by Barry Rubin
Let me start with a true story. In 1984 I founded what was just about the first program on terrorism in the
After the grant ended I went to the Ford Foundation office in
This experience came into my mind as I was conversing with a leading world expert on terrorism who asked me an interesting question: Has state sponsorship of terrorism declined nowadays? It was a very good question indeed.
A superficial examination would say that the answer is “Yes.” But a more careful look suggests that this is illusory in two respects. First, the state sponsorship that is continuing is largely overlooked. Second, terrorism has gone big-time and mainstream.
In the old days, a wide range of countries systematically supported terrorism internationally. These particularly included
Then, too, there arose Usama bin Ladin and the many radical Islamist groups that formed part of his organization. The word was that terrorism had been privatized, backed by the bin Ladin family wealth rather than the treasury of any specific country. Moreover, the PLO largely transformed itself into the Palestinian Authority, which negotiated with
Under intensive pressure from
And yet while there has been a decline in state sponsorship in many ways, appearances are also deceiving and even that lull may be partly illusory. Three countries stand out today as especially energetic:
Let’s examine the issue in detail starting with
Why, then, is not this seen globally as a major instance of state sponsorship of terrorism? Because
At the same time,
Perhaps more shocking is the fact that
Lip service is given to
The current defense minister of
Since the emphasis now is on conciliation rather than confrontation, Western governments find it convenient to forget past and ignore present-day state sponsorship of terrorism.
All of this leads to the second point: the mainstreaming of terrorism. Hamas now rules the
Indeed, the advisor to President Barack Obama on terrorism stated that Hizballah couldn’t be a terrorist organization because its membership included lawyers. Further afield, the Sri Lankan terrorist group, the Tamil Tigers, has attained respectability, notably in
Thus, state sponsorship has been airbrushed out for political reasons, while terrorist groups have reinvented themselves as political parties without abandoning their ideology or terrorism. Since terrorism has proven to be so profitable and sponsorship so low cost, it is reasonable to worry that both phenomena will increase in future and that the current period will prove to be a lull and not an end. Unfortunately, it is a lull during which the West is helping to show that these are low-risk, high-yield policies for radical regimes.
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