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ETA: Nowhere to Go

03/08/2009

Is ETA staging a comeback?

First a massive car bomb in Burgos; then a similar attack on the holiday island of Majorca – both directed at the Guardia Civil, the Spanish paramilitary police, which has been ETA’s favourite target for years.

Many commentators and analysts have attributed the attacks to a new breed of ETA recruits: they are younger and more radical than previous generations of ‘Etarras’ who had become involved during Spain’s transformation towards democracy in the late 1970s.

(Particularly interesting: the numbers of women who now seem to be involved!)

This would explain why many of them hadn’t been on the police’s radar screens; and why the authorities’ recent successes in capturing ETA’s leadership could not prevent this latest series of attacks.

The conflict over the Basque Country may thus enter a new, bloody round – with disastrous consequences for people in the Basque Country, the Spanish economy, Spanish politics, and life on the Iberian peninsula in general.

ETA’s chances of winning that conflict, however, are slim – no matter how many terrorist spectaculars its new, action-hungry recruits manage to pull off.

Spanish politicians (and the people they represent) are unlikely to be worn down by a low-level terrorist campaign, which – however unpleasant – they have learned to cope with in decades.

People in the Basque country do not support ETA, and are unlikely to change their views as a result of more ETA violence. In fact, they only recently elected the first non-nationalist regional government in decades.

ETA, in many ways, has fallen into what my colleague MLR Smith and I have described as the‘escalation trap’. If they simply continue with their campaign, they are unlikely ever to generate sufficient strategic momentum to make any significant gains.

If, however, they decide to escalate – which recent events could be a sign of – people will turn against them, and their goals will become even more difficult to achieve.

ETA clearly hasn’t thought this one through. If they had, they’d have realised that – politically and strategically – they have nowhere to go.