Argument

Al Qaeda's Toughest Task

Slain jihadi leaders like Ilyas Kashmiri and Osama bin Laden aren't so easily replaced.

The reported death last week of Ilyas Kashmiri, the notorious jihadi leader -- if true -- is merely the latest in a long line of decapitations of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Osama bin Laden fell a few weeks before him, and men described as "senior" or "important" leaders, like Baitullah and Abdullah Mehsud, Hamza Rabia, Mohammed Atef, Saeed al-Masri, and others, have fallen before them.

But does cutting the head off the snake really matter? Can't they just be replaced by the next militant waiting in the wings?

Not so easily. Although the consensus among experts is often that the deaths of such tactically and ideologically important leaders do not destroy groups, their loss does have an effect. Kashmiri's death will not herald the end of violence in Pakistan or the threat to the West, but it will reduce al Qaeda's capacity to strike. Long-standing warrior leaders are important figures in the ideological clash against groups believing themselves in a millenarian struggle. Bringing the big men down will help accelerate their groups' demise.

Leaders like Kashmiri, who lost a finger and an eye in the Afghan war against the Soviets, are able to provide inspiration through their biographies. His time as a fighter in Afghanistan and Kashmir gave him connections across groups and networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and gave him a reputation as a fierce warrior leader. He built this personal narrative and connections into a formidable network operating under the name 313 Brigade, in reference to the 313 companions who fought alongside the Prophet Mohammed at the Battle of Badr, and was named by Masri as the leader of al Qaeda in Kashmir. He was also clearly effective in providing direction to terrorist cells, as shown by his suspected involvement in the May 22 attack on Karachi's naval base (his latest attack on the Pakistani state), strikes in India coordinated from his base in Pakistan, and his ambitious plan to attack newspaper offices in Copenhagen.

A similar portrait can be painted of bin Laden. His life story embodied the jihadi ideal of an Islamist warrior giving up everything to fight against the unbelievers. His strong connections to the community of wealthy Gulf Arabs with deep pockets and pro-jihadi sympathies strengthened his inspirational role and made him a prize asset for al Qaeda. Many other longtime leaders and warriors fighting in Afghanistan or Pakistan -- their histories and connections stretching back to before the current conflict -- claim the same mythical status.

But Kashmiri and bin Laden will be hard to replace. Their historical roles as front-line warriors not only earned them credibility with other local militants, but also brought them into contact with the community of regional and global warriors, giving them tentacles around the world. Bin Laden's network is well-known while Kashmiri's is currently on display in Chicago, where a key trial witness named David Coleman Headley is highlighting connections between Kashmiri -- seemingly his key al Qaeda contact -- and cells in the United States, Britain, India, and Sweden.

New leaders tend to either be less strategically seasoned or prove unable to replicate the formula the old leader had. Al Qaeda in Iraq was never the same after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, and Yemen's Aden-Abyan Islamic Army never really survived the death of its leader Abu al-Hassan, instead becoming subsumed by regional al Qaeda-linked cells. In both cases, the deaths of leaders with contacts and celebrity deprived the groups of their appeal. This means fewer recruits, less funding, and less capacity to launch audacious plots. Spectacular attacks like May 22's brazen assault on Karachi's naval base, which some have linked to Kashmiri, require great nerve and audacity to pull off, driven by an inspirational figure who can convince fighters to die for the cause.

Technical skills also matter. Bomb-makers often prove to be an essential ingredient in making an effective terrorist organization. In Yemen, it may be Anwar al-Awlaki who provides the English-language narrative that is drawing young Western fighters to his side, but it is Ibrahim al-Asiri who is building the innovative bombs with which al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to penetrate airport security. Both play key roles and, if removed, would damage their organization.

But neither of these individuals has the caliber or longevity of Kashmiri or bin Laden. Asiri's technical skills, like those of numerous other master bomb-makers before him, are replicable: They can be written down, taught, and ultimately learned by others. Awlaki's stirring rhetoric and message would be missed, but he has not yet managed to enter the pantheon of leaders of global jihadism and is still learning the ropes as a jihadi preacher.

When dealing with a terrorist organization like al Qaeda or Brigade 313, it is unlikely that what comes next is going to be any different from what came before. For this reason, it doesn't much matter whether key jihadi leaders are eliminated, because their successors will likely follow the same radical path. Al Qaeda in Iraq may have been damaged by the death of its butcher-in-chief Zarqawi, and there is little evidence that the group has deradicalized in his absence.

But when dealing with a tribal insurgency like the Taliban, the radicalization that results from decapitating strikes can backfire. Those who follow are likely to be more radical than their predecessors and carry additional grudges that will impede them from putting down arms. The tribal codes that dictate life in Pakistan's lawless provinces and Afghanistan often demand a response that may supersede reason.

Drone strikes and SEAL teams directed by strong intelligence are waging an effective war in bringing down key leaders in al Qaeda. With the deaths of bin Laden and Kashmiri -- two irreplaceable giants of the global jihad -- we can at least start to see the end of the core group hiding in Pakistan.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Remembering Six Days in 1967

The anniversary of Israel's Six-Day War is a reminder why it cannot return to armistice borders.

"We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants," declared Palestine Liberation Organization leader Ahmad al-Shuqayri. "As for the survivors -- if there are any -- the boats are ready to deport them." A half-million Arab soldiers and more than 5,000 tanks converged on Israel from every direction, including the West Bank, then part of Jordan. Their plans called for obliterating Israel's army, conquering the country, and killing large numbers of civilians. Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Arif said the Arab goal was to wipe Israel off the map: "We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa."

This was the fate awaiting Israel on June 4, 1967. Many Israelis feverishly dug trenches and filled sandbags, while others secretly dug 10,000 graves for the presumed victims. Some 14,000 hospital beds were arranged and gas masks distributed to the civilian population. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike to neutralize Egypt, the most powerful Arab state, but the threat of invasion by other Arab armies remained.

Israel's borders at the time were demarcated by the armistice lines established at the end of Israel's war of independence 18 years earlier. These lines left Israel a mere 9 miles wide at its most populous area. Israelis faced mountains to the east and the sea to their backs and, in West Jerusalem, were virtually surrounded by hostile forces. In 1948, Arab troops nearly cut the country in half at its narrow waist and laid siege to Jerusalem, depriving 100,000 Jews of food and water.

The Arabs readied to strike -- but Israel did not wait. "We will suffer many losses, but we have no other choice," explained IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. The next morning, on June 5, Israeli jets and tanks launched a surprise attack against Egypt, destroying 204 of its planes in the first half-hour. By the end of the first morning of fighting, the Israeli Air Force had destroyed 286 of Egypt's 420 combat aircraft, 13 air bases, and 23 radar stations and anti-aircraft sites. It was the most successful single operation in aerial military history.

But, as feared, other Arab forces attacked. Enemy planes struck Israeli cities along the narrow waist, including Hadera, Netanya, Kfar Saba, and the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv; and thousands of artillery shells fired from the West Bank pummeled greater Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. Ground forces, meanwhile, moved to encircle Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods as they did in 1948.

In six days, Israel repelled these incursions and established secure boundaries. It drove the Egyptians from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrians, who had also opened fire, from the Golan Heights. Most significantly, Israel replaced the indefensible armistice lines by reuniting Jerusalem and capturing the West Bank from Jordan.

The Six-Day War furnished Israel with the territory and permanence necessary for achieving peace with Egypt and Jordan. It transformed Jerusalem from a divided backwater into a thriving capital, free for the first time to adherents of all faiths. It reconnected the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland in Judea and Samaria, inspiring many thousands to move there. But it also made us aware that another people -- the Palestinians -- inhabited that land and that we would have to share it.

As early as the summer of 1967, Israel proposed autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and later, in 2000 and 2008, full statehood. Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders rejected these offers. In 2005, Israel uprooted all 8,000 of its citizens living in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity for self-determination. Instead, they turned Gaza into a Hamas-run terrorist state that has launched thousands of rockets into Israel. Now, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank intends to unilaterally declare statehood at the United Nations without making peace. It has also united with Gaza's Hamas regime, which demands Israel's destruction.

In spite of the Palestinians' record of rejection and violence, Israel remains committed to the vision of two states living side by side in peace. But peace is predicated on security and on our ability to defend ourselves if the peace breaks down. Such provisions are crucial in the Middle East, where the governments of Israel's neighbors might change tomorrow. As such, we seek the demilitarization of the Palestinian state as well as a long-term IDF presence along the Jordan River to prevent rocket smuggling, as has occurred in Gaza. Moreover, we need defensible borders to ensure that Israel will never again pose an attractive target for attack.

For this reason, Israel appreciates U.S. President Barack Obama's opposition to unilaterally declared Palestinian statehood and negotiations with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, uphold previous peace agreements, and disavow terrorism. Similarly, we support the president's call for the nonmilitarization of any future Palestinian state that must be capable of assuming "security responsibility." In his recent address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed the president's statement that the negotiated border will be "different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967."

Forty-four years after Arab forces sought to exploit the vulnerable armistice lines, it remains clear that Israel cannot return to those lines. And 44 years after the United Nations, through Resolution 242, indicated that Israel would not have to forfeit all of the captured territories and must achieve "secure and recognized boundaries," the unsecure and unrecognized armistice lines must not be revived. Israel's insistence on defensible borders is a prerequisite for peace and a safeguard against a return to the Arab illusions and Israeli fears of June 1967.

David Rubinger/GPO via Getty Images