Reign of Terror

Terrorism: How the West Can Win

edited by Benjamin Netanyahu
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 254 pp., $18.95

Considered as a book, Terrorism: How the West Can Win is something of a mishmash. Thirty-eight brief essays (some only two or three pages long) by thirty-eight different contributors do not provide the ideal setting for a sustained argument on the problem of terrorism and ways of combating it. Nor do the individual essays, which vary greatly in quality, hang together very well. There is a makeshift character to the book, possibly owing to its origins. The book is based on a conference on terrorism held in 1984 at Washington’s Jonathan Institute (named after Jonathan Netanyahu, the editor’s brother and hero of the dramatic 1976 Israeli rescue mission at Entebbe). Essays on recent terrorist movements in Germany, Japan, and the United States, and in nineteenth-century Russia, stick out incongruously in a book that concentrates primarily on terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Some of the contributors do not always sustain the perspective on terrorism diligently developed by the editor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yet the book has aroused considerable interest. It has been widely reviewed, both showered with praise and bitterly attacked. Time magazine, with much fanfare, published excerpts. Such attention owes something, no doubt, to the current prominence of Mr. Netanyahu, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, who, as an “expert on terrorism,” has been a frequent guest on television news and current affairs programs. It owes something also to timing. The book appears at a moment of heightened concern in this country over both terrorist activities and the Reagan administration’s response to them. Its publication practically coincided with the American raid on Libya.

The attention the book has received must also owe something to the position the editor stakes out in the current debate over the nature of terrorism and the proper Western response to it. Mr. Netanyahu’s editing of Terrorism: How the West Can Win makes no pretense to neutrality or evenhandedness in this debate. On the contrary, the book is militantly partisan, and it has a clearly articulated thesis.

This thesis is most succinctly stated by Mr. Netanyahu himself. Summarized, it might read as follows: International terrorism poses a mortal danger to civilized society; its primary targets are the Western democracies, for democratic societies represent the antithesis of all the terrorist believes in. Terrorists may be Palestinians, Libyans, or Syrians; they may represent a variety of causes; they may be based in Iran, in Algeria, in Cuba, or in Bulgaria. But they are linked in an international terrorist network.

This network survives only because of the material and political support and the safe haven provided by “terrorist states,” most notably Syria, Libya, Iran, and South Yemen. But the looming presence behind international terrorism is the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Indeed, terrorism and totalitarianism are genetically interlinked:

Modern terrorism [Netanyahu writes] has its roots in two movements that have assumed international prominence in the second half of the twentieth century, communist totalitarianism and Islamic (and Arab) radicalism. These forces have given terrorism …

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