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A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism by Daniel Byman (Oxford University Press: 2011) pp. 464. By Judith Gosewisch

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

A High Price relates the story of Israeli counterterrorism policies and practice, and the balance between tactics and strategy from the early years of the Israeli state to the first decade of the 21st century. The author, Daniel Byman, is a professor in the Security Studies programme at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow and Director of Research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institute. In an interview on SOAS radio , Byman confers how the idea for this book first came to life whilst he was doing research in the Middle East in 2002. Ruminating about potential strategies for US counterterrorism in the wake of 9/11, Byman turned to Israel. For almost seventy years, Israel has been fighting terrorist attacks and through trial and error, has managed to stand up against terrorism. In Byman’s words (p.3) “…Virtually every counterterror instrument that Americans debate today was pioneered by Israelis in their desperate attempt to find some answer to their own terrorism conundrum.”

A High Price strives to explore and analyse the lessons we can learn from Israel’s successes and failures. The book is divided into an introduction and five sections, each of which reflect upon different periods of Israeli counterterrorism based upon the nature of the adversary and Israel’s response. The thread connecting the various sections in this book concerns the dilemma of choosing measures that hopefully guarantee the safety of the state on a daily basis whilst working towards long term peace.

A High Price explores Israel’s use of targeted killings, interrogations and efforts to improve Israel’s defences –most notably the security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. Byman has shown how the implementation of counterterrorism measures –or lack thereof- generally resulted in good immediate tactical results, but created a ripple effect with more hate and continued-if not increased- violence in the long run. Targeted killings proved effective in temporarily crippling an organisation, but did not stop the socio-political movement behind it. Nor did it prevent organisations from regaining momentum. The separation barrier kept out the suicide bombers, but increased animosity between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and caused an international outcry.
The book might have benefited from a stronger theoretical framework. Although A High Price analyses asymmetrical warfare, it fails to fully reflect on the implications of this in its findings and conclusions. Byman presents an either/or choice between a strategy of continually combating terrorism through deterrence to temporarily secure the state or implementing non-violent measures aimed at establishing long term peace. He suggests a dual-approach is necessary, but does not analyse how these approaches can complement rather than undermine each other. Byman offers an orthodox approach trying to understand terrorism; readers seeking a more nuanced and complex understanding of the subject offered by the School of (Critical) Terrorism Studies will not find it here.

Perhaps too entangled with the War on Terror narrative, the book is encumbered with a static view on how the nature of the state- and non-state group’s goals and policies may change over time and fails to explore how this influences the way in which the game is played. For example, leading up to the peace negotiations of the 1990s, the PLF hijacked the Achille Lauro. This act could be considered as an attempt of this PLO member-group to fortify its position at the negotiation table with Israel, with the latter also being a hesitant partner for peace. Nevertheless, Byman’s sole comment on the matter is how, “while Fatah moved toward negotiations other PLO groups proved less amenable” (p. 75). Byman ignores how the course state-actors and “terrorist” organisations take is affected by the other party’s actions and prescribes one interpretation of the events.

Contributing to this conceptual stagnation is Byman’s definition of terrorism (p. 7) as “a non-state actor’s use of or threat of violence against non-combatants for political reasons to produce a broader psychological effect.” This definition excludes the possibility that a state can use violence one might interpret as terror, legitimise its use, and refuses to acknowledge that state violence itself may be part of the cycle of violence. The definition precludes any discussion that the causes of terrorism arise from varied and vexing social inequities and injustices. Furthermore, this definition fails to recognise the fluidity of the terrorist label. For example, Byman recognizes that organisations such as Hamas, Hizballah or Fatah, are not solely or always aiming to terrorise but also undertake charitable and political endeavours. But he insists on labelling them primarily as terrorist organisations, arguing (p.7) that to ‘not use the term terrorist would miss an important aspect of these groups’. It is difficult to believe that anyone would overlook or forget Hamas’s or Hizballah’s use of violent tactics. But Byman’s failure to contextualise such organizations results in few suggestions on how terrorists may be incentivised to further their interests through non-violent means.

Byman’s traditional analytical approach of viewing terrorists first and foremost as perpetrators of violence hinders the possibility to (re-)humanise the subject and actually understand what motivates them. This, in turn, is vital in preventing individuals from engaging in acts of terrorism in the first place. By emphasising their terrorist nature, Byman fails to fully contextualise organisations such as Hamas, Hizballah or Fatah. As a result, A High Price offers few and limited suggestions on how terrorists may be incentivised to further their interests through non-violent means.

A High Price is caught in the dilemma of being unable to choose either in favour of short term tactics or long-term strategy. Byman advocates a political solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict which ends – not surprisingly – on a cautious, dispirited note. He instructs (p. 381) how “counterterrorism, even at its most impressive, comes with trade-offs, and most of the time effectiveness simply means fewer attacks or less deadly ones rather than a complete end to violence” and rightfully states that there are ‘no easy answers’ to the question on how to combat terrorism.

     All in all, the book contains a detailed analysis of asymmetrical warfare by one of the foremost experts on counterterrorism and the Middle East. It is based on a wealth of data accumulated through, amongst others, interviews with authoritative figures on both the Israeli and Arab side and as such, is a valuable contribution to the literature on the subject. A High Price guarantees an interesting read for any student of counterterrorism and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, despite its equivocal conclusions on how best to end terrorism.

Judith Gosewisch received a Master’s degree in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding from the Durham Global Security Institute at Durham University, U.K. and currently is doing research and writing in the field of (Critical) Terrorism Studies.


Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11 – Charles Kurzman. Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security (February 2012)

Monday, February 20th, 2012

The third annual report on Muslim-American terrorism showed twenty Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2011, down from 26 the year before, bringing the total since 9/11 to 193 – just under twenty a year.  That number, while disconcerting, fails to support secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s 2011 assertion that the terrorist threat facing the United States “is at its most heightened state since” the 9/11 attacks. The numbers also belie the hyperbole flung from Congressman Peter King, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, that al-Qaeda has extensively infiltrated and radicalized the Muslim-American community.

The report recognizes that the threat of terrorism remains and radical Islamists continue to urge Muslim-Americans to engage in violence. But such calls have been ignored by the vast majority of Muslim-Americans, concludes the report’s author, Charles Kurzman. (Kurzman’s book, The Missing Martyrs, is reviewed below).

The study notes that two of the 20 terrorist suspects received training abroad, the plots were of limited competence and did not reflect the planning of sophisticated, well-trained Islamist operatives, they did not fit any demographic profile, and prison did not appear to be a major source of Islamic radicalization.

There was also a decline in the number of Muslim-Americans indicted for support of terrorism, falling from 27 individuals in 2010 to 8 in 2011. The total number of indictments for support for terrorism since 9/11 – conduct including financing, false statements, and other connections with terrorist plots – is 462. While any acts of terrorism or terrorist related conduct is abhorrent, that 28 Muslim-Americans, out a Muslim-American community numbering more than 2 million, were indicted for such conduct in 2011 underscores the community’s low level of radicalization.

The study is the third such report issued from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a joint project between Duke University, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and RTI International, focusing on Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators.

Previous Triangle reports similarly dispelled myths about how Muslim-American opposition to Islamist terrorism is lackadaisical or nonexistent. One report found that “Muslim-American organizations and leaders have consistently condemned terrorist violence here and abroad since 9/11, arguing that such violence is strictly condemned by Islam”.  Such statements, Kurzman and his co-authors concluded, “were not just for public consumption, but were supported by local Muslim religious and community leaders, who consistently condemned political violence in public sermons and private conversations.”

The investigation found that Muslim-American leaders were not timid in confronting signs of radical Islam within their communities. “Muslim-Americans have adopted numerous internal self-policing practices to prevent the growth of radical ideology,” the report observed. This included “confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques,” as well as outreach programs to Muslim-American youth.

That Muslim-Americans often reached out to U.S. law enforcement to finger individuals suspected of terrorist inclinations was significant, another study found.  Kurzman determined that the largest single source of initial information (48 of 120 cases) to U.S. law enforcement involved tips from the Muslim-American community. Some of the tips came from family members of the accused but most stemmed from the general community. At least two Muslim-Americans judged by the community to be terrorist-prone because of their radical rhetoric later turned out to be police informants.


Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA by Nada Prouty (Palgrave Macmillian, 2011). 282 pages.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

The basic facts of Prouty’s story are well known, thanks to a 60 Minutes story that aired in 2010: a Lebanese student who entered the United States at age 19, she joined the FBI and swiftly rose up through its ranks to investigate prominent terrorism cases. Seeking more action in the aftermath of 9/11, Prouty transferred to the CIA where she found herself in Iraq, clandestinely traveling about the country, identifying and debriefing Iraqi “assets.” She did this at considerable risk to her life, including a period of time when she was pregnant. But when the FBI Detroit’s office linked one of her family relatives to a Lebanese sheik purportedly associated with Hezbollah, Prouty’s world crashed down upon her. Accused of begin a Hezbollah mole, she was forced to plea guilty to criminal fraud based on a twenty year old sham marriage. Her U.S. citizenship was revoked but her deportation was “withheld,” an implicit recognition that the same terrorist groups in Lebanon she allegedly helped would have killed her for having worked for the CIA.

Uncompromised tells of the numbing unfairness of the FBI investigation and federal prosecution of Prouty and stands as a warning of how paranoia and xenophobia can twist the U.S. justice system. There was no evidence that she ever illegally passed intelligence or that she undermined U.S. national security. She was wholly vindicated by a subsequent internal CIA investigation. Public opinion and parts of official Washington rallied around her, resulting in what Prouty now calls her “redemption.”  Nine months after the 60 Minutes broadcast, her legal permanent residency status was reinstated.  Her U.S. citizenship application is pending.

Prouty stated during an interview on the Diane Rehm Show that she should have gone to trial. That probably was wishful thinking. Federal prosecutors had brow beaten her into submission through character assassination and intimidation. The New York Post took to calling her “Jihad Jane.” The lead prosecutor, Kenneth Chadwell, taunted her by declaring “in the post-9/11 environment, you could be found guilty by simply being an Arab.” He threatened to file fraud charges for each time over the past 15 years she had used her allegedly fraudulently issued U.S. passport. That would have constituted hundreds of separate criminal counts and exposed her to dozens of years in prison. Her husband was threatened with prosecution and the family’s financial savings were nearly exhausted. In the end, Proudy capitulated, agreeing “to any terms they set before me.”

Prouty’s plea agreement required her to admit that she illegally accessed an FBI computer system on Hezbollah when “she was not assigned to work Hizballal cases as part of her FBI duties.” She writes that the accusation was farcical as investigating Hezbollah was one of her principle tasks in the FBI’s anti-terrorism unit. But absent this concession, the prosecutor’s proclamations of exposing a Hezbollah mole in the FBI and CIA would have fallen flat.

Prouty also pled guilty to criminal immigration fraud based on her 1990 sham marriage. That the prosecutor achieved this conviction only after coercing her to waive the 10 year statute of limitations underscored the lack of evidence supporting any claims of espionage. Prouty admitted that when she was 19 years old she married solely to obtain legal permanent residency (eg. the “green card”) but insists that the FBI and CIA knew about it. Her claim rings true: the practice of fraudulent marriages in green card applications was so well known that the same year Prouty was married, the Oscar-winning movie Green Card came out, a romantic comedy about a sham marriage. It’s impossible to believe that both agencies’ background investigations would have failed to scrutinize her prior marriage.

Much of Uncompromised tells of Prouty’s journey from Lebanon to the United States. It was an immigrant experience warped by unique hardships. Growing up in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war was deeply unsettling for her and the Levant’s internecine battles were echoed Prouty’s home life. Her father was physically abusive and he valued only his son. She admits that the FBI became her “first real American family,” providing the stability and normality she coveted. At the Bureau, she was a workaholic and wholly devoted to protecting America from terrorist attacks. That is why, when her new-found family turned on her and she summarily was marched out of her office under armed guard, the pain she suffered was immeasurable.

The government’s case against Prouty was not evidence based but fueled by politics, personal ambitions, and anti-Arab fear-mongering. Uncompromised, along with her web site and a Facebook page, exposed such abuse and helped Prouty reclaim her reputation. This self-advocacy is understandable but it’s unfortunate that she devoted only two paragraphs on what the broader implications of her experience portends for Arab or Muslim Americans. That hardly was adequate in light of the systematic efforts to demonize Islam and Muslim Americans. Critics’ complaints that she was remiss for not trusting the U.S. justice system to prove her innocence could have been quieted by explaining that Chadwell’s abusive tactics were not uncommon, as American University law professor Angela J. Davis points out in her book Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor. That power helps to explain why 95 per cent of all criminal cases in the U.S. end in guilty pleas.

It appears that the FBI’s distrust toward Arab Americans have not changed since Prouty’s redemption. Chadwell continues to rely on immigration-related errors to prosecute Muslims, dubious FBI tactics continue to fuel animosity toward Arabs and Muslims, and young Arab Americans are labeled suspected terrorists for purchasing too many cell phones at Wall-Mart. Prouty found redress because of the power of 60 Minutes; other individuals coming under the Justice Department’s scrutiny may not be so lucky.

The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda by Fawaz Gerges (Oxford University Press, 2011), 272 pages. Reviewed by John Feffer

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the routing of his organization in Afghanistan, and the assassination of the leadership of the Arabian Peninsula affiliate, the U.S. government continues to promote the threat of al-Qaeda. According to the national security apparatus, al-Qaeda still maintains the capacity to regroup in Central Asia and to launch attacks on the United States from its redoubts in Yemen and Somalia. It still inspires jihadists all over the world with its anti-imperial rhetoric and its dreams of reestablishing a global caliphate. And it threatens all civilization with its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Most of this threat inflation is nonsense, as Fawaz Gerges points out in his new book, The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda. He reserves special scorn for al-Qaeda’s nuclear threat. “For a group that has never displayed any technical sophistication in its attacks, this would involve a monumentally steep learning curve,” he writes. “Even were al-Qaeda to acquire the technical sophistication to build a nuclear bomb – and here we enter the sphere of science fiction – it lacks the structural capacity to develop such a weapon, let alone the necessary ingredients.”

Thanks largely to the spectacle of 9/11, al-Qaeda acquired a mythic reputation. But as Gerges details, the organization basically got lucky. Intelligence services should have averted the attacks beforehand. The Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq gave the organization another shot in the arm. But that’s as far as its luck has gone. Al-Qaeda’s persistent attacks on fellow Muslims – as traitors to the faith – alienated the organization within the Muslim world. Its message of transnational terrorism was never particularly popular to begin with, even among the bulk of jihadists, who preferred to wage their struggles within particular countries such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

As he debunks this central myth of al-Qaeda’s power, Gerges corrects the record on a number of other points. The organization, for instance, did not exist in any institutional sense until the second half of the 1990s, even though its origin is commonly traced back to 1988. Sayyid Qutb did not provide the spiritual inspiration for al-Qaeda, for he didn’t support war against the United States. And bin Laden himself was against the shedding of Muslim blood at first, initially withholding his support for fighting against the Egyptian and Algerian governments in the 1990s.

And perhaps most importantly, al-Qaeda was not the culmination of the jihadist struggle. It was the last dying light of the movement. “When bin Laden’s group burst onto the Islamic scene in the early 1990s, the jihadist movement had largely spent itself – jihadism had failed,” Gerges writes. “Al-Qaeda’s decision to internationalize jihad was less an indicator of internal cohesion and strength of jihadism than of its inner turmoil.” In other words, not only has the reputation of al-Qaeda been over-hyped, but so has the whole tradition of violent jihadism.

The election of Barack Obama has not substantially altered the U.S. approach to al-Qaeda. Although he promised to close Guantanamo, end torture, and pull out of Iraq, and although he did retire to noxious phrase “global war on terror,” the president has largely preserved the counter-terrorism narrative. Instead of extraordinary rendition, the United States now uses drones to identify and kill suspected terrorists (along with assorted other people). And al-Qaeda remains a number one priority. Although the organization even at its height only commanded a couple thousand fighters, possessed little in the way of conventional weaponry and zero weapons of mass destruction, and controlled no significant territory, the United States remains on a war footing comparable to the Cold War when we faced a Soviet Union that matched us in terms of conventional and nuclear armaments and possessed an ideology that was more globally influential than anything bin Laden ever touted. But fear – and the need to find a compelling reason to maintain the national security status quo – has kept the United States on a war footing.

And whatever al-Qaeda was its height, which was minimal, it is now a shadow of its former self. Even its only real successor organization, al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is marginal at best. Gerges numbers its core operatives at between 50 and 300. It has no mass following. “It does not possess the material, human means, or endurance to sustain a transnational campaign, nor does it have the assets or resources to build viable alliances with Yemeni tribes and a social welfare infrastructure,” Gerges writes, and this was before the assassination of its leader, Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki.

The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda is an important book, well-researched and fiercely argued. Its central message, that al-Qaeda poses only a limited, tactical threat – must be heard and absorbed by the entire U.S. national security apparatus. Until then, we will continue to fight against monsters that are largely of our own creation.


John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists by Charles Kurzman. (Oxford University Press, 2011) 204 pages.

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Often heard following the 9/11 attacks was the scary prediction that if only one percent of the world’s one billion Muslims joined al-Qaeda, at least one million terrorists would soon be launching attacks against the U.S. and its allies. The subsequent years have shown that forecast to be pure hogwash, tinged with a little anti-Islamic bigotry. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism, worldwide terrorist acts from 2005 through 2008 – excluding attacks occurring in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan – averaged about 6,600 yearly, hardly the number you’d expect from a million person assault.

Nor has the United States been inundated by Islamist inspired terror attacks. According to Would-Be Warriors, 2010 Rand Corporation study, from 9/11 to the end of 2009, 46 publicly reported cases of domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism occurred in the United States. Only 125 persons were identified in the 46 cases and half of the cases involved only a single individual. The report’s author, Brian Jenkins, one of the toughest but fair-minded analysts on terrorism, also pointed out that “the volume of domestic terrorist activity was much greater in the 1970s than it is today.” That decade, Jenkins calculated, saw 60 to 70 terrorist incidents, most of them bombings, on U.S. soil every year—a level of terrorist activity 15 to 20 times that seen in most of the years since 9/11, even counting foiled plots as incidents.

Equally specious have been the repeated claims that while “all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslim.” The FBI’s publication Terrorism 2002 -2005 calculated that Islamic extremists accounted for only six percent of all terrorist acts on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005; in contrast, Jewish radical groups accounted for seven percent, Latino groups 42 percent, and “extreme left wing groups” 24 percent, and “others” 16 percent.

This is not to dismiss the real threat that domestic terrorism poses to the United States or to minimize the tens of thousands of individuals killed or injured in worldwide terrorist attacks. But these figures plainly deflate the alarmist “Muslim as terrorist” hyperbola that continues to abound a decade after 9/11. The anticipated million man march of al-Qaeda suicide bombers was a delusion but continues in personalities as diverse as Sean Hannity, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Glenn Beck.

Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wants to know why, if roughly one-fifth of mankind is Muslim and they all supposedly hate the West and embrace martyrdom, are there not more Muslim terrorists? The short answer is that the vast majority of Muslims – well more than 99 percent – reject al-Qaeda’s goals.  Kurzman points to numerous opinion polls evincing that the number of Muslims eager for a theocratic state ruled by Sharia law is a distinctly small minority.  Secularists number a fifth to half of the population in various Muslim majority countries and liberal Muslims – those supporting an Islamic government following democratic procedures – account for about half the populace, including in countries such as Saudi Arabia. A 2007 Pew Research poll found that majorities in 13 out of 14 Muslim societies agreed that religion should be kept separate from government policy.

Kurzman wants the American public to “turn down the volume on terrorism debates” and “put the threat of Islamist terrorism in perspective.” Given how the U.S. media immediately assumed that the slaughter in Norway was perpetrated by Islamists, he faces a towering, up hill battle. But Kurzman offers convincing arguments for those willing to listen. The surprising numbers of opinion polls that regularly monitor public attitudes in Arab and Muslim communities evince support for his views. They show that the vast majority of Muslims are repulsed by terror attacks against civilians and that such acts turn public opinion against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. He also introduces the idea of “radical sheik” to explain to why internet forums and young Arab musical groups laud Islamist attacks on the U.S. and the West. Young Muslims, he counsels, express sympathy for “Bin Ladin and his ilk as heroes of anti-imperialism and Islamic authenticity – without actually wanting these revolutionary movements to succeed.” This widespread “symbolic endorsement” of radical Islam, Kurzman points out, has “not translate into support for revolutionary goals or potential collaboration with terrorism.” Radical Islamists appear to have the upper hand in Muslim communities because so long as they use violence, “their visibility far outweighs their numbers.”

Kurzman makes the case that radical Islamists are under ideological siege and losing the war of ideas among Muslims. Socially conservative but non-violent Muslim televangelists attract thousands of more adherents than the barkers of revolutionary Islam. Eclipsing radical Islamist doctrine has been the evolving tradition of liberal, democratic Islamic thought that has sought to modernize Muslim majority countries while paying fidelity to socially conservative Islam. Kurzman’s critique of liberal and revolutionary Islam should be mandatory reading for anyone insisting that Islam inherently stifles creative political thinking or condemns its adherents to a backward, violent theology. Progressive Islamic opinion has been publicly stifled in the Arab world partly by the murderous attacks of radical Islamists but more so by repressive Arab governments that view such voices as threats to their hold on power. Facilitating such silence has been the U.S. and its Western allies. In the U.S., Kurzman points out, such silence has been enforced by ignoring or belittling the proponents of liberal, democratic Islamic thought. “Expert pessimism about the potential for Islamic liberalism,” Kurzman explains, “has a long heritage in the West.”

Kurzman is one of the few analysts to admit that there is little Washington can do to change the Arab world’s deep hostility toward the United States, absent a meaningful change in U.S. foreign policy – a nil prospect.  But most Muslims view the U.S. as a threat to their national security and religion yet still maintain positive attitudes toward American culture and society. Kurzman urges U.S. policymakers to take advantage of the latter. Published before the current “Arab Spring,” he suggests that Washington replace its traditional, narrow question of how a policy will affect U.S. “national interests” with how will a policy effect the groups and movements that share American values and care about democracy. Forging alliances with such groups in the long term will help to secure U.S. national interests and further isolate radical Islamists. Readers seeking insight into the political cross-currents emerging from the Arab Spring without fear mongering rhetoric over radical Islam would do well to read The Missing Martyrs.

“Does Terrorism Work?” by Eric D. Gould and Esteban F. Klor, Quarterly Journal of Economics (2010)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

That governments never negotiate with terrorists is a refrain well worn but false. Two Israeli scholars have now challenged the veracity of the parallel argument – that terrorism does not coerce governments into changing their policies. In the first systematic examination of whether terrorism is an effective strategy to achieve political ends, they conclude that Palestinian terror attacks forced Israel to accommodate Palestinian goals. Terror attacks “significantly affects the preferences and attitudes of Jewish Israelis” and the attacks “induced the local population to exhibit a higher willingness to grant territorial concessions.”  But at some point the violence reaches a tipping point where Israeli attitudes harden and Israeli opinion refuses further thought of concession.

Writing in the October 2010 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Professors Eric Gould and Eseban Klor compared over time Jewish Israeli opinion and civilian Israeli fatalities based on statistical data derived from political attitude surveys of Israeli citizens conducted from 1969. They determined with the use of regression analysis that “terrorism brought about a leftward shift of the entire political map in Israel over the last twenty years, including the position of right-wing parties who are traditionally less willing to grant territorial concessions to the Palestinians.”  Terrorism prompted Israeli voters to move to rightwing parties but those parties in turn moved “leftward” in their political views, by which Gould and Klor mean they moderated their political stance.  Left-leaning groups supported right-wing parties “only because the right-wing parties are moving to the left.” The “Likud’s position in 2009,” the authors point out, “is to the left of the left-wing Labor party’s platform in 1988.”

Gould and Klor conclude their study reveals that “terrorism can be an effective strategy” because right-wing Israeli parties were forced to concede “concession to the Palestinians.” But while the rhetoric of Israel’s right-wing parties may have changed, the facts on the ground expose an entirely different reality. The Likud may be talking the language of territorial concession but it consistently has pursued the goal of territorial annexation.

Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been relentless. Since 1993 when Israel signed the Oslo Accords, Israel’s West Bank settler population grew from 116,300 to 289,600 in 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem puts the total settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at over 300,000. Only photographs can capture the reality of settler colonization in the West Bank.

Land confiscation in the occupied territories has been persistent, with Jewish settlers now holding about 42 percent of the land.  A map revealing the extensive swath of West Bank land that Israel is permitted to control for “security” purposes under the Oslo Accords is jaw dropping and underscores claims that the territorial compromise as envisioned by Israel and the United States subjugates Palestinians to a Bantustan-like existance.  Human Rights Watch documented the existence of two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates in the West Bank that favors Jewish settlers but imposes harsh conditions on Palestinians.  The cumulative result of such policies, concludes University of Chicago’s  John Mearsheimer, is that the “two-state solution is now a fantasy” as Israel incorporates the occupied territories into a ‘Greater Israel.’”

Gould and Klor correctly concluded that Palestinian violence  successfully coerced Israeli pubic opinion to accept territorial compromise, but the suggestion that it was an “effective strategy” toward achieving Palestinian independence is woefully misplaced.

Jewish Terrorism in Israel by Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger (Columbia University Press. 2009) Reviewed by Cheryl A. Rubenberg

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Jewish Terrorism in Israel analyzes most of what the authors have defined as “the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks between 1932 and 2008,” hypothesizing that while acts of terror may result from vengeance, more importantly they occur in the social context of “networks.” To illustrate their thesis they provide charts of detailed networks of the Jewish Underground, the Kahane Network, and the Amir Brothers Network. They are especially concerned with the structures and processes related to terrorism, and state in conclusion: “The case studies investigated in this book illustrate how counterculture communities based on totalistic ideologies are breeding grounds for religious terrorist groups.”

Methodologically the writers have relied on four prominent distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist: the use of violence; a political motive that motivates the violence; an intention to strike fear among the victims and their community; and the victims must be civilians or non-combatants. The databases from which their information was gathered included a vast array of official documents, interviews with former terrorists, civil and spiritual leaders as well as “comprehensive surveys of the communities where terrorist groups originated.” Also collected was “detailed information on each of the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks perpetrated in Palestine and the State of Israel between 1932 and 2008.” (Emphasis added.)  Implying that there were 309 attacks in total during those 66 years is a major underestimation and signals a chronic shortcoming of the book when it comes to identifying Jewish terrorist acts; there are nearly as many terrorist attacks in the West Bank every year.

To suggest that Jewish terrorism has existed for all time and to reinforce the perception about the unbroken link between modern Israel and its ancient imagined past, Pedahzur and Perliger devote most of their first chapter to the terrorist groups that fought Hellenistic and Roman rule in Palestine — the Hashmonai revolt, the Zealots, and the Sicarians. Then they jump to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which are covered in a scant page and a half. The second chapter deals mainly with the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang). Some of the operations of these groups are mentioned, overwhelmingly those against the British, although the authors note that Etzel “. . . terrorize[d] Palestinian citizens[sic] in the attempt to sow fear in their communities . .” The assassination of Lord Moyne is detailed and the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte is mentioned. Most of the massacres (e.g. Dayr Yasin) against Palestinians are omitted. This chapter presents Jewish terrorism as part of the struggle against British colonialism in the establishment of a “sovereign and democratic Jewish state” while almost entirely neglecting the terrorism against Palestinians.

Subsequent chapters examine other specific terrorist incidents. The 1980 assassination attempt against three Palestinian mayors was posited as a vengeful response to a Palestinian terrorist attack (i.e., the killing of six yeshiva students in Hebron) but not once do they suggest that a Palestinian attack was revenge for an Israeli action. Palestinian terrorism is presented in a vacuum throughout the text (the Occupation is barely acknowledged) until the final chapter. The authors further argue that the attacks on the mayors were part of a violent campaign by Jewish groups to overturn the Camp David accords and prove to the Israeli government that their opposition was a force with which to be reckoned.

Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer is situated in a network of Kahanists and radical rabbis in Kiryat Arba (e.g. Baruch Marzel and Moshe Levinger). The authors essentially adopted the findings of the State Commission of Inquiry that concluded besides Goldstein’s “deep distress and frustration at the implementation of the Oslo Accords,” vengeance was also a motivation because of “continuing Palestinian violence against the settlers, which he saw as a direct result of the peace agreements and the Israeli surrender to Palestinian demands.” Pedahzur and Perliger failed to note, however, that there was a minimum of Palestinian violence against Israelis at the time and Goldstein was a known racist who, when serving as an IDF physician, refused to treat non-Jews. Their main analysis of Goldstein’s massacre involves the Kahanist counterculture, which they detail extensively and of which Goldstein was “a central figure.”

In chapter five the authors shift to Jewish violence against Jewish Israelis and the terrorism of radical settlements plus the Bat Ayin Underground that attacked Israelis and Palestinians. Iconoclastic groups are also discussed, such as the Uzi Meshulam Cult, the Ein Kerem Group, and the Lifta Gang.

In their concluding chapter Pedahzur and Perliger compare Jewish terrorism with Islamic terrorism and to a lesser extent Christian terrorism.  They find commonalities among the three but with one significant distinction:  Islamic based terrorist are “more inclination to inflict mass casualties . . . The only aggression committed by Jewish terrorists that could fall into the category of a mass casualty attack by Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, in which twenty-nine people were killed.” (Emphasis added).

The foregoing statement borders on the absurd. Jewish groups have been engaging in mass terrorism since the beginning of the Yishuv through today. Using their aforementioned four distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist, it is clear that terrorism can be perpetrated by a state as well as non-state actors. Palestinian scholars have long documented widespread Zionist violence against Palestinian civilians for political purposes during the 1948 War.  The emergence of the “new historians” in Israel has brought the knowledge of such systematic atrocities to a larger audience. Ilan Pappé tells of how “Israeli troops of all backgrounds, ranks and ages” carried out mass killings of Palestinians as part of a campaign to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs.  According to Benny Morris, the Israelis were responsible for 24 massacres during the war. Its unsettling that Pedahzur and Perliger fail to even mention these events in their study.

During the Yishuv, terrorism was primarily the purview of the Irgun and Stern Group; after the state was formed, terrorism was perpetrated by sub-state actors such as Unit 101 and the Mossad as well as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Massive retaliatory raids against Palestinian villages in the West Bank and Gaza that began in the 1950s expanded throughout the subsequent 30 years to include whole towns and cities in Lebanon.  These raids purposely targets civilians, constituted collective punishment, and under the authors’ definition, represent terrorist acts.

Pedahzur and Perliger offer useful profiles of individual terrorists and their presentation of terrorist “networks” and how they form and function is particularly insightful.  But their habit of discounting Israeli terrorist violence, be it from irregular forces or sanctioned by the state, greatly limits the book’s pedagogical value.


Cheryl A. Rubenberg is formerly an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida International University and the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Palestinians in Search of a Just Peace (2003) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2010)

“Why are there so Many Engineers among Islamic Radicals?” by Diego Gambetta & Steffen Hertog, European Journal of Sociology (2009)

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Engineers and engineering students — particularly if they are Muslims – may soon encounter more troubles when boarding their next airline flight.  In a study sure to catch the eye of airport security administrators, the European Journal of Sociology finds that engineers are more apt to join, and are disproportionately represented, in violent, Islamic extremist groups.

Its frequently been noted that many past radicals or revolutionaries had professional backgrounds – Che Guevara was physician as was George Habash, Fidel Castro a lawyer as was Mohandas Gandhi and Vladimir Lenin, and Frantz Fanon a psychiatrist. The authors of the present study identified the educational background of members of violent Islamist groups and found that 69% had higher education degrees or attendance. And of that percentage, 44% were engineers. The number of engineers was more than the combined number of individuals enrolled in Islamic studies, medicine, business, or the sciences.

When examining Islamic extremists in Western countries (either residents or citizens), the study found that while the educational level of the extremists were lower than their counterparts in Muslim majority countries, engineers remained overrepresented. When examining non-violent Islamic movements, engineers were far less dominant in number, having been joined by other professionals. This suggests to the authors that engineers “seem more prone to end up in violent groups.” Among non-Islamic extremists, there were almost no engineers among left-wing extremist groups but they did have a presence and often played significant leadership roles in right-wing extremist groups.

The authors posit two reasons for why engineers are overrepresented in violent jihadist groups. First, engineers’ possess a “mindset” exhibiting “a corporatist and mechanistic view of the ideal society,” uncomfortable with ambiguity, and favoring technical and logical approaches to problems solving. Such attributes easily coalesce around narrow, fundamentalist ideologies such as contemporary Salafalism.  Second, the juxtaposition of the particularly high level of social prestige and expectation conferred on engineers in Muslim majority countries with the dearth of employment opportunities leave engineers frustrated and resentful. This classical explanation for what sparks rebellion seemingly is confirmed in Saudi Arabia: it’s the only country where engineers are gainfully employed and not overly represented in violent radical movements.

The final critical factor added to this mix is the “harsh repression on the part of the authoritarian Islamic governments.” Repression, radical Islamic ideology, and the “engineering mindset,” suggest the authors, blend together in a way that tips engineers toward violent jihadism.

Critics may object to the survey’s small sample size or the outdated material sometimes relied upon, and civil libertarians will protest the ensuing ethnic profiling, but the study’s provocative findings cannot lightly be dismissed.  Either way, much hassle awaits Muslim engineers at international airports.

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