Analysis: The ‘heat hypothesis’ and spikes in terror and war

Based on criminology research called Routine Activity Theory, one expert said the summer months present three primary factors contributing to heightened violence.

April 25, 2017 00:36
3 minute read.

A masked Palestinian boy holds a toy gun as he takes part in a rally marking the 28th anniversary of Hamas' founding. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A meta-analysis conducted by the journal Science, one of the world’s top peer-reviewed academic journals, has found that high temperatures result in disproportionate spikes in terrorism and warfare.

If accurate, the corollary between heat waves and heightened violence in Israel, and the world in general, might be a self-evident phenomenon spanning millennia, particularly recent history.

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The European Union Institute for Security Studies found that the so-called “heat hypothesis” suggests that warm weather acts as a direct trigger for violence, because physical discomfort leads to an increase in acts of aggression.

“This theory is supported by ‘Ramadan Rage’ during Islam’s holiest month… particularly in 2014, when Ramadan took place in July (with the sun shining for 14 hours per day, compared to 10 in winter), thereby adding the additional burden of time to the stress of the heat [and fasting],” the institute states.

According to Dr. Simha Landau, professor emeritus and former chair of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mildred and Benjamin Berger Institute of Criminology, seasonality is indeed a driving force in the phenomenon.

“My research has shown that there is a relationship between violent crime and seasonality,” Landau said by phone on Monday. “Generally speaking, it’s more comfortable to wage a war or carry out a terrorist attack in the summer months than during the winter.

“During the summer,” he continued, “there are more people outside in public areas, so there are more human interactions and, therefore, potential conflicts and targets for terrorists.”

Based on criminology research called Routine Activity Theory, Landau said the summer months present three primary factors contributing to heightened violence.

“First, you need an availability of targets; second you need motivated offenders; and third, a lack of prevention or self defense," he said. " If one of these three elements is lacking, it is difficult to carry out [effective] attacks.”

Echoing the European Union Institute for Security Studies findings, Landau said individuals literally “lose their cool” exponentially during the summer months.

“Because it is uncomfortably hot and more people are outside on recreational activities, what under normal circumstances would be a minor conflict between opponents makes one, or both of them, resort to physical violence,” he said.

“In this regard, we are speaking about what is colloquially called a ‘very short fuse.’ They become ‘hot-blooded,’ and the heat affects their inner composition and drive, which manifests in extreme physical behavior.”

However, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center and former director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, said heat is secondary to preexisting geopolitical tensions.

While Kuperwasser conceded that many wars and terrorism waves take place during the stifling summer months – including the last war with Hamas in Gaza in 2014 – he nonetheless asserted that weather is not a factor.

“I guess some psychologists will say that the heat raises tensions, because people become more sensitive, but to embark on a war or terrorism campaign is a decision that is not based on the weather,” he said on Monday.

“For example, the knifing terrorism campaign began in October of 2015 [after radical groups from the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement were banned from the Temple Mount], when it wasn’t that hot at the time.

“So, taking such action frequently results from political tensions.

Although the Second Lebanon War started in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah failed four times to kidnap Israeli soldiers since October of 2005.

The war started in July, because they finally succeeded, not because of the heat. In my experience, it has much more to do with the geopolitical underpinnings than the weather.”

Moreover, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, heightened security is typically implemented during Jewish holidays, most of which occur in the cooler months.

“In terms of terrorism, peak tensions and security normally takes place in the capital during the Jewish festivals and Ramadan, where unfortunately, incidents frequently take place immediately before, during and after they conclude,” he said.

“Those are the most sensitive times during the year, when the Israel Police heightens security based on assessments, not the heat."

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