Has Israel joined the ‘terrorist state’ list?

If Israel can have a terrorist as its national security minister does this make it a ‘terrorist state’? Hmmm, an interesting question.

I have a confession to make. There is something when it comes to terrorism that I REALLY hate. OK, in fairness, there is a lot about terrorism that I dislike, but this one aspect really gets my goat. What is it, you may ask?

The phrase ‘terrorist state’.

This moniker gets used a lot and is not a good reflection of what terrorism actually is. Nor does it help us deal with this form of ideological violence, all too prevalent in our world. Even if the term terrorism itself is next to impossible to nail down – there are so many definitions around that I have lost count – expanding it to include states is misguided.

Remember when President Bush (the second, not the first) came up with the ‘Axis of Evil’ line after 9/11? Iran, Iraq and North Korea somehow made it onto this list of states which were run by terrorists, even though they were a motley crew with nothing in common (Iraq was a Sunni dictatorship under ‘President’ Saddam Hussein, Iran was a theocratic regime run by ayatollahs, and North Korea….was North Korea). To boot, the phrase was crafted by a Canadian (David Frum, a presidential speechwriter), not our proudest moment! in the Great White North!

To say that a country is akin to a terrorist group leads to all kinds of questions. Terrorist groups are small-ish, exist only to use violence to right (perceived) wrongs, are ideologically-driven, and cause a lot of mayhem. Nations are clearly much larger, have lots of responsibilities, are rarely impelled only by ideas and may cause other nations headaches but not in the way terrorists do. The description of a country as a terrorist is thus problematic.

This, however, has not stopped other leaders from using this rhetorical tool. According to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Ukraine is a terrorist state, while according to his counterpart Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy it is Russia that deserves the title (and the EU seems to agree). He said, she said. Furthermore, using terrorism accusations during wartime leads to all kinds of other issues. War may indeed be the worst form of mass violence we humans are capable of, but it is most decidedly NOT terrorism. I suggest we stop adding to the growing rota of terrorist states.

Which brings me to Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – again! How many times has HE been in the chair? – has just named a terrorist as his national security minister. I am referring to Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right racist who was a fan of racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the Kach party, itself dubbed a terrorist group in the US (Kahane was killed by a probable Egyptian terrorist El Sayyid Nosair in New York in 1990). Ben-Gvir was himself convicted of offences that include inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organisation. And he is now responsible for national security? Huh?

Not only does this bode poorly for the future of Israel-Palestine talks, which have not been going well since Jesus Christ was a carpenter anyway, but it demonstrates how little the current head of Israel cares about national security. Which is a shame since Israel does face significant threats that must be dealt with. Putting an arsonist in charge of fire suppression is seldom a good idea!

While past performance is no predictor of future acts it certainly seems possible that Ben-Gvir will support an increased in ‘settlers’ into the West Bank, bleeding ever more land from any Palestinian state, and turn a blind eye to – if not actively encourage – acts of violent extremism by hardcore Jewish Orthodox elements. Lest you need reminding, serious violence in the name of religion is one of the fundamental building blocks of terrorism (at least it is in Canada).

As a consequence, do we need to add Israel to the list of terrorist states? I would not put it there, but I would also deep six the term in any event. Suffice to say that the next few years will see more violence in Israel and Palestine – not that I win any prizes for making THAT prediction – and the choice of an extremist as national security minister will fan the flames.

Maybe we should call him arsonist in chief.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

3 replies on “Has Israel joined the ‘terrorist state’ list?”

Well done Phil – an even-handed analysis of the abuses of the term “terrorism” in the quagmire that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only point I would add is that one is on thin ice if Ben-Gvir is condemned as minister before he actually does anything as minister. Now I agree that Ben-Gvir’s record to date is absolutely appalling and so definitely warrants concern. Netanyahu, on the other hand, exhibits awful judgement by appointing someone like Ben-Gvir to head a powerful department. Which brings to mind something I was told by a trainer of Fauda-type squads during Netanyahu’s very first term as Prime Minister. I asked the trainer what he thought of Netanyahu and he answered that he lacked “wisdom”. I agree and think this character deficit has become more evident and more problematic in his subsequent terms as prime minister leading us to the current situation.

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