Terror in Europe

How Israel Became A Role Model In Fighting Terrorism

Since its creation, the Hebrew state has adapted to a permanent terrorist threat, thanks to a dynamic model of which the central elements are intelligence and the involvement of the civil society.

Israeli soldiers patrolling a street in the Palestinian city of Nablus in May 2016
Nathalie Hamou

​PARIS â€" In the wake of last month's tragedy in Nice, just like after the attacks in Paris on November 13th, the same solution was put forward for France: “the Israeli model,” where the terrorist threat is part of daily life.

In Tel Aviv, military experts invited on television sets appeared to be modest, avoiding any kind of reference to an “Israeli anti-terrorist model.” The Jewish state, whose people have been through seven wars and two intifadas since its creation, has become a textbook case for how to handle a permanent state of insecurity. This expertise could be a source of inspiration for European decision-makers.

In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Cannes mayor David Lisnard called upon former Israeli Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel to help local authorities and emergency intervention teams prepare for a possible attack during the world-famous Cannes film festival. Last April Nuriel, who also headed Israel's anti-terrorism bureau from 2007 to 2012, conducted a terror simulation at the festival’s convention center to test the city’s reinforced security measures. He had previously carried out an audit based on lessons learned from the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2004 Madrid bombings, the two disasters professionals remember most.

One of his recommendations was to “secure the seafront” and enhance controls on all land and sea access points to the city of Cannes. Asked about the Nice attack, he told Les Échos: “I have the feeling France wasn’t really prepared for such a disaster.”

Ben Gurion, the world’s safest airport

In the past 18 months, delegations of countries struck by terrorism have been visiting Israel's Ben Gurion International airport â€" considered the world's safest â€" to assess the country's fight against terrorism. A country where homeland security isn’t the responsibility of the army, but of intelligence services and the police.

In February, former Nice mayor Christian Estrosi traveled to Israel, where he met the CEO of the Eagle Security and Defense company Giora Eiland, also the former director of the Israeli National Security Council. During his visit, Estrosi insisted on the need “to be at the forefront of the fight through intelligence against cybercrime, considering that radicalization is done through social networks.” A field in which the Jewish state excels, as it is one of the world’s pre-eminent cyber-powers along with the United States, China, Russia and the United Kingdom.

A third intifada?

Why is the Israeli approach so efficient? "For decades, Israel has been confronted with a multiform and disseminated threat," says David Khalfa, research associate for the think tank IPSE. "The country has suffered a series of terror attacks with an ever-changing modus operandi. Israel's anti-terrorism strategy has had to permanently adapt by taking on an approach based on anticipation and rapidity of reaction, with mixed results, but countries faced with an important terror threat are scrutinizing this experience," he says.

According to Khalfa, this threat has gone through important changes over four broad periods of time: First the 1970s with the attacks from the Palestinian fedayeen; then the time of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and its wave of suicide attacks; followed by the post-Oslo years during which Israel â€" faced with the second intifada â€" found itself targeted by rocket or missile fire from Hamas and Hezbollah; and now, the more recent escalation of car-ramming or knife attacks.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in 2015 raised fears of a third intifada. Photo: Ashraf Amra/ZUMA

"Israeli anti-terrorism is based on defensive modes of action, such as safety barriers and military checkpoints, as well as offensive ones like infiltrations, preventive arrests, and targeted killings. This double-edged approach, coupled with its security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, allowed Israel to significantly bring down the number of major scale attacks, even though small-scale attacks by Palestinians with rudimentary means have taken over in the last few months," says Khalfa.

Intelligence as the cornerstone

The cornerstone of Israel's anti-terrorism system is the intelligence apparatus, which works in concentric circles: in the West Bank, at Israel's borders, and inside the country. Inside Israeli cities, the Jewish state relies on elite counter-terrorism units placed under police command, except for the former riot police unit Yasam, which now patrols on motorbikes inside Israel and directly answers to Shin Bet, the internal security service.

Israel can thus react extremely quickly in case of an attack, and Israeli civil society plays an especially important part in fighting terrorism. The army plays a crucial role, as every young Israeli is required to serve three years â€" two for women â€" under the flag. But there's also the fact that the authorities have made it easier to carry weapons, meaning that civilians can respond more quickly when there's an attack, not to mention the private protection companies which mushroomed at the beginning of the second intifada and its suicide attacks.

"The public's awareness and resilience are a key asset," explains Boaz Ganor, director of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The authorities take many preventive measures, such as banning vehicles from circulating in entire areas altogether during major events and gatherings. Checkpoints and barricades are also erected, an action plan that was reinforced during the recent wave of terror attacks that killed more than 31 Israelis, 4 foreigners and 207 Palestinians, including 130 assailants, since the fall of 2015.

A population aware of the risk

While this cycle of violence has produced 140 attacks with knives, guns or ramming cars initiated mostly by young Palestinians considered "lone wolves," it hasn't had the same psychological impact as the suicide bombings of the second intifada. "We've experienced worse but the "knife intifada" has broken a run of six years of relative calm," says Ely Karmon, research director at the ICT. As a matter of fact, Israeli security forces have found themselves helpless against Palestinian assailants aged between 13 and 20, unknown to the intelligence services and acting mostly alone. But as usual, the operational adjustment has been swift: Blocks of concrete or metal rods were installed at bus stops to protect commuters and stop ramming attacks against exposed pedestrians, and the authorities raised awareness among the population.

Another defensive approach that's evolving is the monitoring of social networks. "Israel has invested heavily in this area," explains Khalfa. "Especially since it noticed the growth of ISIS's influence on certain young, self-radicalized Palestinians, for whom the fight is more in line with jihadism, as was recently observed in the attack in Tel Aviv's Sarona market."

That attack, on June 8, was carried out by two cousins from a West Bank village south of Hebron. They opened fire on people sitting at the terrace of a chocolate shop, killing four and wounding about fifteen people. According to Shin Bet's investigation, the two terrorists had decided to carry out an ISIS-inspired attack, but hadn't been officially recruited by the terror organization nor had they received help in the process. Against such attacks, even Israel hasn't found a solution yet.

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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