Gaza & the Legacy of Netanyahu’s ‘War on Terror’

What happened on Oct. 7 represents the collapse of an erroneous doctrine the Israeli leader has consistently promoted throughout his career, writes Hédi Attia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a press conference on board the carrier USS George H.W. Bush in a port visit at Haifa, Israel, on July 3, 2017. (U.S. Navy, Sean Hurt)

By Hédi Attia
International Politics and Society

There’s something familiar about Western reactions to the Hamas attacks Oct. 7.

Commentators comparing the event to what the Americans experienced on Sept. 11 are right, but perhaps the comparison isn’t exactly where they think it is.

The two events have indeed created a climate in which rationality has completely disappeared from public debate, replaced at best by emotion and at worst by hysteria and witch-hunting.

Many observers have, of course, blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government for the events of Oct. 7. But these criticisms were made following a security paradigm first and foremost; pointing, for example, to the fact that Israeli troops were stationed in the West Bank to protect the settlers instead of guarding the border with Gaza.

Yet this narrative misses many essential points. What happened on Oct. 7 was more than a security failure; it was the intellectual collapse of an entire doctrine of anti-terrorism that goes back a long way and that Netanyahu has consistently defended throughout his career.

Decades-Long Obsession 

In a book published in 1986 entitled Terrorism, How the West Can Win, Netanyahu, along with several others (ranging from Israeli generals to orientalist Bernard Lewis), detailed his method for understanding “terrorism” and how to defeat it.

The book was reportedly well received by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who “recommended it to every senior official in his administration and cited it as an influence in his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan contras.”

Nearly 40 years later, “victory against terrorism” is still elusive.

Netanyahu followed up on his first publication in 1995 with a book bearing almost the same title: Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists, in which he developed exactly the same vision.

In the conclusion of his first book, the Israeli prime minister wrote this particularly significant paragraph:

The root cause of terror is bridled violence. This can be traced to a world view that asserts that certain ideological and religious goals justify, indeed demand, the shedding of all moral inhibitions. In this context, the observation that the root cause of terrorism is terrorists is more than a tautology.”

“Terrorism” in this definition is an essence in itself. It cannot be understood, it exists as such. Certain people are violent because they are simply violent, and there is no explanation for that.

There’s no point in contextualising it, reflecting on it or nuancing it. And the only appropriate response can be derived from a security and military point of view.

The underlying idea of such an interpretation is to treat all armed groups in the same way, even if they fundamentally differ. Groups as distinct as Hamas, Hezbollah, Daesh, Al Qaeda, the Colombian FARC and the Kurdish PKK can thus all be lumped together.

In a scathing review of the book, Edward Said wrote that the whole book is unfortunately staked on the premise that the Western democracies and their leaders are gullible, soft and stupid, a condition whose only remedy is that they abandon their ‘Western’ essence and turn violent, hard and ruthless.” 

Said also pointed to the essential aspect of the book’s focus on Arab and Muslim populations, which legitimised the indiscriminate use of violence against them: 

“If you can demonstrate that Libyans, Muslims, Palestinians and Arabs, in general, have no reality other than that which tautologically confirms their terrorist essence as Libyans, Muslims, Palestinians and Arabs, you can continue to attack them, and their ‘terrorist’ states in general, and not question your own behaviour.” 

Said’s words remain highly relevant seeing today’s situation in Gaza.

9/11: A Turning Point

US Army tanks pose for a photo under the “Hands of Victory” in Baghdad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force, John L. Houghton, Jr., Public domain)

Sept. 11 allowed for Netanyahu’s vision to triumph ideologically.

Now was the time for the “clash of civilisations” between the West (or the “free world”) on the one side and the “barbarians” on the other; for war against the “axis of evil;” for freedom-restricting anti-terrorist laws; for the illegal war against Iraq without a U.N. mandate and for the marginalisation of the Palestinian people’s demands.

In a hearing before the U.S. Congress in September 2002, Netanyahu listed a group of countries he suggested should be bombed and their regimes toppled: Iraq, Iran and Libya. Two of them (Iraq and Libya) were bombed — the consequences of which are still being felt today.

Even if he wasn’t able to add Iran to the hit list, Netanyahu managed to derail the nuclear deal thanks to former President Donald Trump. On Iraq, Netanyahu promised: If you eliminate Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that this will have enormous positive repercussions on the region.”

Given the consequences of the Iraq War, this is objectively one of the most embarrassing statements ever made by a political leader in history.

The policies put in place by George W. Bush and the neoconservatives after Sept. 11, 2001 have profoundly changed the world. For the worse.

The wars of invasion against Afghanistan and Iraq were a political, military, strategic and human disaster. The war against Iraq gave birth to Daesh and its atrocities, both in the Arab world and in Europe.

And “terrorism” has still not been defeated — quite the contrary.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any political solution has been ruled out, with the Americans aligning themselves exclusively with the Israeli government. The Palestinians paid a high price for this during the second intifada and its harsh repression.

A New Test & a New Failure

Netanyahu has governed Israel almost without interruption since 2009. His doctrine has not changed, and he has had ample time to implement it methodically. And yet, the attacks of Oct. 7 took place.

It didn’t matter that he locked up 2 million people in an open-air prison, and built walls and barriers with the most advanced technology — it all collapsed like a house of cards in a matter of hours.

This obvious failure, however, still doesn’t seem to provoke the appropriate questioning of the “war against terror.” Bush and the neoconservatives are widely criticised and disqualified in the dominant Western discourse. But their legacy remains, and many political actors continue to adopt their reflexes, even when they are liberals or progressives.

U.S. President Joe Biden warned Israel not to “repeat the same mistakes the United States made after September 11.” But at the same time, he described the Hamas attack as “sheer evil,” an interpretation that is a continuation of Bush’s “fight of good against evil.”

The leader of the British Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said that Israel had the right to cut off water and electricity to Gaza. Such a statement coming from a human rights lawyer speaks volumes about the extent to which we have become accustomed to using military force since 2001 and about the collapse of the principles of international law.

Between their inability to go beyond mere regret for the civilian deaths (without any real political reading of the situation), their indifference to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza or their outright alignment with the Israeli government, most progressive forces in the West seem unable to come up with a clear political response that differs from the use of force advocated by the right.

Everything Netanyahu advocated for has been applied for the past 40 years: a security-based approach, a lack of vision and political reflection, the indiscriminate use of force, and the suspension of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Yet, the “victory” he has promised since 1986 (which he doesn’t even properly define) is still pending. The same person is now waging a war of new-found violence in Gaza, which, according to the International Court of Justice, even raises fears of genocide for the Palestinian population.

The logic of genocide is by no means only a frightening hypothesis, but a perfectly plausible endpoint of Netanyahu’s thinking. When you believe that force alone is enough and that if force doesn’t work out you need even more force, then you enter a spiral where the only way out is the pure and simple suppression of the opposing group.

The world’s reaction clearly does not match the human stakes in Gaza, even though the word “genocide” has now been uttered and should fundamentally change the parameters of the debate.

While we can understand realpolitik and its cynicism, it is difficult to understand and explain why so many leaders in the West persist in aligning themselves with a man, Netanyahu, who has shown for over 40 years that he is systematically wrong.

In a Washington Post article reviewing the 20 years since Sept. 11, Carlos Lozada’s headline reads: “9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed.”

Oct. 7 was also a test. And so far, the whole of the West is failing again.

Hédi Attia is a political scientist and programme manager at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s office in Tunisia.

This article is from International Politics and Society.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect Consortium News. 

15 comments for “Gaza & the Legacy of Netanyahu’s ‘War on Terror’

  1. Evan Hunter
    March 13, 2024 at 12:48

    The War on Terror was not a Netanyahu invention.

    This invention belongs to honorary Democrats like Dubya and Cheney, along with Biden and Hillary and the rest.
    Back after 9-11, Israel jumped on the 9-11, ‘hate-islam’ bandwagon along with the rest of the Democrats who saw this as a means for world domination of Wall Street. At that time, the old thinking on Wall Street was that to dominate oil meant to dominate the world. Thus, the Democrats gave us “operation iraqi liberty’, or “OIL”.

    Netanyahu, and all of Israel, jumped on the “hate-islam”, “war on terror” bandwagon that was started by the ‘centrists’ like Bush, Cheney, Hillary, Biden and their Wall Street Corporate Partners. Netanyahu was just a hitchhiker they picked up along the way.

    And don’t personalize this to Netanyahu. That is of course the classic American mistake. Direct the hate towards a person, and pretend that if you change the figureheads without changing the System then we will all wake up in paradise because we got rid of that evil old hair cut that had been all the problems.

    Most Israelis support the genocide in Gaza, and most are mad that they aren’t getting the war in Lebanon that they are demanding because the snowflakes say they don’t feel safe.

  2. mary-lou
    March 13, 2024 at 12:47

    Keir Starmer was instrumental in fast-tracking the extradition of Julian Assange – hxxps://
    Starmer was, as Director of Public Prosecutions, responsible for the non-prosecution of infamous p*dophile Jimmy Savile [and] just as Savile was to be protected over actual sex crimes, Starmer knew that Assange was to be persecuted over fake sex crime [and] his conduct of the Assange case was entirely corrupt –
    the bog opens….

  3. Frank
    March 13, 2024 at 10:46

    Under international law:
    The occupation is illegal
    The occupied have a right to resist
    If the occupied respond with violent resistance, it is not terrorism.

  4. Butch Blawd
    March 13, 2024 at 09:12

    Inequality is the root problem of the worlds problems IMHO.

  5. Arch Stanton
    March 13, 2024 at 08:58

    9/11 opened the door for Israel to ramp up its ethnic cleansing and persecution of the native Palestinian population. Not only that, it was the harbinger of successive wars aimed at state supporters of Palestinian, namely Iraq, Libya and Syria.
    It also cultivated the demonisation of all Muslims in the western world. All of these events and repercussions were not a coincidence, this was the Zionist plan all along.

  6. DW Bartoo
    March 12, 2024 at 21:46

    In general, this is a much appreciated article and one which I hope might receive greater attention than it, so far, has apparently received.

    I am most curious, however, regarding what definitions the author might offer for his use of “liberal” and, most especially, “progressive”.

    To suggest that such terms simply mean whatever those who use them intend, is rather vague and less than enlightening.

    As well, the author describes Sir Keir Starmer as “a human rights attorney.”

    Starmer was Queen’s Attorney (QA) and primarily responsible for the abuse of Julian Assange in Great Britain, which history is irrefutable.

  7. cjonsson
    March 12, 2024 at 21:06

    Gaza & the Legacy of Netanyahu’s ‘War of Terror and Slaughter’

  8. JohnB
    March 12, 2024 at 16:15

    Cultivating violence for peace and profit..

    State Hospitals should be reopened.

    • Em
      March 13, 2024 at 08:47

      Don’t you mean cultivating violence for a piece of the prophet’s?

      • Evan Hunter
        March 13, 2024 at 13:00

        JohnB has correctly identified that he lives in a Capitalist World. This world is all about profits. In this world, prophets don’t matter, unless they turn a profit.

        This is a world where every person needs money in order to obtain even food, shelter, water, clothing, and in a world where every person is judged and given their class based entirely on how much money they have. In a world where how you got the money does not matter a bit, so thus a prophet trying to teach a person the difference between right and wrong does not matter. In this world, profits matter, but prophets do not matter. Welcome to Capitalism.

  9. BettyK
    March 12, 2024 at 13:46

    IMHO this should be entitled “Gaza & the Legacy of Netanyahu’s ‘War OF Terror’”

    I highly recommend lecture by Journalist David Sheen titled “Messiah Mode” which I believes how Bibi rose to that position.

  10. Gordon Hastie
    March 12, 2024 at 09:32

    The pliant and always-plumbing-new-depths MSM, of course, never questions the complete failure of the idiotic Bibi doctrine, nor that he needs this genocidal war to survive politically and possibly as a free man. Of course the Hague is where he should be.

    • Vera Gottlieb
      March 12, 2024 at 11:58

      I agree with you, but…so far, The Hague has proven rather ineffective. Alas! As long as israel keeps ‘flipping the finger’ to the entire world, not much will change. Alas!

    • Evan Hunter
      March 13, 2024 at 13:11

      The job of the corporate media is not to question. This is what is missed by the diversion of thought into ‘mainstream’ media instead of calling it by its name ‘corporate media’. A small handful of corporations control what we see, read and hear. This is thanks to the work of Reagan and Clinton. The job of any corporate employee is to contribute to the bottom line. The job of any corporate employee is to raise the stock value held by the investors. “Questions” are not in the job description.

      Please get rid of this notion that the corporate media is going to question anything. Their job is to generate profits. Directly by getting eyeballs to view them or read them. Or indirectly by promoting wars and inequality, deaths and famines, that help to make the corporate conglomerate make more profits. Calling them ‘corporate’ media helps lead to this realization, while calling them ‘mainstream’ apparently leads to this constant delusion that they will soon correct themselves because they’ve only been making silly mistakes.

      Bibi does not belong in The Hague. The Hague is a home of kangaroos, but it is not a place of justice. Remember which side the Dutch were on the last time the world had to deal with wars of world domination and acts of genocide. Anne Frank was a Dutch girl. Justice is not found there, only a bunch of silly, hopping kangaroos.

      Besides, calling for Bibi to go to the Hague is really just calling for him to have a Miami Beach Condo along War Criminal Road. Don’t forget that America has its “Hague Invasion Act” (Biden voted for it), and that it covers removing ‘covered allied persons’ from the clutches of the Hague. So, sending Bibi to the Hague is just buying him a condo in Miami Beach, with the US military providing transportation.

  11. Litchfield
    March 11, 2024 at 21:17

    Re “The root cause of terror is bridled violence. This can be traced to a world view that asserts that certain ideological and religious goals justify, indeed demand, the shedding of all moral inhibitions. In this context, the observation that the root cause of terrorism is terrorists is more than a tautology.”

    This of course is actually an apologetic for the Zionists’ use of terrorism to force the “birth” of the State of Israel and to “justify” the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

    This comment of Net’s is total projection.

    It is the Zionists’ terrorism”that certain ideological and religious goals justify, indeed demand.” It is the Zionist cause that demanded and demands “the shedding of all moral inhibitions.” The “moral inhitibitions” that were shed also of course included murder, rape, and coveting and stealing others’ property. In Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, a word that he uses repeatedly is “covet.”

    To covet means more than just to want. It means to want so much that one will offend against the law and against God to take what one covets.

    covet: “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.”

    Any discussion of “terrorism” in the Zionist/Israeli context is totally meaningless and actually misleading absent the premise—the historical truth—that Israel was born of terrorism planned by the Hagana and David Gruen’s “Council” and perpetrated by the Hagana and terrorist gangs (Stern, Irgun, Lehi).

    Every – single – leader of the State of Israel was a terrorist: Ben-Gurion (David Gruen), Shamir, Begin, all of the Hagana (later IDF) generals, Dayan, etc. etc.

    Begin even boasted about being the father of terrorism. The journalist Russell Howe asked him point-blank:

    “”How does it feel, in the light of all that’s going on, to be the father of terrorism in the Middle East?”

    “In the Middle East?” he bellowed, in his thick, cartoon accent. ”In all the world!””

    Cited here:

    The Zionists (and to a certain extent the Jewish victimization narrative) are a classical case of projection. Should be in all psychology text books.

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