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Friday, August 12, 2005

Arms race means something different in asymmetrical warfare

Not surprisingly, Israeli scientists are in the forefront of developing high-tech defenses against terror. A case in point:
Researchers have developed a pocket-sized device for detecting sub-milligram quantities of peroxide-based explosives such as those reportedly used in the recent bomb attacks in London.

‘We’ve prototyped and tested the peroxide explosives detector (PET) in our laboratories, as well as in field experiments, and it works,’ said PET’s patent holder, Ehud Keinan of Israel’s Haifa Technion. ‘Now it’s ready for commercialisation and use by all law enforcement agencies and anyone dealing with security.’

There is strong interest from some of the world’s top security organisations, Keinan told Chemistry World, although London’s Metropolitan Police counter terrorism unit declined to comment. The new device is the size of a large fountain pen and costs less than £15 per unit.

The PET ‘pen’ shows a strong colour change when any peroxide-based explosive is detected. Suspect material is collected or swiped with a silicone-rubber test pad and inserted into the pen. Three test chemicals are then sequentially injected into the transparent chamber: a suitable organic solvent; followed by an aqueous solution of strong acid, which decomposes any putative explosive and releases hydrogen peroxide; and finally a mixture of a dye and a peroxidase enzyme.

If a peroxide-based explosive is present in the original sample, the solution turns a deep blue-green in about three seconds. Sub-milligram quantities of an explosive can be detected by this pronounced colour change.

‘The simplicity of the chemistry...is beautiful,’ said Andrea Sella, of University College London. He warns, though, that it is probably not suited to the high throughput screening needed by airport security.

Dr. Keinon spent years working on this device, because Palestinian bombs are often built using TATP, using the same cheap ingredients used in the London bombs.

Here is a perfect example of the asymmetric war that Israel has been in, and that the Western world is waking up to: spending millions to develop defenses against weapons that can be built for $150.

The terror-supporters never tire of saying that the "freedom fighters" are at a disadvantage, because the industrialized nations have tanks and planes. But in fact, it is the terrorists who have the advantage - because they have no morals.

To the West, human life is extremely valuable; to the Palestinian and other terrorists, it is almost worthless. So the West needs to spend time and money figuring out how to counter the crude but deadly weapons of the depraved - to save our lives. Hamas and Fatah don't want their people's lives saved - in fact, they are worth more dead because of the great PR that results.

Guns are cheap. Bulletproof vests are expensive. And they can't stop the shooter from aiming a little higher or lower next time.

And the trend favors the terrorists - there will always be new ways to build deadly weapons from easily-available materials, and it will always take years to build an imperfect defense against those weapons.

So while defensive measures are of critical importance, and it shows our humanity in stark contrast to those of our enemies, ultimately the only thing that will end the war is to make the warfare symmetrical again - to show the same disregard for their lives as they show to ours. Including real collateral damage.

Their desire is genocide; they just don't have the weapons yet. All the negotiations and compromises in the world will not appease them. Pulling our punches is not the way to win this war.

The sooner it happens, the more lives will be saved.