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«Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2009, 4: 315–342 The Shape of Things to Come? On the Dynamics of Suicide Attacks and Targeted Killings∗ ...»

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Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2009, 4: 315–342

The Shape of Things to Come? On the

Dynamics of Suicide Attacks and Targeted


David A. Jaeger1 and M. Daniele Paserman2

1 City University of New York Graduate Center, University of Cologne, and IZA;

Email: djaeger@gc.cuny.edu

2 Boston University, Hebrew University, NBER, CEPR, and IZA;

Email: paserman@bu.edu


In this paper we examine the dynamics of suicide attacks and targeted killings in

the Second Intifada. We find evidence that the targeted killings of Palestinian leaders by Israel reduce realized Palestinian violence. We find, however, that intended Palestinian violence is increasing at low levels of targeted killings, but decreasing at higher levels. We find that suicide bombings that kill at least one Israeli lead to a subsequent increase in the incidence and levels of Palestinian fatalities. Our results do not support the notion that suicide attacks and targeted killings follow the “tit-for-tat” pattern that is commonly postulated in the literature.

Suicide terrorism; Targeted killings; Assassinations; Second Intifada;


Palestinians; Israel.

We thank Tatiana Slobodnitsky, Tamar Roth, Yaron Aronshtam, and Eran Ben-Ari for their out standing research assistance, Suhair Abdi and Yael Handelsman of B’Tselem for discussions about data as well as providing data on suicide bombings, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Netzach Mashiach for providing us the data on the separation barrier, and Noam Zussman for providing us the data on assassination attempts. We also thank Paul Manna and seminar participants at the University of Aarhus for their useful comments. David Jaeger acknowledges financial support from the IZA and the Samuel

Supplementary Material available from:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00009013_supp MS submitted 19 February 2009; final version received 20 November 2009 ISSN 1554-0626; DOI 10.1561/100.00009013 © 2009 D. A. Jaeger and M. D. Paserman 316 Jaeger and Paserman Unlike a conventional war involving ground or air combat on a battlefield between nation-states with armies of (roughly) equal capacity fighting to claim territory, several recent conflicts have taken place in populated civilian areas between groups with substantial differences in military capacity. These conflicts may include targeted killings (assassinations) of specific leaders on one side and suicide attacks on other – policies primarily designed to incapacitate or demoralize the opponent rather than to directly claim territory. In both cases, civilians are either deliberately targeted (as with suicide attacks) or are likely to be killed in the process (as with targeted killings). This kind of decentralized, somewhat sporadic, and clearly psychologically oriented warfare may be one of the defining characteristics of many of the conflicts of the twenty-first century.

In the long-standing conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, the Second Intifada has been characterized by the increased use of suicide attacks by the Palestinians and an increased number of Israeli targeted killings of Palestinian militants of all ranks. Nearly half of the over 1,000 Israeli fatalities in the Second Intifada have been caused by suicide attacks, while about 8% of more than 4,900 Palestinian fatalities have occurred during targeted killings. Of these, nearly 40% were not the targeted individual(s).1 While neither of these tactics was introduced during the Second Intifada, their heightened prevalence has resulted in their being perceived as the defining characteristics of the conflict.2 The Palestinian–Israeli conflict, while perhaps the best known, is not the only one in which suicide attacks and targeted killings have been used. Hezbollah engaged in suicide attacks against Israeli, French, and U.S. targets in Lebanon between 1982 and 1985, while Israel also engaged in targeted killings of Hezbollah leaders. More recently, both before and after the suicide attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States has attempted targeted killings of al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as Uday and Qusai Hussein in Iraq, despite laws prohibiting assassinations.3 Russia has also been accused of assassinating several Chechen nationalist leaders.4 At the same time, Chechen separatists have engaged in numerous suicide attacks against Russian targets, Neaman Institute. Daniele Paserman acknowledges financial support from the Samuel Neaman Institute.

These statistics are taken from http:/www.btselem.org (last seen 9 February 2009) and are current through 26 December 2008 (before the Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in December 2008/January 2009).

Israel has engaged in assassinations of Palestinians since the 1970s (Byman, 2006). There were more than 10 suicide attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad before the onset of the Second Intifada (Pape, 2005).

Section 5(g) of Executive Order 11905 provided that “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in political assassination,” and was signed by President Gerald Ford on 19 February 1976. It was superseded by Executive Order 12036, Sections 2-305 and 2-309 which prohibited direct and indirect participation in assassinations, respectively, signed by President Jimmy Carter on 26 January 1976. Executive Order 12333, Sections 2.1 and 2.2, signed by President Ronald Reagan on 4 December 1981 is still in effect and also prohibits direct and indirect participation in assassination (removing the word “political” from the 1976 Executive Order). In none of the orders, however, is “assassination” defined. See Kaplan (2006) for a discussion of U.S.

targeted killings policy.

Specifically, Dzhokhar Dudayev, on 21 April 1996; Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, on 13 February 2004 in Qatar; Aslan Maskhadov, on 8 March 2005; and Shamil Basayev, on 10 July 2006.

The Shape of Things to Come? On the Dynamics of Suicide Attacks and Targeted Killings 317 and have stood out for the high proportion of women among the attackers. While the frequency of targeted killings and suicide attacks in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict is much higher than in these conflicts, it shares certain similarities with them. In particular, they all involve an occupying army and a militant opposition that wants the occupiers to leave, a feature that, according to Pape (2005) is the main driving force behind suicide terrorism. Understanding the relationship between these two forms of violence in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict may shed light on their effects in other conflicts as well.5 In this paper we use data on violence and attempted violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories to examine the short-term dynamics of the two “signature” policies of the Second Intifada. Our primary interest is to estimate empirically whether suicide attacks generate a violent Israeli response and whether targeted killings lead to changes in Palestinian violent behavior, testing directly Bloom’s (2004) assertion that the Palestinians and Israeli’s are engaged in a perpetual causal tit-for-tat cycle of suicide attacks and targeted killing reprisals.

Our results suggest that Israel reacts to suicide attacks in the short run, with the number and incidence of Palestinian fatalities rising after a fatal suicide attack. This is true both for the overall number of Palestinian fatalities, and for the number of Palestinian fatalities in targeted killings. On the other hand, targeted killings of Palestinian leaders have a short-term deterrent or incapacitation effect: the overall number of Israeli fatalities and the number of Israelis killed in suicide attacks fall in the first week after a targeted killing. Strikingly, it is the number of Israeli fatalities caused by Palestinian attackers originating in the district where the targeted killing occurred that diminishes most, suggesting that the result is due to a true incapacitation effect. We also find some evidence that intended Palestinian suicide attacks (i.e., attacks in which Israelis were killed plus those in which there were no Israeli fatalities) increase following successful targeted

killings (i.e., those in which the target was killed), although this response is non-linear:

intended Palestinian violence increases when one moves from zero to one or two targeted killings per month, but then decreases at higher levels.

This paper extends our previous work (Jaeger and Paserman, 2006a, 2008) and adds several important new features to the analysis. A distinctive feature of all of our research on the Second Intifada is that we treat both sides of the conflict symmetrically, in contrast to much of the literature that focuses on the consequences of violence on only one side of the conflict. Symmetric treatment of both suicide attacks and targeted killings allows us to examine the full dynamics of the relationship between them and to assess their strategic effectiveness. In Jaeger and Paserman (2008) we examined the dynamics of the overall level of realized violence between the two sides and found that Israel reacts in a systematic way toward realized Palestinian violence, with little evidence of a systematic reaction by the Palestinians toward realized Israeli violence. We have also shown (Jaeger and Paserman, 2006a) that Israel reacts differently to attacks carried out by different Palestinian organizations.

Stein (2003) has argued that Israeli assassinations are also illegal according to international law, as well as being immoral. Our goal in this paper is not to address the legality or morality of Israeli targeted killings, but to evaluate their effectiveness with regard to preventing future Israeli fatalities.

318 Jaeger and Paserman In contrast to these analyses, which looked at all types of lethal violence at a geographically aggregate level, in this paper we examine only suicide attacks and targeted killings and disaggregate by location. Suicide attacks and targeted killings represent very clear strategic decisions by the Palestinians and Israelis, respectively, allowing us to abstract from “conventional” combat fatalities. Moreover, we move beyond using only realized fatalities as our measure of violence and specifically examine both successful and unsuccessful attacks. As we discuss below, the randomness associated with whether a particular attack results in fatalities or not aids our identification strategy. The distinction between unsuccessful and successful Palestinian suicide attacks also allows us to examine more fully Israel’s motivations for responding violently to the Palestinians. Responding only to fatal Palestinian attacks indicates that revenge, and not solely strategic considerations, may be an important component of the Israeli motivation for violent behavior. Lastly, by incorporating geographic variation in the location of attacks and the origin of the attacker into the analysis, we can better assess whether the decrease in Israeli fatalities following the targeted killing of Palestinian militants is due to a true incapacitation effect or is simply a result of increased Israeli vigilance.


There is a growing literature on the motivations and causes driving suicide terrorism.

Pape (2003, 2005) asserts that suicide terrorism has a strategic value vis-à-vis the terrorists’ opponent. After documenting the global pattern of suicide terrorism beginning in the 1980s, he concludes that it is used primarily to coerce democracies (like Israel) to relinquish occupied territory. He uses descriptive evidence to conclude that neither military offensives like targeted killings nor bargaining concessions are likely to quell suicide terror and that the best strategy for doing so is preventive measures like barriers.

While Ashworth et al. (2008) have challenged Pape’s conclusions, there is no question that his work has been very influential among academic researchers and policy makers alike.6 Bloom (2004), in contrast, asserts that Palestinian suicide terrorism is driven primarily by a desire by the competing factions to win the support of the Palestinian public by responding to Israeli attacks. She asserts that Israeli targeted killings are “seemingly irrational… only generat[ing] more victims,” and concludes that “the Israelis and Palestinians appear to be in a deadlocked battle of assassinations-suicide bombingassassination-suicide bombing in an unending causal loop” (pp. 83–84). This is, of course, an empirical question, which we will directly test below.

As of July 2009, Pape’s 2003 article has 72 citations in the Social Science Citation Index, and more than 300 citations in Google Scholar. Ashworth et al. (2008) claim, however, that Pape’s empirical methodology is flawed because of sampling on the dependent variable, and that Pape’s research design “cannot even reveal the relevant statistical associations between the use of suicide terror and its possible correlates.” (ibid., p. 269). Pape (2008) responds to these criticisms.

The Shape of Things to Come? On the Dynamics of Suicide Attacks and Targeted Killings 319 Like Bloom, Kydd and Walter (2002) suggest that suicide bombings serve another “internal” purpose, namely to derail peace processes near their potential conclusions, denying the desires of more moderate groups. They examine the pattern of Hamas attacks in Israel between 1993 and 2001 and conclude that their timing influenced the Israeli election of 1996, which led to the Likud Party and Benjamin Netanyahu coming to power; similarly, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon defeated the more moderate Ehud Barak (head of the Labor Party) in the February 2001 direct elections for Israeli Prime Minister. In both cases, peace negotiations broke down after Likud took power. Bueno de Mesquita and Dickson (2007) make a somewhat similar argument, hypothesizing that extremist groups may attack the central government in the attempt to provoke a counterterrorism response that will radicalize the population, at the expense of support for a more moderate faction.

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