Belgium’s justice minister came in for a fair bit of stick this week over some injudicious observations regarding the Nov. 13 Islamist terrorist massacre in Paris.
“It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums or police stations, it’s mass gatherings and public places,” said Koen Geens, as he tried to encapsulate the deadliest security dilemma that Europe has faced since the height of the Cold War.
Of all the obvious terrorist targets that Geens could have picked, he chose two that were distinctly Jewish among a list of three. To some ears, it sounded suspiciously like Geens was saying that terrorist attacks on Jews were atrocities that one could, with regret, live with, so long as they didn’t then spiral into similar attacks upon the broader populace.
As distasteful as some may have found Geens’s phrasing, in technical terms, this Belgian minister—a member of a government that must be smarting from continuing references to its territory as the “weakest link” in Europe’s battle with jihadi terror—is absolutely correct. With life in Brussels mothballed for several days by credible threats of a Paris-style assault in multiple locations, the Islamists have sent the unmistakable message that no mass gathering and no public place is safe. This, the Islamists know well, is how submission starts.
Yet picking a target in response is not as it easy as one might think. Islamic State is a monstrous perversion of everything that is human, but it is also the product of a broader context; one, chiefly, in which Russian, Iranian, and Turkish regional ambitions are now starting to clash. Everyone is fighting fake wars against Islamic State: the real goal of the Russians is to preserve the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, the real goal of the Turks is to crush Kurdish aspirations for self-determination, and the real goal of the Iranians is to position themselves as the dominant power in the Muslim world.
In this melee, the West has signally failed to stake out its own position; namely, that the destruction of the Assad regime and the elimination of Iran’s ability to finance terror is a necessary condition for the destruction of Islamic State. We are closer, in fact, to a partnership with Iran, the most loyal backer of Assad, in the limited war being waged on Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq.
Victims of terrorism I’ve been speaking with find all this deeply frustrating. “Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror. To call them a partner in fighting Islamic State will only allow them to retain the crown,” said Daniel Miller, who survived a 1997 terror attack carried out by Hamas on Jerusalem’s busy Ben Yehuda Street.
Miller strongly believes that the campaign to cut terrorism financing is the best way for those frustrated with western dithering to make their voices heard. In 2003, Miller and other victims of Iranian-backed terror won a default judgment of over $300 million against the Tehran regime, but the lack of tangible Iranian assets in the U.S. is one reason why the reparations haven’t been collected.
That’s why, in his recent testimony to Congress, Miller declared himself “shocked and horrified to learn that the terms of [the nuclear deal with Iran] include unfreezing more than $100 billion in Iranian oil revenues and handing it over to the party responsible for devastating the lives of so many.”
“If Iran can’t supply money, then Iran can’t sponsor terror attacks,” Miller told me. But, he added, that method can only work if sufficient resolve is shown by the U.S. government to go after Tehran’s assets—and that resolve is glaringly conspicuous by its absence.
Miller emphasizes that the sources of Islamic State funding should be pursued with the same vigor that he’s working for in the case of Iran. It’s a view echoed by Sarri Singer, an American citizen wounded in the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus in 2003. “All terrorist groups are the same to me,” said Singer, whose “Strength to Strength” network offer counseling to victims of terrorist attacks. “And they all need money, which is why we have to cut off the financial supply line. I don’t want any more innocent people to have to join this club of terror victims.”
While American victims of terror can have some trust in their courts, in other countries, justice is more elusive. Nobody, for example, has been convicted for the 1994 Iranian-backed bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered, while the investigation into the suspicious death of AMIA investigator Alberto Nisman in January this year has gone nowhere. Argentina now has a centrist, pragmatic president in the form of Mauricio Macri, who has already announced that he is breaking with the pro-Iranian leanings of his predecessor, but he won’t pursue the AMIA bombers on his own. The next American administration, however, could conceivably offer him a hand in doing so.
“We should be helping people in all countries, because the overall goal is to defund terrorism,” Daniel Miller told me. “I’m a civilized person, I’m not going to go and blow up an Iranian target, so the only path left to me is to go after their money. If another country experiences the kind of horrific terrorism I experienced in Israel, as Argentina did, then the more we need them as a partner.”
I can’t express the importance of this cause any more clearly than these victims of terror have done. But I can add that they have a strategy for response—and that, in this time of declining American leadership, is something worth noting.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).