Israel Still Ignored at Obama Administration’s Flagship Counterterror Initiative

By Patrick Goodenough | July 10, 2012 | 4:46 AM EDT

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(Update: State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Tuesday had no further information on Israel’s exclusion from the GCTF, but disputed that opposition to Israel’s participation was coming from the forum’s co-chairman, Turkey.)

( – As the Obama administration’s new international counterterrorism initiative develops, the exclusion of Israel becomes more glaring with each passing meeting -- most recently on Monday, at the beginning of a conference focusing on victims of terrorism.

Addressing the two-day Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) event in Madrid, an administration official mentioned a dozen countries in the context of victims of terrorism – but not Israel.

Launched last fall as a “signature initiative” in what the administration calls its “smart power approach to counterterrorism,” the GCTF comprises 29 countries, with the U.S. and Turkey serving as co-chairs.

Israel’s exclusion provoked comment from the outset, given the country’s long experience both as a target of and fighter against terrorism.

The State Department says future Israeli participation is not ruled out. Still, Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government – which disputes that Hamas is a terrorist group – has worked actively to isolate Israel in the international community.

Further, 11 of the 29 GCTF members are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), some of which are hostile towards Israel. All subscribe to the OIC’s 1999 Convention on Combating Terrorism which states that “armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”

According to the State Department, Monday’s opening of the GCTF “High-Level Conference on Victims of Terrorism” in the Spanish capital  “brings together government officials, civil society leaders and other stakeholders to discuss how countries can increase their support of victims of terror while cooperating to counter extremist ideologies.”

U.S. Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero. (Photo: U.S. Mission Geneva)

Addressing the event, U.S. undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights Maria Otero noted that Spain, “like the United States and so many countries around the world,” has had firsthand experienced of terrorism and the pain it inflicts on society.

Later, she referred to a documentary that was shown at the GCTF launch last September, recounting the stories of the victims of terror attacks in Pakistan, Jordan, Northern Ireland, Uganda, Turkey, Indonesia, India, Spain, Columbia and the United States.

Similarly, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed a GCTF event in Istanbul last month, she mentioned the challenge of terrorism in Turkey, Mali, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Maghreb and Europe, referred obliquely to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and commented on terrorist kidnappings in Latin America and the Sahel.

Israel was not mentioned, either by Otero in Madrid on Monday or by Clinton in Istanbul on June 7.

According to the MIPT (Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism) Terrorism Knowledge Base, which covers the period from 1968-2006, Israel suffered the fifth highest number of terror fatalities of any country over those years.

Only Iraq, the United States, India and Pakistan had more terror fatalities.

Calculated per capita, however (using today’s population figures), Israel moves into third place, having lost 19.2 lives per 100,000 people to terrorism over that period. Iraq and Lebanon have higher rates per 100,000 – 37.6 and 30.8 respectively. Other rates per 100,000 include: Colombia 3.09; Afghanistan 2.92; Algeria 2.77, the U.S. 1.03; Pakistan 0,82 and India 0.13.

After the State Department was pressed last month about Israel’s exclusion from the GCTF it issued a statement saying that the administration’s idea with the forum “was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, front line states, and emerging powers develop a more robust, yet representative, counterterrorism capacity-building platform.”

“A number of our close partners with considerable experience countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF’s founding members,” it said. “We have discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel in its activities on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen.”

At Monday’s regular State Department press briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell was asked again about Israel’s exclusion from the GCTF event in Madrid and the fact Otero had not mentioned Israel in her remarks.

He said he was not aware of the meeting, and had no details of Otero’s speech, but was “happy to look into it.”

In a letter to Clinton last month, U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Kirk R-Ill.) expressed their concern about Israel’s exclusion from the forum.

“As you know, there are few countries in the world that have suffered more from terrorism than Israel, and few governments that have more experience combating this threat than that of Israel,” they wrote.

“One of the stated missions of the GCTF is to ‘provide a needed venue for national [counterterrorism] officials and practitioners to meet with their counterparts from key countries in different regions to share [counterterrorism] experiences, expertise, strategies, capacity needs and capability-building programs,’” Lieberman and Kirk noted. “We strongly believe that Israel would both benefit from, and contribute enormously to, this kind of exchange.”

The founding members of the GCTF include 11 members of the OIC, the bloc of Islamic states – Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The remaining members are Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. The European Union also has a seat and the United Nations is “a close partner of and participant in the GCTF and its activities.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow