaza.

This creates the impression -- an impression that may well be influencing perceptions in some sections of the Muslim community in the West -- that there are exceptions to our stated commitment to oppose Islamist terrorism in all its forms. What is then to stop a radicalised British Muslim from telling himself that he is an exception too?

There is no magic formula for eradicating terrorism completely. But we can always do a better job.

Israel is our greatest friend and ally in this battle. We should embrace her more fully and learn from the lessons she is only too willing to share with us. 

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