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«Motivation or Capabilities? Israeli Counterterrorism against Palestinian Suicide Bombings and Violence Hillel Frisch © The Begin-Sadat Center for ...»

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Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 70

Motivation or Capabilities?

Israeli Counterterrorism against

Palestinian Suicide Bombings and


Hillel Frisch

© The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies

Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, 52900, Israel


ISSN 0793-1042

December 2006

The Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies The BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University was founded by Dr.

Thomas O. Hecht, a Canadian Jewish community leader. The Center is dedicated to the memory of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who concluded the first Arab-Israel peace agreement. The Center, a non-partisan and independent institute, seeks to contribute to the advancement of Middle East peace and security by conducting policy-relevant research on strategic subjects, particularly as they relate to the national security and foreign policy of Israel.

Mideast Security and Policy Studies serve as a forum for publication or re-publication of research conducted by BESA associates. Publication of a work by BESA signifies that it is deemed worthy of public consideration but does not imply endorsement of the author's views or conclusions. BESA Colloquia on Strategy and Diplomacy summarize the papers delivered at conferences and seminars held by the Center, for the academic, military, official and general publics. In sponsoring these discussions, the BESA Center aims to stimulate public debate on, and consideration of, contending approaches to problems of peace and war in the Middle East. A listing of recent BESA publications can be found at the end of this booklet.

International Advisory Board Founder of the Center and Chairman of the Advisory Board: Dr. Thomas O. Hecht Members: Prof. Moshe Arens, Mrs. Neri Bloomfield, Mrs. Madeleine Feher, Gen.

Alexander M. Haig, Ms. Marion Hecht, Mr. Robert Hecht, Hon. Shlomo Hillel, Sir Robert Rhodes James, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Mr. Robert K. Lifton, Maj. Gen. (res.) Daniel Matt, Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney, Maj. Gen. (res.) Ori Orr, Mr. Seymour D. Reich, Amb. Meir Rosenne, Hon. Yitzhak Shamir, Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Shomron, Amb. Zalman Shoval, Amb. Norman Spector, Dr. Aldophe Steg, Mr. Muzi Wertheim International Academic Advisory Board Desmond Ball Australian National University, Ian Beckett University of Northampton, Eliot A. Cohen SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Irwin Cotler McGill University, Steven R. David Johns Hopkins University, Yehezkel Dror Hebrew University, Lawrence Freedman King's College, Patrick James University of Southern California, Efraim Karsh King's College, Robert J. Lieber Georgetown University, Barry Posen Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jasjit Singh Centre for Strategic and International Studies Research Staff BESA Center Director: Prof. Efraim Inbar Senior Research Associates: Dr. Zeev Bonen, Prof. Stuart A. Cohen, Dr. Gil Feiler, Dr.

Jonathan Fox, Dr. Hillel Frisch, Prof. Eytan Gilboa, Dr. Rami Ginat, Eng. Aby HarEven, Prof. Arye L. Hillman, Dr. Avi Kober, Dr. Zeev Maghen, Prof. Amikam Nachmani, Amb. Itzhak Oren, Prof. Shmuel Sandler, Dr. Dany Shoham, Dr. Shlomo Shpiro, Dr. Max Singer, Prof. Gerald Steinberg Research Associates: Dr. Tsilla Hershco, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Dr. Jonathan Rynhold, Dr. Ron Schleifer Director of Public Affairs: David Weinberg Program Coordinator: Hava Waxman Koen Production Editor (English): Tamara Sternlieb Production Editor (Hebrew): Alona Briner Rozenman Motivation or Capabilities?

Israeli Counterterrorism against Palestinian Suicide Bombings and Violence

Hillel Frisch

Is it really true that counterterrorism leads to aimless and repetitive conflict as many scholars claim? Mia Bloom in a well-cited article argues that Israeli counterterrorism motivated the Palestinian factions to increase terrorism and the support insurgents receive from wider society: "Surprisingly enough, Israelis rallied around the extreme right, thinking that hawkish policies would deter future attacks. In fact, the long-term ramifications on the Palestinian polity will encourage rather than deter future attacks."1 Elsewhere in the article, Bloom is even more disparaging about Israeli offensive measures to reduce Palestinian terrorism: "The Israelis and Palestinians appear to be in a dead-locked battle of assassination-suicide bombingassassination-suicide bombing in an unending causal loop… encouraging yet more 'martyrs.'"2 She concludes, “…in the long run, the number of attacks will increase because groups vying to lead the Palestinians will use violence as their main source of recruitment and mobilization.”3 Bloom is hardly alone in focusing on the motivation of the insurgent as being crucial in explaining the intensity of violence and in questioning the presumed effectiveness of Israeli counterterrorist Hillel Frisch is Senior Lecturer of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University. The author would like to thank Jonathan Fox, Efraim Inbar, Stuart Cohen and an anonymous reviewer for their comments and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) for funding the project.

actions. According to Scott Atran, “repeated suicide actions show that massive counterforce alone does not diminish the frequency or intensity of suicide attacks."4 Even Richard Boucher, then State Department spokesperson under the hawkish Bush administration doubted the value of Israel's offensive moves, primarily targeted killings, when he stated in July 2001 that "Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don't end the violence, but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm."5 If counterterrorism indeed breeds more violence because it increases motivation amongst the insurgents in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as Bloom and others predicted, why then did suicide attempts decline from its peak in 2003-2004 by over one-third (from 184 to 119 attempts) and successful suicide attacks decrease by over 40 percent (from 26 to 15)? Even more dramatically, why did the number of Israeli fatalities from suicide bombing and other forms of Palestinian violence drop by 75 percent (!) from its peak in 2002 within two years, leading, as the paper will demonstrate, to a turn-around in the Israeli economy?

The following article claims that it is not motivation amongst the insurgents that counts militarily or politically as much as their organizational capabilities. These are largely determined by the opponent's counterterrorism moves. More specifically, this paper sets

out to demonstrate the validity of the following four claims:

1) That Palestinian violence declined dramatically since its peak in 2002.

2) That none of the competing explanations identifying motivation as the chief cause of the intensity and efficiency of the Palestinian insurgency - relative deprivation, vengeance, outbidding or motivation to spoil a peace process - sufficiently explain the decline in both the intensity and efficiency of Palestinian violence.

3) That a reduction of Palestinian capabilities was at stake.

4) And that the reduction in these capabilities was directly linked to successful Israeli counterterrorism.

Even if Israeli offensive moves, such as the killing of the two Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and his successor Abd al-Aziz alRantissi in March and April 2004 increased the desire to engage in terrorism, Hamas and the other factions battered by Israel, were forced to operate at reduced level of efficiency. Eventually they were induced to unilaterally accept the tahdiyya (lull) in the fighting in March 2005, vindicating the argument that the insurgent's capabilities are far more important than motivation in explaining the damage wrought to the Israeli side or the political dividends achieved, and that these capabilities are largely determined by successful counterterrorism measures. By reducing Palestinian terrorism, Israel was able to stop the contraction of its economy, a potentially macrostrategic threat, and to rebound economically.

The paper begins with a review of the literature assessing the importance of motivation relative to capabilities. It then proceeds to analyze the basic trends regarding Palestinian violence and its efficiency both in terms of the casualties the organizations suffered in carrying them out and the damage wrought to the Israeli side. To what extent motivation explains the decline in Palestinian terrorism is covered in the third part. The fourth section looks at how Israeli counterterrorism measures, mainly denying a sanctuary for Palestinian insurgents in Judea and Samaria, affected the insurgent's organizational capabilities.

Capabilities, Motivation and Terrorism "Our revenge will come a hundredfold for the blood of Rantissi and Yassin." promised a Hamas official after the killing of the two Hamas leaders in April 2004.”6 Though vengeance questionably might be the major rhetorical and propaganda device used by the terrorists themselves, psychological factors related to deprivation are often identified as the key reasons for collective violence. According to Attran “rising aspirations followed by dwindling expectations particularly regarding civil liberties are critical factors in generating support for suicide terrorism.”7 Vengeance, tit-for-tat dynamics and escalation have been suggested by Barry Weingast and Rui de Figueiredo, who have argued that violence is often retaliatory. Palestinian suicide bombings are closely linked to Israeli actions: the massacre at the al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron by an Israeli settler that killed over 30 worshipers in 1994, the opening of the tunnel beneath the western wall of the Temple Mount in 1996 that led to week-long clash between Israel and Palestinian security forces, and targeted assassinations of Palestinian terrorist commanders such as Hamas engineer Yahya Ayyash in early 1996.8 If Weingast and de Figueiredo perceive terrorism and suicidebombing in particular as being motivated by vengeance, Andrew Kydd and Barbara F. Walter emphasize rationality in proposing that terrorism is largely used by the Palestinian opposition, Hamas and the Jihad al-Islami, as a means to spoil the prospects of peace negotiations just as they seem most probable and promising.9 Terrorism makes the moderates on the Palestinian side seem weak, generating doubt among Israeli negotiators that political concessions will not bring the important dividends of peace and calm, thus reducing their motivations to conclude a deal with the Palestinian side.

For Pape, suicide bombing is also rational aimed not necessarily at spoiling peace processes but in achieving strategic gains, primarily the withdrawal of foreign forces from contested territory. He cites numerous examples: the withdrawal of American and French military forces from Lebanon in 1983, Israeli forces from Lebanon in 1985, (more questionably) Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1994 and 1995, and the Sri Lankan government's willingness to create an independent Tamil state from 1990.10 Another explanation for the increase in suicide bombing agrees that it is rational but disagrees with the source of that motivation. According to Bloom, violent organizations are not motivated strategically by the external arena as much as they are by the desire to outbid domestic rivals and increase their popularity on the home front. Hamas and the Jihad al-Islami, Bloom argues, used suicide-bombing in the recent wave of conflict to challenge the political hegemony of Fatah.11 Not all scholars agree with the overwhelming focus on terrorist motivation reflected in recent literature.12 Instead, many scholars focus on the effects and outcomes of terrorism and the reasons for its reduction or augmentation. Sandler and Arce’s most recent work, in sharp contrast to the ideas expressed in the opening of this article, suggest that governments may be in error of favoring defensive counterterrorist measures over offensive policies, especially when terrorists direct a disproportionate number of attacks at one government. Even though offensive policies tend to provide public benefits to all potential targets, they are not as extensively employed as less effective and more costly defensive measures.13 Strong offensive measures are also suggested in an article by Arreguin-Toft. He tries to understand why in guerrilla warfare or low intensity conflict there is a growing tendency (over the past two centuries) for the weaker side to win. He concludes much like Sandler and Arce - though on the basis of inductive rather than deductive analysis of historical data - that strong states should escalate conflict in the form of direct offensive attacks against the guerrillas in order to prevail.14 In a similar vein, Weyland points out that the tough offensive-minded counterterrorism in Peru was very effective.15 These scholars would argue that responding forcefully and escalating the conflict in response to terrorist attacks do not create senseless titfor-tat or loop-like processes but are likely to lead to reduced capabilities amongst the insurgents, to fewer human and material resources at their disposal, and finally, to reduced and less effective terrorism.

More specifically in the Israeli-Arab and Palestinian arena, Sprecher and Derouen note that in the context of interstate warfare, Arab military actions appear to have been driven by Israeli military actions.

These Arab actions seem to decrease in response to Israeli actions, suggesting the effectiveness of Israeli offensive measures.16 Steven David was one of the few to predict the effectiveness of Israeli offensive moves at the peak of Palestinian suicide bombings, when he predicted that Israeli targeted killing would erode terrorist infrastructure over time.17 Sergio Catignani acknowledges Israeli counterterrorism but claims that it comes at the expense of long-term strategic thinking.18 Israelis, in his view, expend far too much effort in scoring tactical points in the conflict with the Palestinians and too little on how to achieve macro-strategic goals.

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