"I think that the mere fact that Israel exists is their motivation," said Maj. Gen. William Terpeluk in his presentation this past Sunday, noting that terrorists actually think they have a chance to destroy the Jewish state.
"I can say that I think we're going to see more attacks against Israel, just to get the base fired up," and thereby rally support among Islamic extremists.
Terpeluk, of the U.S. Army Reserve, shared his military expertise in a lecture titled "The United States, Israel and the Long War on Terror." He spoke at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park as part of the Continuing Speaker Series sponsored by the William Portner-Quaker City Lodge of B'nai B'rith.
The major general, who is not Jewish, is a native of Philadelphia and currently lives in Montgomery County, where he works as an associate director at Merck & Company's West Point facility. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics from the Virginia Military Institute and earned an MBA from Drexel University. In 1974, he was commissioned as an infantry officer; today, he is the Commanding General of the 77th Regional Readiness Command.
"Stable governments are the key here," he said. Supporting moderate Middle Eastern states through diplomacy remains a crucial tenet of curbing terrorism. As he acknowledged: "Military power is one of the last instruments we want to use."
Economics Under Attack?
The general noted that the contemporary conflict with terrorism really got on the map in 1979 with the hostage crisis in Iran.
"The same groups are very much there," he said, reminding the audience that Hezbollah — the terror group Israel battled this past summer — was responsible for the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut.
He explained that the United States is not under threat of being attacked by a nation-state; small, nongovernmental factions lie at the root of the problem.
While U.S. lives remain at the forefront of national concern, he also warned that where Americans are most vulnerable is at the economic level. Groups like Al Qaeda seek to perpetrate attacks that can harm the U.S. financial system.
And advances in technology have greatly changed the global landscape for terrorists, he said.
For example, he noted that by 2003, between 4,000 and 6,000 extremist Web sites existed on the Internet.
While technological advances have altered the way extremists communicate, the 24-hour news cycle has invaded the national consciousness as well, molding public opinion on prime issues.
Support for military force is hard to maintain in the United States these days, even during so-called "good wars," argued Terpeluk: "The American public gets tired of a war after three years, while it typically takes nine years to put down an insurgency. Success requires perseverance.
"I completely agree that a change in strategy is what was needed," the general added, alluding to President Bush's recent, more comprehensive military plan.
He noted that Gen. David Petraeus' new blueprint for Iraq moves soldiers out of large Forward Operating Bases, and imbeds them in the population of Iraq, where they can gather intelligence and better support Iraqi security forces, while maintaining "a 24-7 presence."
The general acknowledged that the toll is often high on soldiers, especially reservists who don't have access to the same support system that bolsters those on active duty. He said he worries about his troops returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder: "My soldiers go back to their communities and their families, and are profoundly changed."
For the general, understanding terror is paramount, because his soldiers' lives are at stake.
"For me, this is a very personal thing," said Terpeluk, who is often tasked with giving folded flags to the widows of dead soldiers, in addition to meeting repatriated remains at Dover Air Force Base. "This is not a thing which I could be more passionate about."