Islamic State understands one thing: Force

Europe, the U.S. and their allies can defeat the terrorists of ISIS. The first step is making the decision to fight back. The next is a strategy that will win. From the Wall Street Journal.

Minister Naftali Bennett

OpEds נפתלי בנט
נפתלי בנט
Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL

On March 27, 2002, a suicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel in the Israeli city of Netanya and blew up the explosives belt he had strapped around his waist. Thirty people, who moments earlier were sitting down for the Passover Seder, were murdered. A celebratory and civilized scene, like those in Paris last week, had suddenly become a field of carnage.

The Park Hotel attack came at the height of the Second Intifada, a conflict that would ultimately claim the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis. More than 130 people were killed that March, and by then there had already been thousands of terror attacks.

My country, Israel, seemed paralyzed and the national sentiment was that the military would be unable to defeat the terror campaign. The only real way to stop the attacks, many supposed experts said, was by political means.

They were wrong. Two days after the hotel massacre, the Israeli government launched a military operation called Defensive Shield to stop the suicide bombers and retake control of Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

It worked. Within weeks of the operation, the number of attacks and Israeli casualties dropped by more than 80%, and while it took time, we eventually succeeded in bringing suicide attacks down to zero. We proved that terror can be defeated.

There is no halfway solution. There is one path to victory and that is taking the fight to the enemy.
Europe, the U.S. and their allies can defeat the terrorists of Islamic State, or ISIS. The first step is making the decision to fight back. The next step is understanding that drones and standoff missiles will not be enough. Ground troops will be needed.

In 2002 Israel went on the offensive in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Jenin, Jericho and Tulkarm, going house-to-house and door-to-door to hunt down Palestinian terror suspects. We found and demolished bomb labs, arms caches and terrorist command centers.

I remember the period well. At the time I was in New York running a high-tech company. As an officer in an elite Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commando unit, I got on a plane, flew back to Israel and joined my fellow soldiers as we fought to stop the terror wave that had struck our country.

We succeeded because we understood that when fighting Islamic terror, there is no middle ground. There is no halfway solution. There is one path to victory and that is taking the fight to the enemy.

I know that “boots on the ground” is a scary phrase and that the Western world has gotten used to sterile attacks. But we need to be honest—while these attacks hurt ISIS, they will not destroy it.

To win, the world needs to go on the offensive. There is no other way. What Israel did in 2002 is a model for how terror can be defeated. Soldiers may be put in harm’s way, but the number of civilian lives saved will be much higher.

Europe must also share intelligence within and outside the continent. Israel can help on that front. We maintain powerful counterterrorism intelligence tools because we are in the thick of the Middle East turmoil, with borders surrounded by Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah.

But you don’t have to live next to terrorist lands to be able to defeat the enemy. The West has demonstrated its ability in the past to project power and move troops to distant regions. What Israel showed in 2002 was that when you take the fight to enemy territory, the enemy will have difficulty taking the fight to you.

This is not currently the case with ISIS. Yes, the jihadists face occasional airstrikes and missile bombardments, but they aren’t on the run. They don’t go to sleep worried that soldiers may burst in during the night and seize them. Their command centers are not really threatened. Only when that happens will the ability of ISIS to direct attacks in Europe or America be hindered.

Like Israel, Europe and the U.S. also face terrorists who lurk in their own cities. Hundreds of young Westerners have inexplicably been drawn to the ISIS death cult; they fight in Syria or Iraq and return home with orders to attack. Europe is especially vulnerable to terrorists who may hide among the refugees pouring across its borders.

To detect these threats, European countries and the U.S. must strengthen their surveillance techniques. Liberty, freedom of speech and human rights are pillars of our democracies, but in Israel we balance them with national-security needs. Privacy is occasionally and under certain circumstances invaded, passports are confiscated and administrative detention is used to lock up terror suspects. We also demolish terrorists’ homes to deter future attacks.

These steps can be highly effective. Last week a Palestinian terrorist ambushed an Israeli car, murdering a father and his son. The terrorist’s family turned him in on Sunday to prevent their house from being demolished.

Europe can adopt some of these models. French President François Hollande on Monday called for amending France’s constitution to allow for more effective and aggressive measures against terrorists. This is an important step. No time can be wasted.

The historic upheaval currently engulfing the Middle East is not going away. The world needs to be determined, to show resolve and not to blink when challenged by adversaries like ISIS. These terrorists understand only one language: force.

Mr. Bennett, Israel’s minister of education and diaspora affairs, is a major in the IDF reserve corps. This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal and is on the minister's Facebook page.