A critical analysis of Israel’s counter-terorrism strategy
By Adarsh Aravind
Ever since its creation in 1948, Israel has been confronted with the threat of terror outbreaks of various types and intensities from different rejectionist groups like Hezbollah, PLO, Hamas etc. Their belligerence against Israel is a result of various religious and ideological difference they have with the Jewish state. As these groups are unable to defeat the Israeli defense system with direct confrontations, they started carrying out terror attacks mainly targeting the Israeli citizens with an intention to challenge the national will. These acts of terror are carried out in various arenas by using various methods like suicide bombings, explosions, random shootings, kidnapping, negotiations etc. This resulted in the death of a large number of people and increased the internal tensions which had major decisive ramifications for every spheres of national interest except its economy. The percentage of Israelis killed due to terrorist activities is higher than in any other democracy in the world. Over these years, the citizens of Israel understood the vagaries of terror faced by their country and made up their mind to live their normal life in the shadow of terror. For combating terrorism which is a serious threat to the citizens’ freedom and national security, the government of Israel developed various counter-terrorism measures and started taking serious actions against all forms of terror. The primary goal of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy is to destabilize the terror groups and prevent them from jeopardizing its national security. The mighty Mossad and Shin Bet of Israel which are famous for their covert operations and intelligence system, started concentrating and cooperating more on preventing terrorism. They created various Special Forces to fight against terrorism in a very violent manner. It has become a necessity for them to develop new technologies to prevent terrorism and ensure cutting-edge security to the nation. Over these years, they understood the phenomenon of terrorism and its seriousness and they gained experience in fighting it. Even if they were successful in combating terrorism up to an extent, they are still facing numerous challenges from different terrorist organizations. Israel was often highly sensitive, reactive and bellicose when it comes to issues like terrorism which challenges the security of the nation. Some of these aggressive conducts attracted numerous denigrations from the transnational community and has greatly undermined Israel’s international standing. But the Jewish state has shown the resolve to continue fighting these terrorist groups more aggressively because it’s a matter of their ‘survival’.
Israel is a small country with a small population. Ever since its establishment, it confronted with a situation in which its basic legitimacy was neither acknowledged nor accepted by its neighbors and prominent powers of the region. The main reason behind such a reaction from these Islamic countries was their censure towards the creation of a Jewish state in a Muslim dominated Palestinian territory. This resulted in rise of tensions in the region and all these Islamic states turned against the Israel and now for all the countries in West Asia, Israel is their major strategic distraction. So ever since its creation, Israel is living in an environment surrounded by various threats. The geo-political location of the country is a security nightmarish for Israeli defense architects, given the antagonistic or potentially truculent neighborhood on each of its flanks. Israel covers a total area of 20,770 square kilometers and have land borders with Egypt (208 km), Jordan (307 km), Lebanon (81 km), and Syria (83 km). Its land border with the disputed Palestinian territory of West Bank is 330 km and Gaza strip is 59 km. In total, the state of Israel has a land boundary of approximately 1068 km and a coastline of 273 km. Due to its small area and uneven settlements, Israel have numerous high value infrastructures in close propinquity to one another. It has 47 airports and 4 major seaports and five central power stations. The country has a high population density and two thirds of its population breathes within a 75 square kilometer radius in three highly developed metropolitan areas. So the country’s distribution of assets and populace makes it predominantly vulnerable to the threats of weapons of mass destruction.
Since establishment, Israel has fought conventional wars six times. And many of those wars were fought with multiple Arab states simultaneously. And almost all Arab countries stood against Israel were assumed to possess some weapons of mass destruction. The capabilities of Syria and Egypt should be noted first in that context. Syria and Egypt possesses different types of missiles, chemical and biological weapons. So ever since its creation, Israel lived under this security dilemma from its adversaries. Its security perception is not limited to the terrorizations to its peoples, territory and assets but to its very existence as a state as such. But no country in the region was successful in defeating Israel and challenge their existence due their combined use of perfect strategy and intelligence with available defense systems. Now Israel has grown into a developed nation and became the most advanced county in the region. Its military technology, intelligence and other defense systems and services including intelligence became one of the best in the world. And the adversaries understood that they cannot defeat Israel through direct attacks and conventional warfare. So they started using asymmetric means especially terrorism against the Jewish state. Many experts argue that the threat to Israel is not only from its immediate neighbors but also from other major countries and terrorist organizations of the West Asia. Iraq, which once postured as a severe menace, may temporarily not be a big issue, however Iran is a threat in being, mainly on excuse of its long range missile competencies and undercover nuclear weapons program. As it is, Israel has been criticizing Iran and other West Asian countries for backing anti-Israel terrorism. Various organizations like Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) etc. are few examples of terrorist groups fighting against Israel. All the terrorist threats posed towards Israel have their roots in religion, border dispute between neighbors and the Palestinian cause. Currently, the most dynamic anti- Israel terrorist groups are,
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO):
There are arguments regarding the categorization of Palestine Liberation Organization as a terrorist organization, as they are given half acceptance by the United Nations. But if the violent activities they are piloting against Israel are considered, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is unquestionably one of the most notorious terrorist organizations around the world. The PLO was created in 1964 during Arab league summit in Cairo. The ultimate ambition of PLO was the “liberation of Palestine” through armed struggle while pursuing to abolish the existence of Zionism in the Middle East. Their primary goal during the first decade of its creation was a massive terrorist campaign aimed at the dissolution of Israel which resulted in a serious causality record on both sides. But then PLO realized that they should add some political and emotional elements to their goal which is necessary for a meaningful dialogue and thus the Palestinian cause listed into their higher priorities. Yasir Arafat who was the head of the strongest group in PLO (Al Fatah), was the chairman of the PLO from 1969 to 2004 and established Palestinian control over the organization. According to Columbia electronic encyclopedia, PLO sponsored innumerable terrorist attacks against Israel targeting Israeli civilian and military targets although they denied many of those activities. Many of the prominent terrorist groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), and the Fatah etc. remains more-or-less under the umbrella of the PLO even if they have their own independent gearshifts. The Palestine Liberation Organization received UN recognition in 1974, and Arab nations recognized a government in exile as a basis for the upcoming Palestinian state which is to be molded from land recaptured from Israel along the west bank of the Jordan River. In 1976 the PLO was granted full membership in the Arab League. The fights between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization continued in full swing after its got the recognition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” from different countries. In 1988 the PLO proclaimed the creation of an independent Palestinian state as a response to the Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, occurred in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yasir Arafat also took an equivocal diplomatic deed when he announced Israel’s right to exist and relinquished terrorism. As a result of this Israel agreed to have serious talks with the PLO and lead to a peace agreement. This agreement brought mutual recognition and partial self-rule in West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 1996, Arafat was designated as the president of the Palestinian-controlled territory and after his death in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him as PLO chairman and Palestinian president. Although the peace agreement with Israel was an exultant feat for the PLO and the supporting Arab nations, they were not satisfied with the agreement as their ultimate goal was the liberation of Palestine. So, the peace agreement failed in spreading peace in the region, and PLO continued its terror activities against Israel and still continuing directly and indirectly with help of different terrorist organization under PLO’s umbrella.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad:
Harakat al-Jihād al-Islāmi fi Filastīn (The Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine) or simply known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a Sunni Islamist organization committed to violently oppose the survival of Israel. Dr Fathi abd al‑Aziz Shaqaqi and Shayk Abd al‑Aziz Awda founded the Palestinean Islamic Jihad in 1981. The creation of the Palestinian Isalamic Jihad was the result of a dogma which considered the belief in the Muslim Brotherhood as a very moderate outlook. Thus, PIJ was formed as a radical militant alternative to Muslim Brotherhood and focused on the liberation of Palestine through ferocious means against the Jewish State. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s terrorist campaign against Israel began in the 1980s. In 1997, the US State Department designated Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization. PIJ targets Jewish civilians of Israel and Israeli military personnel in its pursuit to the creation of a sovereign Islamic state in “all of historic Palestine,” (within the geographic boundaries of the pre‑1948 British‑ mandated Palestine) according to the State Department’s 2006 Country Report on terrorism. When other groups like Fatah and Hamas partakes in political course, PIJ does not participate in the political process. Between 1987 to 2006, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Claimed the responsibility of over 30 suicide attacks in Israel. Since then, they focused more on rocket and mortar attacks to maximize the casualties. According to the US state department, most of the financial needs of PIJ is funded by Iran. Only a very small amount of population in Palestine supports PIJ and this enables them to give less consideration to the wider political opinions and encourages them to focus on its ideological goals.
Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as the Hamas, is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic, radical and fundamentalist organization operating in the territories under Israeli control. It is classified as a terrorist organization by the US state department. Formed in late 1987 during the beginning of the first Palestinian uprising (Intifada). Hamas has its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood which is an Islamic fundamentalist movement that arose in Egypt in the 1920s. Initially, Hamas acted in the Muslim Brotherhood style and thus their primary deeds were mainly social welfare activities that accommodated especially to the Palestinian immigrants in the Gaza Strip. All these activities, over the time helped Hamas in developing a good repute for improving the lives and dignity of Palestinians. The influence of Hamas in mosques and different religious organizations in the region is another notable point. Today, the Islamic regimes in Syria and Iran has intimate links with Hamas. Sheik Ahmed Yassin, one of the famous co-founders of Hamas stated in 1987 and the Hamas charter of 1988 asserted that the primary goal of Hamas is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and even the present day Israel. Hamas also rejects the peace agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Another specialty of Hamas is it has its own clinics, mosques and schools. According to US state department, most of the funding for Hamas activities is coming from Palestine expatriates around the world and from private sponsors in Arab countries. Hamas executes terrorist attacks in various forms: firing rockets and mortars to Israel, suicide bombings, infiltrating into Israeli soil and attack Israeli civilians and soldiers, car bombings etc. The strength of Hamas in the Israeli-administered territories is growing day by day even if Islamic State is causing drain in member count of Hamas. In future, the exclusive position of PLO in Palestine can be threatened anytime due to the rise of a powerful Hamas. And if the extreme ideologies and unnegotiable attitude of Hamas is considered, this organization can be said as one of the most precarious adversaries of Israel.
Ḥizbu ‘llāh which means ‘party of Allah’ commonly known as Hezbollah or Hizballah is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group. Hezbollah was created in 1982 in retort to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah officially came into existence in 1985 and has an extensive network of security systems, political support, and social services in Lebanon, and thus the group is often labelled as a “state within the state.” Its leaders were followers of Ayatollah Khomeini and the group got its ideological inspiration from the Iranian revolution. It is intensely anti-Zionist, anti-western and anti-Israel. Hezbollah has close links with Iran and supports a range of ferocious Anti-Western groups including the Palestine terrorist organizations by providing weapons, training, funding etc. They consider Israel as the “vanguard of the United States in the Islamic world.” Israel is Hezbollah’s hated enemy and Hezbollah will fight till their enemy get what they deserve. According to current estimates by the Israelis intelligence, the fighting strength of Hezbollah ranges from 4,000 to 7,000 and have reported a 50% increase in its missile stockpiles since May. And the intelligence estimates gauge that Hezbollah has a stockpile of 150,000 rockets of various ranges as of November 2015. Since its founding, the group has been piloting relentless attacks against Israel and US citizens. But the assassination of Ali Hussein Shah by Israel through a car bomb explosion was a shock to Hezbollah and they seriously criticized Israel for it. The intensity of attacks increased after the death of Ali Hussein Shah and the conflict got worse. Often, the damages on Hezbollah’s side was severe during Israeli retaliation but the group regained power again and again by the support of Syria and Iran. According to US state department, Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization since 1997 and is considered as one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world.
Other terrorist organizations
Israel is a nation which is vulnerable to numerous terror threats especially due to the location of the country which is surrounded by anti-Semitic states and due to the Palestinian cause. Even if the organizations discussed above are the major organizations posing threat to the state of Israel, there are numerous other terrorist organizations that can be added to the list. This includes Abdallah Azzam Brigades, Abu Nidal Organization, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Army of Islam, Islamic Jihad Union, The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, ISIL, IS), Kahane Chai, Palestine Islamic Jihad – Shaqaqi Faction, Palestine Liberation Front – Abu Abbas Faction, Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), PFLP -General Command, Al-Qa’ida.
The Oslo accords data shows that until September 2000, about 300 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks. During the Palestinian Intifada (2000 – 2005) nearly 1,100 Israelis were killed and 203 Israeli lives were claimed by the terrorist attacks since 2005. According to data compiled by Shin Bet, 2015 was one of the most lethal years for terrorism since 2008. The death counts due to terrorist attacks in Israel reached to 28 including two foreigners in 2015. The recent succession of attacks against Israelis is the result of provocation by radical Islamist and terrorist groups, calling on the youth of Palestine to murder Jews and to destroy Israel. According to Israel foreign ministry reports, since 13 September, 2015, 211 stabbing attacks, 83 shootings, and 42 vehicular attacks was reported. This casualty rate shows that how serious is the situation in Israel. People in the country are living in the shadow of fear as these incidents became a part and parcel of their daily life. Thus, it has become a necessity for the Israeli government to provide cutting edge security to the nation to protect their country and its citizens and to combat with the elements which poses as a challenge to their existence itself.
One of the major duties of a responsible government is to ensure security of the nation and its citizens. For a country like Israel where threats can be expected anytime from anywhere, this notion of security is not only the duty of the government, but also a necessity. Thus, as a matter of inevitability, over the past six decades Israel has developed powerful forces, efficient intelligence, cutting edge technologies, and various other security measures to ensure the security of the nation in all arenas. “The primary goals of Israeli counterterrorism strategy are to prevent terrorists from influencing the national agenda and preserve the psychological resilience of the civilian population.” This process involves a strong campaign against the terrorist organizations and the state and non-state actors which supports these organizations, protection of homeland by attacking back against the terror groups, and delegitimizing terrorism globally. Over these years, Israel has learned that unlike conventional warfare, terrorism is a tenacious phenomenon and a decisive victory over it is uneasy. When one boulevard of attack is blocked, the terrorist will find another one. After the aircraft hijackings in 1960s, Israel improved the aviation security and then the terrorists started attacking embassies. When embassies got improved security terrorists started attacking vehicles and public places. Which clearly shows that, when one avenue is closed they will find other arenas and ways to conduct terror attack and this process will continue. So, for a counterterrorism strategy to be effective, the system and policy must be successful in anticipating the changing nature of terrorism and must adapt to it accordingly. The brutal attacks by the Palestinian terrorist organizations got intensified exponentially since September 2000 (the second Intifada period). Since then the situation got worsened and more and more attacks started to happen in the Israeli soil targeting innocent Israeli citizens. This attacks which occur randomly in buses, restaurants, markets, public gatherings, movie halls, nightclubs etc. seriously affect the citizens and the society physically and psychologically. Due to the different modes of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings they use, it is impossible for any country in the world to prevent all chances of causalities. But, the Israeli counterterrorism system is highly efficient in such a way that, in prevents approximately 85% suicide bombings. Not only in suicide bombing, counterterrorism authorities are successful in preventing a huge number of direct attacks also. For example, out of the 211 stabbing attacks happened in Israel since September 2015, 66 were neutralized by the counterterrorism authorities. So, all these day-to-day experiences in combating terrorism gave Israel a better understanding about how to counter terrorism. So any Israeli insights on counterterrorism is of greatest interest to the US officials and taken seriously by many countries in the world. The counterterrorism strategy of Israel consists of the following features;
- Intelligence gathering and analysis
- Military and paramilitary actions to interject terrorist society and infrastructure
- Commercial aviation security
- Defense against chemical and biological attacks
- Efforts to reinforce the psychological fortitude of the civilian population
Israel’s counterterrorism system mainly focuses on preemptive strikes, gathering information and preventing the Palestinian infiltrators from entering into Israel’s sovereign territory and conduct violence. They are also specialized in destroying the terrorist infrastructure and kill the ‘commands’ of terrorist groups. The so called ‘commands’ can be anyone including the terrorist leaders, military commanders bomb makers etc. who is an inevitable factor of that particular organization and this covert and overt assassinations over the time turned into one of the most controversial counterterrorism policies. Israel attacks the weapon stockpiles, development centers, safe houses etc. and try to cripple these groups in many such ways. These operations are successfully conducted with the help of continuous effort and brilliant tactics by Israeli specialized groups like Aman, Yamam, Sayeret Yahalom etc. through different types of operations like targeted killings, home devastations and collective punishment, administrative detention and prosecution, border controls, technological developments, clampdown of terrorist financing etc.
The dedication and seriousness of Israel’s counterterrorism experts in successful implementation of their counterterrorism strategy helped Israel in becoming a role model to other countries in specific security sectors such as commercial aviation security, defense against biological and chemical spells, psychological training programs etc. In the commercial aviation security sector, the expertise Israel has is legendry. And they maintain that security with higher priority because the aircrafts and airports are always vulnerable to terrorist attacks and hijacking. When the issue comes to chemical and biological weapons, we can see that Israel is facing a serious threat from all the surrounding countries who possess these types of weapons. Sighting this threat, Israel has developed the world’s most sophisticated chemical and biological weapons defense system in which each Israeli citizen is protected. This system includes specially trained forces specialized to immediately act when any biological and chemical attacks happen, advanced technological systems for surveillance and detection, distribution and renewal of protection kits (which includes gas mask, auto injector etc.) for every citizen, all facility bomb proof and sealed protective rooms for every building etc. Another effort made by Israel to cope with terrorism is to give psychological training and awareness to the citizens which helped in nurturing the Israeli citizen to handle and fight with psychological warfare. All these deliberate efforts helped the country to survive in this terror prone environment with no serious economic and psychological impacts.
In order to survive in the geopolitically vulnerable region as a nation- state, the Israelis have cultivated a conspicuously bellicose defense posture. Keeping this posture in mind, they have fostered a number of strategies and tactics to counter the terrorist organizations fighting against them. However, there is a very limited precise information available on the effectiveness of these strategies. One way of analyzing the effectiveness of Israel’s counterterrorism strategy is through qualitative methods. Eternally since its creation, Israel was continuously motivating the citizens to cope with this continuous wave of terror. The reason behind this is due to the emphasis of terrorists on spreading a negative psychological impact among the citizens. And this helped the citizens in Israel to live their daily life under the threat of terror. Even if this is a known fact, there is very less information available about the rate of increase in attitude of citizens towards terrorism and thus using this qualitative analysis is not possible. Another way of looking at the effectiveness of Israel’s counterterrorism strategy is through quantitative analysis.
But if a time series analysis is done using available data with the help of quantitative indicators, the data shows that the counterterrorism strategies had positive effects. According to some scholars, the counterterrorism strategies have been effective if the rate of terrorist violence decreases over the time. Considering this approach, and examining it with the terrorist environment in Israel since 2000, there is a notable decline in the number of terrorist attacks since 2002 (135 incidents) which was one of the most horrible years in Israel’s history. Since then the attack rate was decreasing (exception in 2005, a trivial rise in number of attacks). According to this data, Israel’s counterterrorism strategy was highly effective and successful. But it’s difficult to establish the effectiveness of counterterrorism strategy simply by going through the attack rates because the tensions and situations in the region are slightly different during intifada. The nature of attacks slightly changed and the influence and power of different adversaries got changed. Thus, by simply observing the time-series and quantitative analysis of deaths and harms it gives the impression that whatsoever strategies the Israelis were using, they were effective. So a blunt establishment of giving the credits to Israel’s counterterrorism strategy is not possible. Also the data shows how many attacks happened and it’s impossible to find how many attacks were neutralized and how many attacks were prevented. Another method to analyze the effectiveness of Israel’s counterterrorism strategy is to find the rate of change in number of deaths over a period. According to Wm. Robert Johnston, in 2000, 44 were killed and 263 were injured. 2002 was one of the most devastating years of Israel’s history. 452 people were killed 2,284 were injured in that year. If we go through the above data and relate the number of attacks with the number of deaths and injuries, a continuous pattern can be derived from it. Before 2005, the death toll was very high compared to the number of attacks took place. But after the strengthening of counterterrorism measures, the rate of causality has come down. From 2006 onwards, the ratio of death to attack came down drastically and this assessment proves the success of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy. But one of the major drawbacks in Israel’s counter terrorism strategy is, actually it can be only called as tactics, because it cannot be completely called as a strategy. This is because, Israel over these years, got experienced with fighting with day to day attacks but they fail in planning a long term strategy in weakening the threats. Instead they are focusing in preemptive strikes and prevention of attacks. Thus there is no change in the condition of adversaries and their attitudes over these years and Israel should focus on making a long term planning to weaken these terrorist actors through a combination of armed and unarmed actions. A major challenge which might face the state of Israel in making the counterterrorism measures up to date and more effective is the expenses. Even if such costs doesn’t make any serious changes in Israel’s highly developed economy, issues like financial slowdowns (if it happens) might lead to serious budget allocation problems and Israel might not be able to maintain this sophisticated counterterrorism system with available budget in the foreseeable future. So Israel should also focus more seriously on making the counterterrorism cheaper so that it can be maintained in any economic conditions.
Since it was created in 1948 the state of Israel was living under the shadow of terror. Since then it was suffering from continuous belligerence from different separatist state and non-state actors, which resulted in dozens of terrorist bombings with huge number of casualties each year and the situation got worse during the beginning of the twenty first century. To subsist in this wave of terror, the state of Israel has implemented some of the most rigorous counter-terrorist measures of any country in the world and over the time, they got highly experienced in the field of counterterrorism. Israel’s keenness to encompass and avert terrorist spells against its citizens has at times attracted international criticism, especially its policies of preemptive attacks, assassinations of notorious terrorists in other countries and use of strong-arm interrogation by their intelligence agencies. But for Israel which is facing serious existential threat from the Arab world, it’s a necessity to develop an all-round effective counterterrorism system. The effectiveness could be considered as one of the most, imperative aspect in counterterrorism strategy, not just scholastically but also politically. But exploring the effectiveness is a hard process because it is not easy to state whether or not the Israel’s counterterrorism policies have been successful or unsuccessful. The availability of data, dynamic nature of regional tensions, etc. stands as blockades in an accurate analysis in this topic. But a relatively better analysis can be fetched out if a comparative study of available data is done and that study showed us the effectiveness of Israel’s counterterrorism strategy. But there are few drawbacks for their efforts to counter terrorism. One of the main drawbacks is, they prefer tactics over strategy. That is, they focus on neutralizing the day to day threats and they lag behind in making a long term strategy. Like every country, one of the major challenges faced by Israel is the rising cost of maintaining and updating their sophisticated counterterrorism system which might lead to serious budget allocation concerns in the foreseeable future.
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- n. 2
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- n. 41
- n. 42
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