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How Israel Prevents Terrorist Attacks and What the US Can Learn from Them

Prof. Boaz Ganor, director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Photo, YouTube

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered condolences, prayer and hope in response to Tuesday's terror attack in Manhattan, which left eight dead and more than a dozen wounded.

"To President Trump, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio: We stand with our friends in New York and all Americans following yet another horrible Islamist terror attack. We pray for the victims and their families. Together we will defeat this scourge," Netanyahu said in a statement.

Israelis have experienced their share of stabbing, shooting and vehicular ramming attacks by Palestinian jihadists.

In a teleconferencing call, counter-terrorism expert Prof. Boaz Ganor, director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (IDC) in Herzliya, told reporters why these attacks are on the rise in Western nations.

Ganor said the "lone wolves" who carry out these attacks have been shaped by social media networks from ISIS, al-Qaeda and other global and local jihadist organizations.

These Islamic terror groups, he said, give their followers "cookbooks" that provide the information they need.

They're also taught how to buy, steal, and in this case, rent the truck that will best serve their purposes.

The key to preventing similar attacks in the future is "good intelligence," he said, but "traditional intelligence is incapable of dealing with that problem."

"The best way to prevent a terrorist attack is to have good intelligence that would let you know that there is an intention by this or the other terrorist organization or network to conduct the attack," he explained.

Israel, out of necessity, has figured out one of the key preventatives. The so-called lone wolf jihadists often reveal their intentions on social media networks.

"The good news is that we have found in Israel and we have found in other places in the world as well – that many if not most of the lone wolves brag about their intentions and tell these intentions and share the secret openly over the social networks," Ganor explained. "They need to make it clear to their peers why they do it and to be showered by what they believe [is] honor and respect from their supporters. This is good news for anybody who's trying to prevent those types of attacks because this can be regarded as open sources' intelligence that can help to prevent the attack."

A second way to prevent an attack, he said, is to block the "inspiration."

"Those attacks – the lone wolf attacks – are inspiration attacks," he continued, that have been inspired by a terrorist organization. They are not necessarily members of the terror group nor are they getting operational support, but they are being inspired by them.

Ganor said preventing incitement and Islamist propaganda can be a "very important tool."

"We are focusing in Israel a lot in preventing the incitement coming from Hamas [the Palestinian terror group controlling the Gaza Strip] and global terrorist organizations trying to radicalize and provoke individuals to conduct those type of attacks," he said.

Security measures that Israel takes, such as erecting cement barricades at bus stops or other crowded venues, can help, but sometimes aren't enough to prevent an attack.

Being alert plays a big role in preventing attacks. Israelis have learned by experience to pay attention to what's going on around them.

"The Israeli public at large is aware of the threat of terrorism," he said, and knows the importance of reporting suspicious behavior to security personnel.  

In Tuesday's attack in New York City, police learned the jihadist had rented a Home Depot truck, something that's not too difficult for anyone to do. But, he said, if the person who rented the truck to him had paid closer attention, it could have made a difference.

"If this person would be more aware of the threat of terrorism, [he] might give an early warning. He [the terrorist] drove about one hour before conducting the attack, probably looking for potential targets," Ganor said. That's suspicious behavior that somebody could have reported.

Israelis also know instinctively how to respond to an attack, sometimes reducing the number of casualties.

Ganor said it's often very difficult to prevent these types of attacks, but it's not impossible to limit the consequences.

He also said ISIS defeat in Syria and Iraq will very likely lead them to refocus on targeting Western countries, such as has happened in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany.

"You don't need to be a counter-terrorism expert to analyze that [phenomenon] because they say it loud and clear," he said.

ISIS has stopped its earlier policy of recruiting foreign fighters. Today they're trying a different tactic.

"Actually for the last few months when they started to [be] defeat[ed] in Syria and Iraq and lose their territories, they stopped, for example, calling for foreign fighters to join them and instead they are trying to persuade the same type of people coming from Western countries and other countries to conduct terrorist attacks as homegrown terrorists in their own territories," he said.

Ganor said the efforts by ISIS and al-Qaeda to promote these types of homegrown, lone-wolf attacks is growing. Whether or not they will be successful remains to be seen.

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