Tags: ISIS/Islamic State | War on Terrorism | arafat | dagan | hezbollah | munich | wegener

We Can Learn From Leaders Fighting Terror Decades Ago

We Can Learn From Leaders Fighting Terror Decades Ago

Small memorial at the former Olympic Village site in Munich, Germany. (Christian Offenberg/Dreamstime)

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Monday, 08 January 2018 05:47 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Lost in the preparation of New Year’s cheer and the headlines of palace intrigue and political scandal was the news that the world lost Ret. Gen. Ulrich Wegener, the founder and former commander of Germany’s counterterrorist unit. Wegener died in Cologne on Dec. 28, 2017. He was 88.

Most have never heard of Wegener and have no idea what he had accomplished. But he was a hero and a visionary in the behind-the-scenes and often unsavory work that must be done in the war on terror.

In 1972, Wegener was a colonel in the West German Border Guard who served as the liaison officer for German Interior Minister when Palestinian terrorists seized members of the Israeli Olympic team at the summer games in Munich.

Wegener, a teenager at the tail end of the World War II, understood the significance of Jews once again being slaughtered on German soil; he reeled in outrage by the ineptly planned and executed German police attempt to free the Israeli athletes taken hostage.

When the West German government formed a counter-terrorist commando unit to make sure that there would be no more Munich Massacres, Wegener was given the role of creating and commanding the squad.

The new unit was placed inside the ranks of the Federal Border Guard police and designated as Grenzschutzgruppe 9, but would eventually become known simply by its acronym — GSG9. Starting from scratch, Wegener ventured to Israel and Great Britain to receive a crash course in terrorism tradecraft and counter-terrorism techniques.

Wegener selected the very best and the brightest to be the unit’s tip of the spear, and he sought new weapons, new technologies, and a new way of thinking to defeat terrorists in the explosive moments of a tactical engagement. Wegener’s theories and hard work were put to the test in 1978 when Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa jet and forced it to Mogadishu.

Wegener and GSG-9 deployed to Somalia and, in a brilliant display of speed, decisive firepower, and sheer courage, the commandos stormed the hijacked jet and freed all of the hostages. Two terrorists were killed, one was fatally wounded and the fourth was captured alive.

GSG-9 would go on to become one of the world’s top-tier counter-terrorist units and, with his "never again" determination, Wegener would go on to become on the world’s most sought after counter-terrorism consultants. In 2008, following the Mumbai terror attacks, Wegener traveled to India, lending his expertise to the help solidify the local counter-terrorist response.

Meir Dagan was a man, like Ulrich Wegener, whose opinions of the world were forged in the fires of  World War II and the Holocaust. Born in Europe on a train at the end of the war, Dagan’s family made it to the fledgling new state of Israel grateful to be alive and determined to fight for its survival. At the age of eighteen Meir volunteered into the paratroopers. He was an officer and he fought in the 1967 Six Day War. After the war, he was given a free hand to deal with a terrorist offensive launched against Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Using his imagination, and the guile of a true warrior, Dagan created an undercover counter-terrorist commando unit that masqueraded as indigenous Palestinians and, with imaginative displays of daring and decisive firepower, defeated the threat in a matter of months.

Dagan developed a reputation as a reliable man on a dark night deep behind enemy lines. His courage and imagination, like the man itself, were larger than life. He rose up the ranks of command quickly, eventually becoming a general.

In 2002, Meir Dagan was appointed the head of Israel’s famed Mossad espionage service. The times were tumultuous — the world was reacting to the 9/11 attacks and Israel was contending with wave after wave of Palestinian suicide bombings — and Dagan brought the swagger of preemptive deterrence back to the ranks of Israeli intelligence. The spy service resumed spectacular operations around the Mideast.

The position of Mossad director also gave Dagan the chance to fully implement a vision that he had in how Israel — and the West — could rewrite the rule book in dealing with terror: namely, bankrupting it. A few years earlier, while the head of the prime minister’s counterterrorism bureau, Dagan created a task force codenamed Harpoon that tracked terror finances and sought to destroy the means by which the suicide bombings and the bloodshed were funded. At the Mossad, Harpoon became operational.

Harpoon at first went after PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the millions he stole from the Palestinian people, diverting some of the funds toward terror groups. Harpoon then targeted Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and the banks — and banking systems — that enabled these fundamentalist terror groups to move money around the world freely. Harpoon also waged a relentless and decisive war against Hezbollah and the Iranian cash that helped fuel the Party of God’s war against Israel and the United States.

When it was discovered that cocaine smuggling served as a lucrative source of blood money to Hezbollah, Dagan’s agents enlisted the assistance of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury, to unravel many of the narco-dollar pipelines. In one example of the group’s effectiveness — which included the use of private attorneys filing punitive lawsuits against the banks that facilitated the terror endeavors — the Lebanese Canadian Bank, a major Middle Eastern financial institution that was Hezbollah’s money vault and launderer.

Both Dagan and Wegener hailed from a different time and place but their unique perspectives of the battlefield are now part and parcel of the war on terror. The military setbacks suffered by ISIS, both in operations by counter-terrorist forces in Europe and by anti-caliphate units targeting the revenue streams needed by ISIS to fund its war, can be traced to work that Wegener and Dagan started.

Both men were leaders with exemplary courage who took extraordinary risks to fight terror. They will not be forgotten and we can only hope that others will follow in their footsteps.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli activist and civil rights attorney. She is the president of Shurat HaDin, a Tel Aviv based law center that has represented hundreds of terror victims in courtrooms around the world. In 2016, she was chosen as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, and named by the Israeli Forbes magazine as one of the 50 most influential Israeli women. She is the co-author of the National Best-Seller "Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism's Money Masters" published by Hachette Books. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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Meir Dagan was a man, like Ulrich Wegener, whose opinions of the world were forged in the fires of  World War II and the Holocaust.
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2018-47-08
Monday, 08 January 2018 05:47 PM
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