Lay of the Land reports on the 2023 World Summit on Counter-Terrorism (10-12 September) at Reichman University
By David E. Kaplan
When Israel’s minister of defense, Yoav Gallant, said from the podium at the 2023 World Summit of Counter-Terrorism held at Reichman University in Herzliya that “We have our eyes looking through binoculars and our finger on the trigger,” it set the tone. The countries represented at the Reichman summit all face severe threats to their national security. Some more than others. Israel, most of all!
The day Gallant chose to say this was portentous. After all, the date marked the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 and the Summit was holding a special ceremony for the victims of 9/11 and terrorism worldwide. It was also noted by the Summit moderator and Israeli war veteran Jonathan Davis that the following month would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the fateful Yom Kippur War, where Israel came the closest to being – in the wish off its enemies – “Wiped off the map.”
The message from both cataclysmic events – 9/11 and the Yom Kippur War – was the element of “surprise” and it permeated the 2023 Summit throughout. Both the USA and Israel were caught unprepared and both countries paid a heavy price – physically and psychologically. It forced both countries to recalibrate their respective collective mindsets and has impacted their foreign policies ever since.
Speakers from both countries repeated that the failures before the Yom Kippur War as with 9/11 could be summed up in one word – IMAGINATION or the lack thereof. “We failed to think out of the box and expect the unimaginable,” said one speaker, while another relating, to all the US agencies and departments before 9/11, said. “We each had a piece to the puzzle but we failed to slot them together. Why? Because we were not talking to each other.”
Reichman University’s Counter Terrorism Institute that hosts the World Summit is dedicated to rectifying this. With its lectures, simulations, workshops and networking, the summit is the most influential event in the field of counter-terrorism today. Hardly surprising, the Summit was called:
“SECURING TOMORROW – enhancing the Couter-Terrorism efforts in a changing world”
And towards “Securing Tomorrow”, we heard Israel’s Mossad Director, David Barnea, reveal that Israel’s intelligence services and their foreign partners had foiled in just over the past year- “27 Iranian-orchestrated terrorist plots.”
Showing a video that exposed the deep Iranian involvement in terrorism around the world, including the confessions of terrorists who were sent to attack Israelis and Jews by official Iranian intelligence and security organisations, the Mossad director said, “The Iranian regime is no longer able to deny its involvement.”
He exposed Tehran as having tasked some of the terrorists with targeting specific people and offering thousands of dollars for every Israeli attacked. “The squads that were captured, the weapons that were seized together with them, all had clear targets,” Barnea revealed, noting that the attempts were global “…. in Europe, Africa, the Far East and South America.”
Most importantly, Barnea warned, Iran needs to understand that it “has no immunity.”
The message from the Mossad head was loud and clear:
“I would like to take advantage of this podium to state that any harm done to any Israeli or Jew in any way whatsoever, and I mean in any way whatsoever, via proxy or Iranian alike, will elicit a response against the Iranians who dispatched the terrorists and the policymakers who authorized the terror units. I mean what I say. The price will be exacted from deep inside Iran, in the heart of Tehran.”
These are serious words from a serious man heading a serious organization. Iran – be warned!
From the words of Israel’s national intelligence agency head to the minister of Israel’s defense, Iran was at the centre of the web. No longer shying away from their nefarious activities, Iran today is brazen in its pursuit to blot out the Jewish state.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visually revealed how Iran is establishing an airport in in the Qalaat Jabbour mountain region in southern Lebanon, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Israeli border, which is being used “for terror purposes.”
Standing at the screen and pointing, Gallant continued:
“In the pictures, you can see the Iranian flag flying over the runways, from which the ayatollah regime plans to operate against the citizens of Israel. In other words: the land is Lebanese, the control is Iranian, and the target is Israel.”
This is one lethal cocktail that Israel cannot allow to remain unanswered.
Like Mossad head Barnea’s warning the day before, IDF head Gallant was no less assertive in his warning:
“If it comes to a conflict, we will not hesitate to activate the lethal force of the IDF. Hezbollah and Lebanon will pay heavy and painful prices.”
With talk of not being “surprised” there was one big glaring surprise – and it concerned the Prime Minister. Structuring his career as the flag bearer in the fight against the threat of Iran, it was a surprise to many at the Summit – particularly following Defense Minister Galant’s revelation with aerial photos of the airfield in Qalaat Jabbour in Lebanon which he said was for Iranian ‘terrorist purposes’ – that Netanyahu remains so invested in the ‘Judicial Overhaul’. Many are of the opinion that it is undermining Israel cohesion and deterrence. While Prof. Uriel Reichman, Founding President of Reichman University, in his opening remarks spoke on the damaging impact of Netanyahu judicial overhaul, warning of a potential “explosion”, it was mainly at the panel discussion on ‘Security and Counter-Terrorism Threats to Israel’ that this issue was seriously addressed. Sitting on this panel were Israel’s former, but remaining influential esteemed heavyweights in defense, security and intelligence, namely:
Col. (Res) Omer Bar Lev, Former Minister of Public Security and Former Commander of Sayeret Matkal; Maj. Gen. (Res) Aharon Farkash, Former head of Miliary Intelligence in the IDF; Maj. Gen. (Res) Amos Gilead, Executive Director, Institute for Policy & Strategy; Maj. Gen. (Res) Gershon Hacohen, Former Commander, Northern Corps, and Lt. Gen. (Res) Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon, Former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff.
All spoke persuasively on the major threats – Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas until the last question, which the moderator referred to as “the elephant in the room,” and hence could not be avoided, the judicial overhaul that is undermining Israel’s security. All down this esteemed line, the panelists spoke against Netanyahu’s obsession with the judicial overhaul as being an obstacle to safeguarding Israel from real rather than imagined threats. Israel under its current leadership was unnecessary taking its eye off the ball much to its enemies glee.
Over three days, addressing theatres of conflict and potential conflicts, speakers from the military, intelligence agencies, police forces, academia, diplomacy and think tanks from all over the world, locked horns to work for a more secure future to avoid catastrophic surprises.
We heard from Britain’s Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, FBI director Christopher A. Wray, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland and many theorists and practitioners who have as their goal – to “partner” with Israel to save lives from terrorism.
But for this writer, what sounded most eerily terrifying, particularly in keeping with the Summit’s caution of preparing for the “unimaginable” was the arise in this millennium of “algorithms and terrorism”, which is the malicious use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for terrorist purposes.
Although terrorist organisations have to a certain degree, traditionally tended to employ various forms of “low-tech terrorism” such as firearms, blades and vehicles like in the streets of Israel or unsophisticated projectiles from Gaza, terrorism itself is not static. The nature of this ugly beast is that it is ever-changing. It is an evil that morphs and re-shapes under new guises. The only constant is its goal – the killing of innocent civilians, hence the subhead of the Summit was counter-terrorism for a “changing world” and therefore as AI becomes more widespread, the barriers to entry of potential terrorists will be lowered by less need for technical expertise to employ it. This is frightening as speaker after speaker on this issue in the session ‘GENERATIVE AI – Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism’ cautioned.
Therefore, the question confronting the civilized nations of the world is not a question of “if” but rather of “when” AI will become a major instrument in the terrorist’s toolbox. When that does occur, how will the international community respond?
Today, we see the ugly faces of terrorism. In a less transparent AI world of tomorrow, the terrorists may be faceless – We need to be prepared.
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