Text size

Civil aviation's worst nightmare came true Thursday in Mombasa, Kenya. Two Strela missiles were launched toward a plane which had taken off with hundreds of passengers. This time, the missiles missed Arkia's 757 Boeing jet, but the message sent to the states of the free world is sharp and clear: only a global, relentless, focused, coordinated and ongoing campaign against world terrorism may be able to save their citizens' way of life. Radical Islamic terrorism has declared a world war on Western culture, and the West must fight back. This time, the target was an Israeli passenger plane, but there is no reason that the next time it will not be a European or American aircraft. Civil aviation is the prominent manifestation of the West which al-Qaida, al-Itihad and their like want to smash.

From the moment terrorists decided to cross the red line of intercepting civilian aircraft from the land, civil aviation are facing a challenge with which the airlines alone will not be able to deal. In contrast to hijacking - which characterized Palestinian organizations' fight against civil aviation beginning already at the end of the 1960s - it is much harder to prevent launching a missile toward a plane taking off or landing.

The Strela missiles launched at the Arkia plane have a range of more than five kilometers. It is impossible to maintain effective surveillance of some 80 sq.km. around airports worldwide with regular 24-hours-a-day land patrols. Therefore, until the fight against world terrorism ends, it will be necessary to step up to a large extent the use of patrol helicopters equipped with advanced detection systems.

The price of a Strela missile in the free market is only $200,000. Its weight is less than 10 kg., it can easily be hidden in an ordinary car, and a single person can launch it without significant training. American-made Stinger missiles, whose performance is better, pose an even greater threat. During the war waged by the Mujahedin in the 1980s against the Soviet army, the CIA gave them more than 1,000 Stinger missiles. Hundreds of them fell into the hands of terrorists. This is the bad news. The good news is that only a few organizations have the infrastructure, operative capability and especially the ideology to enable carrying out an operation involving missiles. These organizations must be the target of the global war against terrorism.

One should hope that the terrorist act in Kenya will arouse the Western states. As al-Qaida's attack on September 11, 2001 made Americans recognize the danger of world terrorism, the Mombasa attack should wake up the states which have not yet internalized the need to join this important war against those who are out to get them. The writing, by the way, was on the wall, but the West ignored it. In the 1990s, a few Russian passenger airplanes were intercepted with missiles of the same model launched in Kenya, by terrorist groups from the former Soviet republics. In 1994, a Strela missile intercepted the plane flying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. But those incidents always seemed to be taking place so far away that European capitals simply ignored them.

The war on Islamic terrorist organizations must be waged on two parallel tracks - against the organizations themselves and against the states helping them. These states must be treated more harshly than the states equipping themselves with chemical or biological weapons. The threat of Islamic terror must be defined as more dangerous than mass destruction weapons. A state in which terror cells act and which does not try to liquidate them will be defined as an enemy. It will be a tough, long and frustrating war, but an inevitable one.

It will require much more efficient intelligence coordination than that which exists today. It appears the Australian intelligence had reports of an expected terrorist attack in Kenya, and the Australian Foreign Ministry warned on November 13 that Australian citizens should not visit Kenya, even calling on Australians in Mombasa to consider leaving the area. However, it is not clear whether this information was also passed on to other states. Coordination will also be required in policing activity of the states in which there is terrorist activity and in supervising the transfer of funds worldwide.

The free world's chances of succeeding in the war against world terrorism are still good. At this stage we are still dealing with small organizations that will atrophy once their support and financial sources are cut off. But victory is possible only if Europe's leaders recognize the fact that their states are also already in the midst of a war no less important than the two world wars of the previous century (the American administration has already recognized this). It should be hoped that the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and their colleagues in western Europe will not delay their decision to join the war against terrorism until a shoulder missile is launched toward a plane taking off from one of their cities. At the same time, the western states must act simultaneously, and in cooperation with the Islamic world, to neutralize the ideological and social sources of this insane and dangerous terrorism.