Terrorism and Counterterrorism - The emergence of international terrorism

Terrorists continued to use the tactics of their historical predecessors: setting off bombs in public places, assassinating officials, kidnapping individuals to demand political concessions or ransom payments. But a new phenomenon, international terrorism, began with a series of spectacular attacks in the late 1960s. In 1968, Palestinians hijacked an El Al jetliner and flew it to Algeria, where they demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. This began a wave of hijackings to obtain political concessions. In 1969 urban guerrillas in Brazil kidnapped the U.S. ambassador, later releasing him in return for the release of fifteen comrades imprisoned in Brazil. The tactic quickly spread throughout the world. In the following twelve months, diplomats were kidnapped in Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Jordan.

In February 1970 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) sabotaged a Swissair flight to Tel Aviv, killing all forty-seven persons on board. In September 1970 the same group hijacked three airliners bound for Europe and diverted them to Jordan. In May 1972 three members of the Japanese Red Army, a group allied with the PFLP, attacked passengers at Israel's Lod Airport, killing twenty-five and wounding seventy-six. And in September of that year, members of Black September, another Middle Eastern group, seized nine Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Five of the terrorists and all nine of the hostages were killed in a disastrous rescue attempt by German police. The three surviving terrorists were traded for hostages aboard a Lufthansa flight hijacked the next month.

International terrorism emerged from a confluence of political circumstances and technological process. In the Middle East, Israel's defeat of the Arab armies in the Six-Day War of 1967 and the inability of Palestinians to mount an effective resistance movement in the territories newly occupied by Israel pushed them toward the use of terrorist tactics. Their mentors were the Algerian revolutionaries who in the fight for independence had carried their own terrorist campaign to France itself. For the Palestinians, anyone anywhere in the world who supported Israel's continued existence became a potential target, greatly broadening the theater of operations.

Inspired by the success of the Cuban revolution but unable to replicate its success, Latin America's guerrillas moved their struggle from the countryside into the cities. They replaced traditional guerrilla warfare with bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings, which guaranteed them national and international attention. Spectacular action took the place of patient political mobilization. At the same time, the Vietnam War sparked a new wave of revolutionary fervor that spread through the universities of Europe, Japan, and the United States. Mass protest movements spawned small groups on their extremist fringes that were determined to pursue a more violent struggle. These extremist groups emulated the tactics of their ideological counterparts in Latin America and the Middle East.

Changes in the technological environment during the 1970s also facilitated international terrorism. Jet air travel offered terrorists worldwide mobility and, with it, opportunities to strike targets anywhere. Television and the deployment of communications satellites offered terrorists almost instantaneous access to a global audience. By choreographing dramatic incidents of violence and hostage situations in which human life hung in the balance, terrorists could guarantee worldwide press coverage for their acts and their causes. The diffusion of small arms around the world and of increasingly powerful explosives and sophisticated detonating devices took terrorists far beyond the capacity of the early bomb throwers. Modern technology-dependent societies offered numerous vulnerabilities, from power grids to jumbo jets.

The relationship of all these incidents to one another was not self-evident at the time. Beyond the similarity in tactics, there was no obvious connection between a kidnapping in Uruguay, a bombing in Germany, and a hijacking in Africa. Why should actions carried out by persons who called themselves Tupamaros, Montoneros, the Red Brigades, or the Japanese Red Army be addressed within the same analytical and policy framework? International terrorism was an artificial construct useful for policy purposes. While recognizing the diversity of the terrorists and their causes, it identified their actions in the international domain as a mutual problem for all nations.

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