I recently spent 10 days in Israel broadcasting my radio and television shows from the Jerusalem Post studios. During that trip, I had a chance to talk with former Israeli prime minister and current finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. During the conversation, Netanyahu drew on his personal experiences to shed light on our own war against terror.
The conversation took place in Netanyahu's sparse and deceivingly normal office.
"I told the decorators they could do whatever they wanted with my office, so long as they didn't spend any money," explained Netanyahu. His only flourish: The walls are studded with pictures of great leaders, from Winston Churchill to Ronald Reagan to George Bush (senior), the last of which a precocious and determined 28-year-old Netanyahu managed to snag as a guest for his 1979 international conference on fighting terror. Netanyahu used the event as a vehicle to articulate two rather revolutionary ideas on the nature of terrorism: 1) that terror was not the work of individuals but the work of states that finance terrorists; 2) terrorists use the language of human rights to crush human rights and that the instrument of terrorism inevitably leads to tyrannical governments.
In regard to the latter, Netanyahu explained that terrorism is predicated on the idea that you can obliterate all human rights - blow up babies, bomb public buses - for what is supposedly a higher cause. Such brutal and arbitrary terror, he surmised, is the raw material of mass tyranny. "Terrorism requires you to suspend normal morality for the sake of a supposedly higher cause. And when you do that, you have no morality and no cause and eventually no freedom, because the people who are willing to obliterate all human rights are not going to establish democracy when they win."
The examples of Iran and Iraq have since borne out this observation. At the time, however, the idea was deemed radical by academics who had difficulty distinguishing terrorists from freedom fighters. Netanyahu's decisive crackdown on terrorist organizations during his term as prime minister elicited similar criticisms.