In recent days, we have been forced to bear witness to a flurry of tragic events around the globe — shocking murders at a magazine office and kosher supermarket in Paris by Islamic extremists, a horrific massacre in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, the capture of more innocents by ISIS, and just days ago the eruption of a coup in Yemen orchestrated by Shiite insurgents. As these stories seem to scroll across our screens with no end in sight, I am compelled to recognize the common denominator. While many advances have been made in more than ten years since the birth of the international counterterrorism effort, early obstacles created weaknesses which now hamper the fight against those who seek to beat freedom into submission. For the past decade, the main pitfalls can be found in the diplomatic and political worlds, where universal norms should be implemented but all too often are not.
As far as many are concerned, the original sin took place on Sept. 28, 2001, when the UN Security Council adopted its landmark Resolution 1373. Back then, this document was considered by the fledgling diplomatic counterterrorism community as the plan that would get the job done. And why not? The resolution was adopted as binding under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and contained many of the elements required to cement international cooperation.
Among other worthy provisos, UNSCR 1373 required that states prevent the financing of terrorist acts, refrain from providing any form of support to terrorists, block their citizens from involvement in terrorism, deny safe haven to terrorists, prevent the movement of terrorists from their territory, bring terrorists to justice, and increase cooperation with other states in these efforts.
The road map was crystal clear, but unfortunately the road itself has been quite bumpy. Why? The state sponsors of terrorism do not intend to cooperate. We have yet to find a way to force them to do so, but a solution must be found because submission to threats and intimidation from jihadist extremists and their apologists will, in the end, undermine the foundations of democratic societies.
Beyond implementation of 1373, the international counterterrorism community has yet to address two basic yet increasingly problematic issues: defining terrorism itself and combating the dissemination of ideologies that encourage it. These two aspects have tended to cause like-minded countries to bicker as much as to cooperate.
State sponsors of terror have long taken advantage of these shortcomings. Iran, a backer of the aforementioned Yemeni Shiite insurgency, is the most blatant example; terrorist groups, namely Hezbollah and Hamas, have inflated to monstrous proportions under its tutelage while the world basically looked on.
Indeed, it took years for a group like Hezbollah to warrant the EU’s designation as a terrorist organization. I was involved in the initial effort in 2004, which culminated only in 2013 in the wake of the Hezbollah attack that killed five Israelis in Burgas, Bulgaria. The years preceding this decision were often spent debating whether a terrorist group engaged in political activity was in fact a terrorist group at all.
An identifiable line connects the failings of UNSCR 1373, and other diplomatic weaknesses, to a fatal array of attacks of varying scale since its adoption in 2001. Events in France, Nigeria, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere are just the latest examples. It is unlikely that they will be the last.
As with all tragedies, a silver lining must be found. If there is any consolation, it is that these madmen and their ilk who seek to bring us to our knees are instead causing us to stand tall. The task before us now is to stay standing, to remain steadfast in our declared principles, and to fight back without any hesitation.
Yehuda Yaakov is consul general of Israel to New England.