It’s very hard to believe that Saturday night’s combined stabbing and car-ramming attack in London, which killed seven people, will be the last of its kind in Britain or in Europe in general. Radical Sunni terrorist organizations – the Islamic State, Al-Qaida and their imitators – currently have a fairly large reservoir of potential terrorists at their disposal from among young Muslim citizens of European countries and sometimes also Arab refugees who have fled the Middle East’s upheavals for the West.
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Attacks that don’t involve guns or bombs require no training, nor do they even require real recruitment by a terrorist organization. All that’s necessary is brainwashing by a local imam or an internet forum, as was also evident in the wave of terror that began in Israel and the West Bank in October 2015.
In contrast, the terrorist behind the recent suicide bombing in Manchester, Salman Abedi, underwent training in an Islamic State camp in Libya. But there are enough young Muslim men traveling from Europe to Syria, Iraq and Libya and back again to ensure there will be volunteers for further attacks of this type as well.
Israeli researcher Aviv Oreg, who specializes in global jihad organizations, says that Libyan terrorists are currently coordinating the Islamic State’s overseas terror attacks, and they are also the ones who trained the leaders of the cells responsible for major attacks in Paris and Brussels over the last two years. Late last year, due to its losses in Iraq and Syria, the organization moved its headquarters to Libya and set up a network of training bases and bomb-making workshops, he added.
Making the West pay for the wars it is battling in the Middle East is a declared goal of the Islamic State, as it was of Al-Qaida. As the pressure on ISIS mounts, so does the group's desire to strike European and American cities. This is a sort of intifada in Europe, and "lone wolves" and terror cells are taking part in it.
Israelis’ somewhat Pavlovian response to terrorist attacks in Europe, which reemerged Sunday morning following the London attack, reflects a failure to understand the British reality. As I’ve noted before, Britain, unlike some other Western European countries, uses a significant number of the same counterterrorism tactics as Israel. Even though they missed the trail of warning signs left by the Manchester bomber, Britain’s intelligence services are highly regarded by their Western colleagues and engage in extensive intelligence sharing and cooperation with Israeli intelligence as well.
Based on photographs and eyewitness testimony from the site of the London attack on Saturday night, it seems the British are currently in the midst of a gradual process of arming police officers who patrol the streets, breaking with the kingdom’s decades-old tradition. The presence of armed police officers and even soldiers can lead to a terrorist being taken down quicker once he starts his attack. And Britons, too, understand that the longer a shooting or car-ramming attack goes on, the higher the number of casualties will be.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is facing an election later this week, hastened to exploit the attack to call for eliminating Islamic terrorists' “safe spaces” on the internet – or in other words, to impose rules that will force major technology corporations to violate users’ privacy. Israel, as Haaretz has reported in the past, already uses similar tactics against Palestinians in the territories, but those are not its own citizens. If May tries to promote a similar process, it will probably spark a fierce debate over the boundaries of the security services’ powers.
America’s number one tweeter also woke up antsy on Sunday morning, and his sentiments were rather similar to some of the responses heard in Israel. U.S. President Donald Trump mocked the measured response by London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and utilized the attack to justify his opposition to restrictions on carrying guns.
Trump isn’t likely to serve as a model of responsibility and judgment for the British people, who invented the restrained response of the stiff upper lip and managed to maintain it even during the London Blitz. Britain’s response to the recent wave of horrific terror – practical, resolute and largely devoid of hysteria – is actually admirable and inspiring.
Given the damage Trump has caused over the last month alone by revealing information about a valuable source of intelligence on the Islamic State – an Israeli source, according to the U.S. media – it might be better for the president, too, to practice a bit of restraint. Saturday night once again found Western intelligence services unprepared for an attack by Islamic terrorists. It would be interesting to discover whether the president’s incessant prattle on Twitter, in media statements or in private talks with his Russian friends has left the West more vulnerable to such attacks.