Last year it seemed Islamic terrorism had been defeated, or at least brought to a halt. The extinction of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic State’s marginalization in general, provided a sense of relief to many in the Western and Arab worlds.
This followed several years in which terrorism appeared to strike without mercy and without borders. The Islamic State (IS) phenomenon, which has swept up masses of people in the Middle East and Europe (but also North America, Asia and Australia) since the summer of 2014, threatened to disrupt long-standing practices: For short periods, fear reigned in Paris and London, Sydney and Brussels, and in every city and village in the Arab world.
The understanding was that in the absence of coordination and cooperation, the “war on terror” was destined to fail. The result was a global campaign—a mini-world war of sorts—in which countless countries, many of them hostile to one another, contributed their part to defeating IS. In Syria, Russia along with the United States led a broad coalition against IS. The Americans also led the fight against the IS in Iraq. But alongside these two, Iran and Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia and, according to numerous reports, Israel, also took part in the offensive.
This operational focus, along with intelligence cooperation, led to the prevention of numerous terrorist attacks, the assassination of senior IS officials and ultimately the dismantlement of the elements of the terrorist organization that threatened the world order. The buds of its activity are still evident in Iraq and Syria, and certainly in the Sinai Peninsula and Southeast Asia, but IS is no longer able to stoke fear the way it did at the height of its power.
Those who thought the defeat of the Islamic State would mean the defeat of terrorism were very, very wrong. The Islamic State might have died, but the idea at its foundation is alive and kicking all over the globe. Whether it is followers of Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, National Thowheed Jamath in Sri Lanka or the Bedouin working for IS in the Sinai, all of these people share a common radical ideology, which is based on the idea that infidels must die.
The path to achieve this goal, whether in Strasbourg, San Bernardino or Colombo, runs through fear. That is the secret power of terror: the disruption of life. That is why these terrorists attack soft targets that will result in mass casualties and widespread media coverage: Sri Lanka’s packed tourist hotels and churches served this purpose well.
As in Syria, there is no way to fight terrorism in Sri Lanka without a combination of intelligence and operational activity. One doesn’t need the details that have been released thus far (the information relayed by the Indians, the alerts that went out in Sri Lanka that included the names of some of those involved in the attacks) to understand that this was a serious failure by the government: A series of attacks, carried out within a short period at least six different sites, as well as others later on, requires early intelligence gathering, extensive logistical preparations, careful coordination and of course, the recruitment of terrorists.
All of these components provide the government with a series of opportunities to thwart the attack. Years of fighting Palestinian terrorism have made Israel a world champion in the field, as well as the unofficial guide of all of its counterparts around the world. We paid for our expertise with blood and money, but there simply is no substitute. Those who want to save lives must act ahead, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and treat every terrorism alert with the utmost seriousness, suspect all potential enemies and see to security for any object that requires protection. They must not fear going on the offensive, causing potential attackers to spend most of their time on the run instead of in pursuit.
Modern technology has provided terrorists with countless opportunities to coordinate, update and learn, as well as equip themselves with a plethora of weapons. But it has also provided countless opportunities for defense: The state has the ability to access computer networks and phones and collect the intelligence that can prevent terrorist attacks. This ability has been harnessed numerous times around the world in recent years, and will likely be harnessed in Sri Lanka from this point forward, possibly with the assistance of Israeli firms that are considered global leaders in the field.
But this will not be the only Israeli connection to the Sri Lanka attacks. As the attacks in Colombo were underway, tens of thousands of Israelis were spending their Passover vacation in the Sinai. They went there despite the travel warnings, with the attitude that “it won’t happen to me.” Egypt may not be Sri Lanka, in particular given that foreign publications have linked Israel to constant activity in the Sinai. Yet the threat remains as relevant as ever, and as in Sri Lanka it will continue to look for a convenient target and the right opportunity to act.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared on Israel Hayom.