Want to counteract terrorism Get tough on terrorists!

Israel's election campaign is behind us. The winter storms have stripped the walls of the presumptuous slogan: "Let the IDF win!" I doubt anyone today would dare rehang such signs. As we all know, the Israel Defense Force's purpose is not fighting terrorism and the IDF's general staff has no wonder cures to make such a victory possible.

We are between the Ehud Barak government and the Ariel Sharon government. These are days of rest from the incitement and rabble-rousing of politicians who exploit the public's distress and anxiety to turn themselves a quick and easy profit. This is an opportunity to examine the security challenge and the range of ways available to deal with it.

Israel has been facing Palestinian terrorism for at least 50 years and has some of the most extensive experience in this field in the world. We learned the hard way — Israel does not have a military solution to uproot the scourge of terrorism.

*The simplest and most promising solution to stopping terrorism is, of course, the political solution arrangements and agreements that neutralize the motives feeding terrorism. While this may be the best solution, it also requires us to change our policy. It requires an admission that the existing policy is wrong, and might even require explaining the change by the emergence of new conditions and circumstances.

*The most effective military solution is deterrence. In practice, there are two different targets for deterrence. The first is the attackers themselves. They can be deterred by the direct punishment of the attacking terrorists, with the maximum punishment possible being the death penalty. Israel has so far avoided imposing and implementing death sentences on terrorists (even though the law allows it). There is always someone who proposes imposing death sentences in extreme cases, and the policy is repeatedly reviewed and upheld.

*The second target is punishing the terrorists' families or damaging their close surroundings, based on the hope and assumption that the desire to spare their family and friends intense suffering will deter terrorists from acting. However, this cannot be achieved without draconian measures, nor could it occur without especially extreme circumstances. The only effective experience we know from modern history is the Nazi occupation of Europe. Needless to say, nobody is suggesting Israel decide on such atrocities. Environmental punishments that are not on that level might lead to the opposite outcome. They increase hatred and the willingness to embark on terrorist missions.

*Another target of deterrence is the government of the country out of which the terrorism operates. Such governments will face a tough choice: They will have to choose between a resolute war against the attackers, forcing the host government to rely on the local population and demand that it not aid and abet the terrorists. Or they will be faced with a tough alternative, absorbing the blows the IDF will impose on their government or military facilities, or its vital economic infrastructures.

*Another course of action is to thwart the terrorists' attempts to strike. This is seemingly the best policy, but it is also the one with the lowest chances of success. This is where the great advantages of terrorist warfare come into play compared with conventional military warfare. In such a war, neither quantitative power ratios nor gaps in types of munitions have meaning. It is the terrorist who chooses the target, the timing and the method. Palestinian terrorists excel at seeking the easiest targets — whether Israeli or Jewish targets in the diaspora.

Almost the only way to succeed in foiling attacks is having reliable, accurate and up-to-date intelligence. Again, in contrast to a facing a standing army, this strategy requires reaching the actual executing cell, or even the individual terrorist.

*Another mode of action is attack. Palestinian-Arab terrorism against Israel mostly operates from outside Israeli territory. This gives the terrorists a big advantage — they can operate in deluxe conditions. They do not have to operate in secret: They can recruit, arm, organize, train and even live nearly normal family lives. Attacking them — their bases, their headquarters, their offices, their commanders and their key operators — changes the rules of the game and requires the terrorists to put some effort into hiding and defending themselves, which creates some balance in the mutual attrition.

*The last and least purposeful option is defense. It is necessary to guard selected targets — vital government and transportation facilities, etc. But it is nearly useless to try to protect and guard every potential target of terrorism — every public institution, market stall, store, house, bus and car on the roads, and every bus stop. We will not prevent attack that way, but we must remember, the impact and success of terrorist activity is not measured by the number of fighters it uses or the number of weapons they have, but by the extent of enemy forces it manages to confine.

*Finally, of course, comes the "cocktail" that combines all of these choices.

Arab-Palestinian terrorism against Israel is only one aspect of the all-out war we are fighting. We do not, nor does the IDF, have the ability to win this war. In the end we will reach a political settlement that removes the motives for war and terrorism. Still, the fight itself is extremely important. We have to get through it as little worn out as possible. We must not reach the negotiating table from a position of weakness.