By Jose Maria Aznar
When we are about to mark the 40th anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the Olympic Village in Munich, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists, it is a real paradox to see Israel excluded from the first meeting of the Global Counter-terrorism Forum.
This initiative, led by the United States and attended by 29 countries and the European Union, took place last month in an effort to improve the co-ordination of counter-terrorism policies at global level. Why wasn’t Israel invited? The meeting was held in Istanbul and no one wanted to “provoke” the host, the Islamist Government of the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Worse still, in July, the forum organised its first victims-of-terrorism meeting. Not only was Israel excluded, but Israeli victims had no place in its official speeches. When we see deadly terrorist attacks such as the recent one in Bulgaria, targeting tourists simply because they were Israeli, the marginalisation of Israel is totally unacceptable.
As a terrorism victim myself, who was fortunate to survive a car-bomb attack, I cannot understand or justify the marginalisation of other terrorist victims just for political reasons. If we extrapolate Israel’s experience of slaughter to Britain, it would mean that in the past 12 years about 11,000 British citizens would have died and 60,000 would have been injured in terrorist attacks. In the case of the United States, the figures would he 65,000 dead and 300,000 injured. Israel’s ordeal is far from insignificant.
It is even more poignant if one considers Israel’s willingness to face up to terrorism and the practical experience that it has acquired to defeat it. Israel has much to contribute in this area and everyone else has a lot to learn if we really want to defeat the terrorists.
Fiamma Nirenstein, the vice-president of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (and a member of the Friends of Israel Initiative) has made a proposal that is as fair as it is attractive – to hold a moment of silence at the London Olympics in memory of the 1972 massacre. Remembering is important, first, because of the victims, but also because many Europeans adopted the wrong attitude towards Palestinian terrorism after the Munich attack. The culprits who were arrested were later quietly released for fear of further attacks. And because of that initial fear the terrorists knew hose to take advantage of the situation and to press for more rewards.
I have experienced terrorism at first hand. Many of my friends and some political colleagues have been killed by terrorists whose only merit was to have a hood, a gun or a bomb. Nonetheless, even in the most difficult times, I have always believed that weakness and appeasement are the wrong choices. Terrorism is not a natural phenomenon; it doesn’t happen spontaneously; its not something ethereal. It can and must be fought using all the tools provided by the law and democracy – and most importantly, it can be defeated if there is the will to defeat it. Israel has provided ample proof that it possesses that will, since its own existence is at stake.
To marginalise or isolate Israel to avoid irritating Turkey is a big mistake. All of the Middle East, from Morocco to the Gulf, is undergoing profound, although not always peaceful, change, which is yielding very disturbing results. Although the elections in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are something new and promising for the region, Syria is immersed in civil war and there is a danger that the region’s largest arsenal of chemical weapons will spin out of control and become available to anyone – as happened with Libya’s portable anti-aircraft missiles, which disappeared after the fall of of Colonel Gaddafi, In Egypt, the rise of Islamism threatens economic and political stability. Hezbollah is still in Lebanon, keeping alive its goal of eliminating Israel -just as members oft Hamas do in Gaza. Despite sanctions, Iran is moving forward with the development of a nuclear bomb in its effort to become the regional leader and to export its Islamist and revolutionaiy ideology as widely as possible. There are also other areas in turmoil that directly affect Europe, such as the Sahel region of Africa, south of the Sahara, which is now becoming dominated by al-Qaeda.
Isolation not only renders Israel weaker against its enemies, but also makes all Westerners weaker. And the practitioners of terrorism know all too well how to exploit our differences.
Remembering Munich 40 years on should be a useful reminder of our successes and failures. It should help us to enhance our collective abilities to light terrorism. Israel is key in this fight. Israel is a part of the West. Israel is not the problem; it is part of the solution. We will become the problem if we continue to cold-shoulder Israel, the country most affected by terrorism and, possibly, the one that knows best how to defeat it.
Jose Maria Aznar was Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004 and is chairman of the Friends of Israel Initiative.