Friday, November 27, 2009

Lesson from the Irgun: terror works

Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger have written an interesting book called “Jewish Terrorism in Israel”. No one group can lay claim to the methods and tactics of terror, but the Irgun still looms large as lesson givers.

...and their young leader from 1943-48, Menachem Begin, has a legacy still influential in Israeli politics…after all, the Party he founded (Likud) rules today.

Bring the terror of war directly to the civilian populace, directly to the enemy’s compound, strike with indiscriminate lethal methods, create fear, and operate outside the rule of law. These seem to be lessons learned by many. In the case of Menachem Begin, the lesson is that unorthodox methods while criminal can in fact lead a path to eventual legitimacy and the creation of a state. We cannot rewrite history or hide this particular narrative…it is. The Irgun was to the British Forces in Palestine a criminal ruthless element. Use the irrelevant label terrorists if you desire. The Irgun was fighting for statehood.

These methods are carried out by people and it is in examining the people where Doctors Pedahzur (professor at Univ. Texas, Austin) and Perlinger (professor at State Univ. of NY, Stony Brook) have made this subject of terrorism a personified concept. When people marginalize themselves from society or as in Begin’s case as a young man, become marginalized based upon events, desperation fuels extreme behaviors. Social networking is a new Internet buzzword, perhaps, but the concept helps to explain terror cells and how fundamentally, they are groups of like minded people with similar experiences. Their book goes far beyond examining the Irgun but subsequent movements have a definite thread to the influential early organization.

Terror works. It’s hard to convince people otherwise. One wonders if Yasser Arafat as a young man learned from his enemy, Begin. Did Arafat learn from the Algerians success against the French? Did the Algerians learn from the Irgun? Did Shamil Basayev of Chechnya learn from Begin? Did the French Maquis (Resistance) influence the bomb makers of the Irgun? Maybe this artform was born in Ireland with Michael Collins’ flying columns of 1916? It all worked.

There’s much written today about counterinsurgency. We’ll probably hear President Obama give us a lesson next week…a teachable moment, but this complex formula for success, terrorism, as horrendous as it is, has more to teach us. Like nuclear weapons, methods of terror create fear and uncertainty and influence politics. And as long as world powers continue to kill civilians with conventional forces, the insurgents will have ample recruiting posters. What do these fighters want?

The Irgun’s successful operations against the British, ’44-48, during the Mandate in Palestine remain an influential lesson for Israelis as well as those who would wish them harm.

Jewish Terrorism in Israel

Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger
November, 2009
Cloth, 264 pages, 3 figures
ISBN: 978-0-231-15446-8

a reference for further reading about the Irgun or Etzel, I.Z.L.

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