Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 18, 2014

Soft targets

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2014

The Leopold Cafe reopened four days after several customers were killed during the November 2008 urban swarm attack on Mumbai.

The Lindt Cafe in Sydney will, I expect, also reopen.  Prior cases suggest a community’s sense of defiance is good for business.

Kabul’s La Taverna du Liban has not reopened after twenty-one were killed there last January.  Among those killed was the owner.

The Sandy Hill Elementary School has been demolished, so has the Beslan school.  It is too soon to anticipate what may be done with the Army Public School and College in Peshawar.

On the same day as the Peshawar attack fifteen Yemeni children were killed when their school bus happened to intersect a car bombing.

Does anyone else remember the bombing of the My Canh Cafe floating on the Sông Sài Gòn?  How about the 1984 purposeful use of food poisoning in The Dalles, Oregon? Last month a kosher restaurant in Paris was fire-bombed while patrons were eating. Just a small fire-bomb.  No one was killed.  C’est la vie?

Hotels and restaurants. Buses, trains, planes, and subways.  Markets, mosques (other places of worship), movie theaters, and schools. Even hospitals. These are notoriously difficult to secure.  To  impede entry and egress complicates the fundamental purpose of such places.

I am surprised it has not happened here more often.  It will almost certainly happen in the relatively near future.

Some trace the origins of modern terrorism to the 1894 bombing of the Terminus Cafe in Paris.  The target, according to the self-confessed anarchist, was bourgeois society.

The motivations of those involved in such attacks are often obscure. It is typically not a tactic in our usual use of the word.  The purpose is something other than competitive advantage. There is often an odor of delusions of grandeur.

In many cases the motivation may be usefully compared to a frantic outburst designed to attract attention to individuals or an organization, thereby externally validating their power and countering their own self-doubt.

While it is difficult and always context-specific, I hope when it happens here we can respond — and not respond — in ways that refuse to provide the reinforcement sought.

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7 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 18, 2014 @ 12:21 am

Cafes in Israel have been targets.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 18, 2014 @ 5:21 am

And English, Italian, Kenyan, Sri Lankan, Russian, and many, many more. Rather than exclude, I am attempting to suggest an inevitable ubiquity.

But I do perceive the Israelis have adopted a response-non-response approach purposefully designed to minimize the reinforcement I reference.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

December 18, 2014 @ 6:17 am

True, but I might argue that the Israelis have experienced “campaigns” of bombings during the intifadas. Fortunately, the U.S. has not. So what may be resilient under one set of circumstances could possibly not be the best course of action somewhere else.

Though I can’t prove that…

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 18, 2014 @ 7:41 am

Arnold, You just made an argument that I heard a “senior US intelligence official” make after returning from Israel last Spring. He was confident that resilience must reflect frequency. But he also cautioned that the, let us call it, “restrained” response of Israel to soft-target attacks could set-the-stage for unintended, unexpected shifts in attitudes and practices that actually produce a more brutal response. It was a private conversation — he was exploring not explicating — but I heard him making a sort of pop-Freudian point: An overly restrained response over time results in a more explosive response later. This was before the recent decision of the current Israeli government to demolish the family homes of those involved in soft-target attacks. But this is precisely the sort of morphing that he was concerned might emerge. In any case, this very experienced guy was saying that he found the American tendency to over-react to be a positive signal of our persistently hopeful humanity. Too much realism breeds cynicism, he suggested and went on to argue that even naive hope is an important ally in such a treacherous context.

I don’t know that I agree. But I am not certain enough to dismiss.

Pingback by Prepper News Watch for December 18, 2014 | The Preparedness Podcast

December 18, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

[…] Soft targets […]

Comment by Zeeb

December 19, 2014 @ 11:42 am

Israel’s restraint may be due to the deligitimizing campaign against it and to the biased criticism of its so-called “unproportional response”, and it may be due to humane self-discipline, whereas the US is a super power and can do almost anything legal, limited only, perhaps, by internal public opinion. Russia or China aren’t even limited by that.

Tangent comment: Palestinian terror against Israeli and Jewish targets in Europe in the 70’s and 80’s was met with no response at all by the European countries, some even freeing the perpetrators. That certainly didn’t quell the attacks.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 19, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

Zeeb: Thanks. I should have better defined my terms when I first characterized the Israeli response to soft-target terrorism as “restrained.” The argument is sometimes made by people with more Israel-specific knowledge than I have, that as a matter of policy, Israel very much wants to minimize the psycho-social impact of such attacks. So there is a rapid process of site-clean-up and recovery. So there is — or has been — constrained political attention. So there is a reaction more analogous to how the US might react to a serious traffic accident, than to a terrorist event. It’s not covered up. It is taken seriously. But there is no other effort to amp it up. A few — I can’t remember names to cite right now — have suggested this approach (while mostly motivated on the wider domestic audience) also serves to dampen terrorist motivation. Others say the differentiated response simply reflects differentiated frequency. Sounds like this is a particular interest of yours, any particular insight you can share?

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