While the United States grapples with the difficult situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more homegrown terrorist incidents are sprouting up in the homeland, it may surprise some to hear that Israel (of all places) has actually been fortunate enough to have a decrease it terrorism in the last few years.
Many experts point to the security barrier that Israel erected along the West Bank as a reason for the decrease in suicide attacks in Israel. Despite the controversial nature of the barrier, there was a decline in the number of attack within Israeli cities that coincided with the gradual erection of the fence.
At Monday''s symposium on "The Challenge of Counter-Terrorism to Law-Enforcement Agencies" at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, Israel, (yes, this is what I do with my free time), I heard a well-thought out and accurate explanation for the current drop in suicide attacks in Israel from Dr. Boaz Ganor, Founder and Executive Director of ICT. I especially would like to share Dr. Ganor''s comments with the public as he opened the symposium stating that the audience could leak anything from this conference, alluding to the publication of the WikiLeaks documents.
Dr. Ganor explained that terrorist campaigns need both motivation from terrorist organizations to carry out the attacks, and operational capability. With that in mind, he attributed the lack of suicide attacks to the following:
- Fatah was very active in terrorism in the early 2000s (when terrorism was at it peak in Israel), but Fatah is more reluctant to carry out terrorist attacks today. Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas has been clear to his population that terrorism is against the Palestinian national interest. This is a departure from the strategy of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
- Hamas is craving international legitimacy and an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Starting a terrorist campaign is counter-productive to these goals, but things can change easily in this region.
- The operational capability of Hamas to carry out a terrorist attack within Israel has also been reduced. They can still launch rockets and mortars on Israeli cities from Gaza, but suicide attacks are more difficult to carry out today. (He didn''t mention Fatah here, but I assume the same is true for their operational capabilities if they decided to resume terrorist activities today. However, Palestinians in the West Bank have more access to Israel than Gazans, thus making a terrorist''s job a little easier if they came from the West Bank/Fatah as opposed to Gaza/Hamas.)
- Israeli intelligence is much better today than it was ten years ago. The Palestinian Authority is also much more equipped, due to Israel and American assistance, to deter terrorist activity.
- The coordination and dissemination of intelligence warnings to security units in Israel has been one of the greatest successes in recent years for Israel.
Dr. Ganor also stated that despite the fact that it is still possible for terrorists to get inside Israel''s cities, the security fence has improved the security situation for Israel.
Dr. Ganor''s comments are important for those seeking to understand terrorism and politics in the Middle East because it is seductively easy to point to one factor as the sole reason for the decline of terrorism in Israel. Some argue the security barrier has been extremely successful, others point to Palestinian pragmatism. Dr. Ganor outlined a complex explanation that involves several factors. Similar to most issues in this region, the decline in terrorism within Israel''s cities is multifaceted, and can change very quickly and dramatically. In this case, let''s hope it doesn''t.For more from this author, visit The Big Ben Theory.