The Terror Network
By Claire Sterling
Holt, Rinehart and Winston/Reader's Digest Press, 1981, 357 pp.
This book is crucial to understanding the lines of analysis and evidence that apparently lay behind Alexander Haig's strong initial attack on the Soviet Union for fomenting terrorism. Its strengths are many: the author's clear and proven integrity and liberal-moderate credentials; the depth of her carefully footnoted research both into the now-massive literature and reporting on the subject in Europe (much of it little noticed here) and through personal inquiries and visits to trouble spots; the range of cases covered and especially the links established between international terrorist centers and the surges of terrorism in Turkey, by the Provos in Northern Ireland and the U.K., and the ETA Basque movement; and the vividness of her accounts of individual episodes and personalities.
But there are companion weaknesses: synthesis and interpretation either scattered in little pieces or sacrificed to the telling of lurid events; a tendency to accept all printed sources as of equal validity; a high degree of repetition, so that key events recur in different contexts, with some (such as the attack on the Israeli Olympic team in 1972) never clearly recounted in one solid place; and an overuse of strong adjectives. As one reviewer has noted, one can too readily get the feeling that one is being poleaxed into accepting the fundamental points.
All this being said, however, the case that emerges is powerful and persuasive. The Soviet Union has been and remains a central contributor, often indiscriminate and with some unforeseen results; Cuba, the radical PLO and Qaddafi (moving during the decade from Right to Left) the principal immediate promoters. And the results of their parallel efforts have been to transform what would otherwise have been small local movements into major menaces, with the proximate objective (so nearly achieved in Turkey and Spain in recent months) of forcing governments to turn hard Right and prepare the way for chaos and perhaps in the end the hardest Left.
No book could perhaps have pulled together all the strands of a most complex picture. There are omissions: Iran and Saudi Arabia are covered only glancingly, and Latin America hardly at all. Italy, the author's base, may be emphasized a shade more than it now deserves. But all in all this is a landmark book, breaking much new ground and deserving of the care it takes to read it thoroughly.