Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.
Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.
There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.
Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?