In Middle Eastern Terrorism, Ensalaco of the University of Dayton describes the evolution of modern terrorism from the pioneer actions of the Palestinian organizations, through the Iranian-backed Shiite groups, to al-Qaeda.
Palestinians often appear as precursors and inventors of modern transnational terrorism: airplane hijacking, hostage taking, and attempts at suicide terrorism. The passage from Palestinian to Iranian-backed terrorism is embodied in Imad Mugniyah, who went from being a member of Yasser Arafat's Force 17 to head of Hezbollah's terrorist apparatus responsible for killing the largest number of Americans before 9/11.
Although not clearly expressed, the book's main conclusion is that the successes of global terrorism result not from legitimate national or religious grievances but from an "intricate web of [Arab] state sponsorship to Palestinian terror," as well as Iranian support for Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiites. Inconsistently, Ensalaco declares al-Qaeda to be "mystifyingly different because it acquired a global reach without state sponsor" after mentioning Sudanese and Afghan support of the organization.
Ensalaco argues that the United States and Western Europe did not effectively challenge the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism and the states supporting it, thus permitting it to develop into a strategic threat. He downplays Jimmy Carter's role in the success of Khomeini's revolution in Iran, his conduct in the subsequent hostage crisis, and the ensuing escalation in Islamist terrorism. Ronald Reagan did not "awake to the threat of feeding and arming [Islamists] in Afghanistan" and handled the Hezbollah hostage takings in Lebanon poorly. Reagan emerges as the tragic figure in the U.S. counterterrorism strategy; while bombing Qaddafi's Libya, he did not punish Iran and Syria for their involvement in the murder of hundreds of U.S. marines, diplomats, and CIA officers in Lebanon. Bill Clinton warned about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists but failed to deal forcefully enough with al-Qaeda for bombing U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Aden. George W. Bush did not take seriously the signs presented by the intelligence community months before 9/11.
Middle Eastern Terrorism is an important book, based on good academic sources, for researchers and those laymen who have the patience to absorb so much information although written in a light and sometimes repetitive journalistic style. The section on strategic and political analysis, however, is too short and needs to be expanded for a better understanding of the "long twilight struggle" against terrorism.