Terror is not a new phenomenon. However today, it has become truly global in its reach, ensnaring most of the civilised world into its web. As such, the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), which is based in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv in Israel, recently hosted its fifth international conference on global terror, with prominent security figures from around the globe offering their perspectives on the current situation.
"Since the end of the Second World War a transformation has gradually taken place from total conventional war to low-intensity conflict between states and organisations," observed Major-General Giora Eiland, who, until recently, was head of Israel's National Security Council. Eiland was one of the key speakers at the ICT conference, which was themed 'Global Terrorism: Recent Patterns and Future Prospects'.
Eiland spoke of the challenges facing those nations fighting militants. A vitally important factor, he claimed, is to first define the enemy. He explained that in today's terms, the definition could be a political one and not necessarily a strategic one.
In the Israel-Palestinian conflict for example, Israel has to change the definition frequently due to the array of hostile forces, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah facing it on a daily basis.
Another challenge is the size and lethality of weapons used against various targets. Most sophisticated weapons currently in use were originally built for targets in a conventional war, such as the destruction of buildings. They were not built with the purpose of attacking specific individuals on the ground surrounded by civilians.
Eiland said he faced a dilemma on targeted killings and the use of conventional weapons or missiles. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has employed the method of targeted killings. However the technique has often resulted in high numbers of fatalities and destroyed homes. He said that many mistakes had been made over the course of the conflict with the Palestinians and as such, he was a supporter of the concept of producing a less-lethal weapon if it could reduce the number of collateral fatalities.
However, the IDF was often faced with events occurring so quickly and unexpectedly, that there was no alternative readily available and as such, conventional missiles, which caused maximum lethality and damage, had to be used. This often resulted in criticisms of the IDF's use of excessive force.
On the other hand, if the IDF had not used such a weapon and instead adopted a less-powerful charge against a target, say, sitting in a car, it was conceivable the target may have only been injured and gone on to commit more acts of militancy.
General Klaus Naumann, former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, spoke about the European response to Islamist militancy and the role the military had to play. He said that there is a clear distinction between Islamists and Muslims that he did not believe that Islam itself produces terrorism.
In combating insurgency, Naumann said that a military reaction was required, rather than a policing one, although the former could not operate entirely on its own. However, he said search and destroy tactics were not producing much success. He did not believe that negotiating with militant organisations was productive either. Rather, he said a more effective way to protect civilians in an area where insurgency is rife, is by establishing safe havens.
Naumann's idea of safe havens sounds like a perfect solution in practice, but in reality, it does not seem workable and he failed to detail his exact plans. Where exactly will these safe havens be created? When will people go to them and what are the logistics of such a move?
He also warned that militant organisations would sooner, rather than later, resort to weapons of mass destruction as well as engage in cyber war, which is why the military has such a critical role in and must be part of, any strategy in the fight against terror.
When dealing with strategy, Naumann stressed the need for preventative measures and being pro-active, rather than reactive. Furthermore, while many terrorists place no value of human lives or laws, military forces are there to protect citizens and have to observe the rule of law set upon them by democracies.
To help resolve the situation, he proposed a strategy of integration and then insulation.
Integration of Muslim communities into the general society would help reduce anti-Muslim feelings. Insulation is the defence and protection of citizens and critical infrastructures such as power stations, transport systems, and lines of communication from attacks by militants.
Integration of Muslim communities into society seems an ideal solution, but is workable only if it is part of an over-arching programme, which includes the education system and begins at the kindergarten level. As a long-term idea it has potential. But for those adults whose values and morals are ingrained in them, it does not seem attainable. However, a certain level of integration could be reached if Imams preached tolerance and promoted more understanding among the congregants of their newly adopted country.
Defence against weapons of mass destruction and cyber attacks, Naumann points out, is a largely uncharted terrain with extensive international co-operation needed towards acquiring an effective response.
A clear message also needs to be sent to terrorists and their supporters: that there is no safe haven for them and that they will be pursued and found wherever they may hide. The US, NATO, the EU and their partners will not tolerate states who offer safe haven to terrorists and that military action could be the consequence for any inappropriate actions.
However, this idea of threatening terrorists with the notion that they have no place to go will have little effect. A case in point is Iraq where, despite the presence of large numbers of allied troops who make regular forays into insurgent territory, there has been little or no reduction in the attacks on the general population and the military.
Syria, though improving in its relations with the West, is still a strong supporter of Hizbullah and has its own agenda when dealing with terror organisations. Furthermore, there is little chance of any military action being taken against Syria or indeed any other nation harbouring terrorists at present, simply because the only nation capable of doing so, the US, has its hands full with Iraq.
Impacts of terrorism on stock markets How terrorism influences the financial markets was the subject of the presentation by Professor Raphael Melnick, an economist from the University of California, who specialises in the economic impact of terrorism.
He noted that within 20 minutes of the 7 July bombings in London, the stock market reacted with a sharp downturn in prices. It soon achieved equilibrium but at a lower level. A similar situation arose after the 11 March bombings in Madrid and here the drop was much greater although the market recovered after a few weeks. Nevertheless, a negative mood was prevalent over the markets and the economic impact was prolonged, more so than in the case of London.
What can be learned from these incidents and how can the economic impact of terrorism be measured?
Not all terror attacks are alike. Not only do we learn from each attack but the terrorists are also learning what type of attack will attain maximum effect. For example, suicide attacks or the targeting of transport nodes seem to have a permanent effect on the stock market, while other forms of attack do not.
The number of victims killed has a permanent effect on the stock market. The market incorporates the new information very swiftly - there is no lag effect and there is no evidence to suggest that the effect of terror on the economy diminishes over time. A firm conclusion that can be drawn is that from an economic point of view terrorism works. For a relatively small 'investment' a terrorist can obtain a large economic impact.
The final point addressed by Melnick is the inter-relationship between the media and terrorism. The media acts like a silent partner to terrorism and also benefits from it, more newspapers are sold after an event.
It is plausible to suggest that the media magnifies terrorism's impact on the economy. Terrorism gets free advertising.
Melnick corroborated this by demonstrating that over the period of the last Intifada in Israel, the amount of space occupied by articles reporting terror attacks amounted to the equivalent of USD11 billion in advertising space. This is equivalent to the combined amount spent on advertising by Proctor and Gamble, GM, McDonalds, and Coca Cola.
He believes that it is plausible to suggest that the impact of terror can be lessened by reducing media coverage on the subject and he finished his speech by posing the speculative and somewhat controversial question: "Is there a democratic way of co-ordinating media coverage in a competitive society?"
Joe Charlaff is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem focusing on homeland security issues.