In light of the jihad being waged against the Jews of France and the Western symbols of the republic, what follows are some insights from an Israeli perspective on security, hostage operations and the ideology that fuels the murderous campaign.
On providing security for Diaspora Jews, Israel surely has a greater role to play. On grappling with hostage situations, Israel has, sadly, a great deal of experience to share. And on facing up to the Islamist extremist ideology, here too, unfortunately, Israel has long-since needed to internalize the reality of the threat in ways that France’s President Hollande, for one, is evidently still reluctant to do.
Allow me to elaborate:
Security: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was convening a meeting Saturday night about the state of security in Israel’s embassies and in Jewish organizations and community centers in Europe. The embassies, long since made into targets across the world, are quite secure. The Jewish community in France is not.
The Mossad is the only intelligence service in the world that has, as part of its mandate, the protection of foreign nationals – Jews around the world. It collects intelligence against those seeking specifically to harm Jews and either passes it on to the relevant authorities or acts on it by itself. It does not, though, engage in perimeter security. The Shin Bet, however, trains and employs Israel’s top security guards. Its personnel guard Israel’s top five ministers, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the internal space in the airport, and all of Israel’s embassies.
It cannot, and likely does not want to, send armed guards to protect Paris’s synagogues and kosher restaurants. But the Jewish community in France, where Paris’s central synagogue suspended Friday night’s prayer service for the first time since the Holocaust, is in dire straits. It needs help. And the Shin Bet, under the control of the Prime Minister’s Office, should train French Jewish guards or, at least, advise the existing guards.
Advocating for immigration to Israel, which will likely continue to rise, is not enough in this case. Active, professional Israeli involvement, in coordination with the French authorities, would offer the community succor and at least semblance of personal safety.
The counter-strike: The single most crucial element in a hostage situation is coordinated speed. The forces must be ready, on the ground, as soon as possible. Over time, information trickles in and is implemented – the shape of the room, the number of doors, the weapons being used by the hostage-takers, the number of hostages, their location, the manner in which they are being held, and a myriad other bits of information that influence the operation.
In the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation, for instance, the Mossad sent an amateur pilot, a combatant based in east Africa, to circle over the Ugandan airfield where the passengers were being held, taking pictures and eventually landing on the tarmac and speaking with the air traffic controllers in order to gather crucial information.
Ideally, so long as no life-threatening harm is being done to the hostages, the counter-terror team can use time to its advantage, ratcheting up the pressure on the kidnappers, toying with their emotions, attempting to psychologically crack their resolve, and waiting for a moment of distraction or despair by the terrorists.
The crucial factor, though, once the green-light is given, is the coordinated race to place a maximum amount of weapons into the arena in a minimal amount of time. Snipers, soldiers operating on the roof in order to swing through windows, and the forces coming through the different doors must all pounce together. The heavy steel door in the house in Bir Naballah, which didn’t come off its hinges as planned in the 1994 operation to free Sgt. Nachshon Waxman, is what led to his death and, perhaps, to that of Cpt. Nir Poraz, a Sayeret Matkal commando team leader who led troops through the doorway.
In the May 1972 operation to rescue the hostages of Sabena Airlines, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part and was lightly wounded, the five counter-terror squads stormed through the doors of the plane in a coordinated manner; within 60 seconds the plane was in the soldiers’ hands, the terrorists neutralized. Only one hostage paid with her life.
The video footage from Paris surely does not tell the entire story. The French Special Forces are considered top-notch and the full facts of the operation are not yet publicly known. Moreover, each hostage situation is unique and can swing from success to failure on the tendrils of a single detail. But in both Paris and, several weeks prior, in Sydney, the troops seemed uncoordinated, stuttering into the theater of operations rather than pushing through like a wall of long-restrained water.
Surely, the explosion within the Hyper Cacher market in Paris’s Porte de Vincennes neighborhood followed by the sight of would-be rescuers rushing out the door, away from the hostages, is anathema to such an operation.
Ideology: The goal of violent, radical Islam, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon wrote in his autobiography (which is, unlike the majority of the genre, long on ideology and short on anecdote), is “first, to wipe clean the Middle East of Western influence, regimes, and pro-Western forces, and, second, to create a Jihadi threat against the West itself, until it is beaten, until the final goal of Jihadist Islam has been realized: the imposing of Islam on the world and the creation of the Umma al-Islam.”
This vision, fueled by societal despair and a radical interpretation of Islam, seeks first the collapse of Israel, followed by Europe, and, finally, the United States, Ya’alon wrote, noting that Israel’s enemies refer to the Jewish state as “the dry branch,” the one most easily snapped.
This belief, grounded in the precedent of Afghanistan, where Islamist warriors defeated the God-less Soviet Union, and girded by the understanding that the West has been corrupted by its materialist ardor, seems so grandiose as to be hopeless, but that does not mean that it will deflate of its own accord. “I don’t accept their assessment,” Ya’alon wrote, “but I don’t suggest underestimating it.”
President Francois Hollande, in the aftermath of the latest attacks, addressed the French people. “These terrorists and fanatics have nothing to do with the Muslim religion,” he said.
The statement is noble and well-meaning but misguided. Of course, the majority of practicing Muslims do not condone murder. The religion, with its emphasis on charity, for example, brings solace to hundreds of millions of people.
But to avoid the naked truth, that a relatively small but still significant percentage of that body politic is deeply engaged in a war of supremacy, is a hobbling dogma, which Europe and, to a lesser degree, the United States, will be forced to reckon with in the coming years.