The World From Berlin Germany's Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Following the failed bomb attacks that could have led to a massive loss of life on two German trains last month, many in Germany are concerned the government still isn't doing everything it can to counter terrorism.


This note, written in Arabic, was found near one of the two bombs planted on German trains in July. Investigators believe the bombs could have killed several hundred people.
DPA

This note, written in Arabic, was found near one of the two bombs planted on German trains in July. Investigators believe the bombs could have killed several hundred people.

On July 31, two bombs hidden in suitcases were found on regional trains stopping in the German cities of Koblenz and Dortmund. Last week, police investigators identified two suspects in what they called a failed terrorist plot. Now both suspects -- Lebanese men aged 20 and 21 -- have been arrested. Since the bombs only failed to explode due to faulty construction techniques, many in Germany have been alarmed by the death and destruction that could have been caused.

The incident has also prompted a new round of debate on whether the German government is doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks.

German newspapers on Friday focus on the country's anti-terrorism strategy and deal especially with the significance of surveillance technology. Some lament that discussions on surveillance are distracting German officials from the importance of other, less tangible assets, such as close contacts between investigators and their colleagues abroad, as well as the ability to infiltrate suspect groups. Others argue that German politicians still haven't properly understood the nature of contemporary terrorism, and in particular the role that the Internet plays.

A commentator writing in the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes that much of the debate over terrorism prevention in Germany turns on the question of how important new technology -- such as surveillance and data retrieval technology -- is for foiling terrorist plots. The commentator believes that such technology plays an important role: "That major train stations, airports and other important transit points are being observed electronically has turned out to be helpful." And yet relying on technological measures such as the instalment of closed-circuit TV cameras is not enough. The commentator immediately argues that in the case of last month's failed train bombings and the arrests that followed, the "personal contacts" of German investigators to Lebanon were at least as important as the technology. The commentator speculates that these contacts may have been established by Detlev Mehlis, the German UN investigator charged with investigating the February 14, 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. "The investigators aren't saying much about this side of their work, but it deserves at least as much attention as the issues surrounding electronic anti-terrorism files." Not only is the cultivation of close working relationships between the anti-terrorism forces of different countries desirable, according to the FAZ, but German investigators shouldn't be too squeamish about who they collaborate with either: "International terrorism needs to be fought by international measures. This means German investigators must also cultivate relations with colleagues from states that fall short of meeting the criteria associated with constitutionality and the rule of law."

Business daily Handelsblatt features a commentary criticizing the statements on anti-terrorism measures that have come from German politicians and anti-terrorism experts following the failed train bombings. Experts -- "some qualified, others unqualified" -- have come out with what the commentator calls "antiquated calls for tougher punishments, more intense surveillance and stricter border controls." The effect of what these experts and politicians say is mainly rhetorical, the commentator suggests: Retrieving such lists of traditional measures "from the filing cabinet" is just a "ritual" that ends up achieving very little.

The commentator goes on to note that German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who is known for his insistence on the need for a tougher anti-terrorism strategy, has chosen to expand the current "canon" of measures by calls for closer control of the Internet. But this isn't particularly original either: "The Internet problem was already recognized in 1998, and it was debated at international meetings in 1999." The commentator does believe that closer control of the Web is necessary: "Today the Internet has become what the mosque and Osama bin Laden's training camps used to be." The paper continues by opining that "the new religious warriors" are now able to survive "in a hostile Christian environment" without "strict training" or "headquarters," simply by "taking jihad into their own hands" as travellers of the "information highway." As abstract and bizarre as much of what goes on in Internet forums may seem, genuine terror may be "just a mouseclick away" and "virtual danger" can "crush real life," the commentator insists. The editorial concludes by arguing that the current pleas for "witness protection programs, dragnet investigations, personal surveillance, comprehensive investigation files and excessive border controls" need to yield to concrete action, and that the list of anti-terrorism measures needs to be updated to include such items as "video surveillance" and "Internet analysis."

Franz Josef Wagner, the regular populist commentator in Germany's leading tabloid Bild, has written an open letter to Interior Minister Schäuble for Friday's edition of the newspaper. It's devoted not to anti-terrorism strategy, but to the "wondrousness" of human beings, whose "fear" seems to "peel away like cheap varnish" the moment a reassuring piece of news -- such as that concerning the arrest of the two would-be train bombers -- distracts them from the fact that the threat of terrorist attacks is an ongoing one. Citizens in Germany still haven't understood the full import of this new threat, Wagner suggests: "For us, death means arteriosclerosis, cardiac arrest, a car accident, cancer" -- not terrorism. Wagner's assessment of the Interior Minister's ability to remedy this state of affairs is as generous as his concern over the ignorance and flippancy of German citizens is grave. And so he ends his brief letter by calling on Schäuble to educate German citizens about the seriousness of the terrorist threat: "It's your job, dear Interior Minister, to make us understand that there is a new cause of death: terrorism. It's your job to shake us awake: Death rides on the train."

-- Max Henninger, 12:15 p.m. CET


German Troops for Lebanon

As the United Nations peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon continues to take shape, many countries are still debating how they want to contribute to the 15,000-strong force. The issue is a thorny one for Germans, who are divided as to whether German soldiers should be exposed to the possibility of finding themselves in combat situations in the Middle East -- or even of exchanging gunshots with Israeli soldiers.

Two German papers feature editorials on the question on Friday. One examines how European attitudes to the Arab-Israeli conflict have changed, comparing them to those in the United States. The other article takes issue with German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung's statement that German troops deployed for the Lebanon mission would likely remain there for a full year.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung visiting German sailors.s
DPA

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung visiting German sailors.s

The editorial in the conservative daily Die Welt -- which is devoted to the larger question of relations between Europe, the USA and Israel -- is a guest commentary by Dominique Moisi, one of the founders of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) and a lecturer at the College of Europe in Natolin (Warsaw). Moisi argues that the conflict in Lebanon has "widened the emotional gap between Europe and the United States that began to open up with the beginning of the war in Iraq." The United States "may not be convinced of the tactical choices made by Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his administration," Moisi writes, "but the Americans still believe that there was no choice but to conduct this war -- just as with the 1982 war in Lebanon." On the other hand, the "majority of Europeans" view the war "as an operation that was useless from Israel's point of view, and which could trigger a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West."

European attitudes towards Israel have gone through several transformations, Moisi argues, citing the Six Day War (when Egypt and Syria went to war with Israel, in 1967) as an important turning point. It was then that Europeans began to recognize Israel as a "new regional superpower," leading to a perception of the Jewish state less strongly determined by "memory of the Shoah." Along with the emergence of this new perception of Israel, "sympathy for the Palestinian cause grew despite the terrorism associated with it," according to Moisi.

Die Welt's guest commentator believes that political developments in the Middle East itself aren't sufficient for explaining the changing European perceptions of Israel, however. Long-term social processes such as secularization have also played an important role, he argues. "It's a paradox -- given the Christian roots of anti-Semitism in Europe -- that European secularization has turned out to be disadvantageous for Israel. In a time when Christianity and Judaism are making peace, a less Christian Europe is all the less willing to take Israel's religious particularities into consideration," Moisi writes. He adds that the situation is different -- if no less paradoxical -- in the USA, which he sees as undergoing a "Renaissance of Christianity." In Moisi's view, the "evangelical right" in the United States is "crafting a strange combination of sympathy for a Biblical greater Israel with a more classic form of anti-Semitism."

Moisi concludes his piece with some observations on contemporary Europe's political "fault lines" and their effect on Middle East policy. The alliances and sympathies currently developing within the EU remind him of those that emerged during the debate over the 2003 war in Iraq: "True, Germany has taken a slightly different position under Chancellor Angela Merkel than under her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, but Spain and Italy have become more critical of Israel, and they've also moved closer to France." That this last country should be playing an increasingly central role in the debate over the UN peacekeeping mandate in Lebanon is not a good thing, in Moisi's view: France's decisions are dictated less by a clear strategy than by the country's need to retain political "credibility" and its "reputation for being a country that doesn't shy from military intervention." Moisi also suggests that "more France" means "less Europe," or that France's tendency to take over the reins when it comes to intervention in the Middle East reflects the absence of a consistent EU policy. Such a policy would, however, be desirable, in Moisi's view -- not just for strategic or diplomatic reasons, but also "because the European heritage of anti-Semitism and colonialism is a lot to do with the central problems in the Middle East."

A commentary in the center-left daily Berliner Zeitung takes a different approach to the debate on German troops in Lebanon: Rather than discussing the specific issues associated with the Middle East and with German-Israeli relations, the commentator complains more generally about the way debates on German peacekeeping operations have been conducted recently. He criticizes German Defense Minister Jung's tendency to promise German soldiers a swift return and then add a date, as he did when it was a matter of sending German troops to oversee elections in Congo in July. Then, Jung promised the peacekeeping troops they would be back by Christmas, just as he has now stated that the mission of German troops for Lebanon would be a one-year mission.

Jung's habit of fixing dates in uncertain situations is not just annoying, in the commentator's view. It reveals an irresponsible and dishonest approach to issues that deserve to be treated more seriously, such as that of a possible German troop presence in Lebanon: "The debate on whether or not to send German troops to Lebanon is a complicated one that could have dramatic consequences," the commentator writes, "so it requires a certain measure of intellectual honesty -- and that's where Jung fails."

And what of Jung's statement that the mission of German soldiers in Lebanon would be that of establishing a lasting peace? "Surely Jung -- a Christian Democrat politician who only just graduated from the local government of the state of Hessen a year ago -- isn't so naïve as to seriously believe a UN force could solve the conflict that has plagued this region for decades and cost many thousands of people their lives in just a year?" The editorial answers its own question to the effect that Jung is not naïve, but rather employing the kind of rhetoric most likely to make the notion of "dangerous German military missions abroad" more palatable to German citizens -- regardless of whether or not the promises made can be kept. Such statements, the commentator concludes, are both "inappropriate" and "dishonest."

-- Max Henninger, 1:35 p.m. CET

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