Ami Pedazhur: From Munich to Mumbai

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ami Pedazhur, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the forthcoming book “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism.”]

OW that India and the world are over the initial shock of the terrorist attacks last month in Mumbai, efforts to understand what happened and prevent future calamities are being hampered in ways familiar to Israelis like myself, who have lived through far too many such events: pointless efforts to place blame, and a failure to put the attacks in the proper historical context.

First, contrary to much punditry in India and the West, these attacks did not indicate the emergence of a new form of terrorism. Actually, after decades in which terrorism had evolved mostly in the direction of suicide bombings, Mumbai was a painful reminder of the past.

The multiple hostage-takings and shootings, carefully planned and executed, were a throwback to the wave of hijackings and hostage situations that were the trademark of terrorists in the Middle East from the 1960s until the 1980s. The most famous of these events, of course, was the attack on the Israeli delegation at the 1972 Olympic Games.

In Munich, the Black September terrorists succeeded in capturing the attention of TV viewers around the world for a whole day. They knew most TV networks had sent crews to cover the Games and thus would broadcast the hostage situation as it unfolded.

The terrorists in Mumbai were even more successful, in that they created a drama that lasted much longer. They did so by aiming at high-profile targets like the hotels that are hubs for Western tourists and businessmen. They knew that viewers around the world would be glued for days to the constant stream of images on their TV and computer screens.

In addition, that the majority of the Mumbai terrorists landed from the sea was another ugly flashback. For years, terrorists favored arriving at Israel’s beaches on speed boats to take hostages in residential neighborhoods....
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