Effectiveness of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Measures in the Present Day

Subject: Warfare
Pages: 13
Words: 3574
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: PhD


Terrorism as a topic has been widely studied and discussed in various disciplines, with the financial approach focusing on the effects it has on the economic field. There exist a number of counter-terrorism measures that have been adopted by different states depending on the threats that each pose to the country. According to Enders and Sandler (2011, p. 88), “anti-terrorism measures became a particular field of interest for political scientists in the late 20th century, with Brophy-Bearmann and Conybeare (1994) being among the first to evaluate their effectiveness”. The study on terrorism, however, remained a reserve for the political scientists, with Mesquita (1999, p. 109) introducing the model of rational choice to the study. It was only after this milestone that economists have continually devoted themselves to the study of terrorism and counterterrorism measures with the utilisation of special theories and instruments. The theories that have significantly been applied include the game theory and other classical economics theories.

Israel is one of the states that are under constant threats from terrorism, with several acts of terrorism being directed to its population both within its borders and elsewhere in the world. Because of these terrorism threats, the state has invested heavily in counterterrorism measures that are aimed at protecting it and its interests abroad. In most cases, the state machinery has intercepted terrorists before they commit any offences. However, in some cases, the anti-terrorism measures have not been efficient. It is, therefore, important to evaluate the effectiveness of the counterterrorism measures applied by Israel together with their effectiveness in preventing terrorism. This paper looks at the counter-terrorism measures currently in place in Israel. Specifically, it addresses their effectiveness in predicting, preventing and averting contemporary terrorism threats.

Literature Review

Terrorism and Israel

Although terrorist attacks have been witnessed in many nations, Israel harbours records of the most sensitive cases. The state of Israel has been a victim of many terrorist acts over the years, with different forms of terrorism being described here. The most significant of Israel’s threats have been the neighbouring countries. Some of them harbour military infrastructure for Palestinian and Islamic groups bent on destroying the state of Israel, which they claim is established on their ancestral and spiritual land (David 2012, p. 503). The second type of terrorism for this state is from international terrorists where Israel’s infrastructure abroad has been the target of many terrorist groups mainly in the 60s and 70s though it has significantly reduced in the present day (David 2012, p. 503). The last form of terrorism is that whose perpetrators emanate from within the borders of the state or other areas under its control and attack the citizens and infrastructure from within (David 2012, p. 503). The Palestinians have a number of terrorist groupings that are regarded by the state of Israel as being terrorists. Hezbollah remains a significant source of terrorism for the Israeli state, with several terrorist attacks being linked to it over the years.

Models and Theories of Counterterrorism

The study of how democratic governments deal with the threats of terrorism has led to the development of counterterrorism being described as the “generic concept, which describes the overall measures taken by a state to reduce the volume and impact of terrorist attacks against its citizens” (Mesquita 1999, p. 109). Some of the other terms that researchers have also used to describe measures used against terrorism include ‘anti-terrorism’ measures and ‘combating terrorism,’ with the latter only involving offensive operations against the terrorists (Kalu 2009, p. 132). Various authors have also described several models in anti-terrorism measures, with each having its unique goals, means of achieving it, and the agents applying it (Byman 2011).

The use of non-violent measures in the fight against terrorism is regarded as one of the means of achieving counter-terrorism, with the two main models utilising this approach being the reconciliatory and defensive models (Gee 2011, p. 48). On the extreme end of these models are the use of war and criminal justice, both of which are regarded as being violent means of counter-terrorism (Feichtinger, & Novak 2008, p. 548). Over the years, Israel has experimented with the use of all models of counterterrorism, with almost all of them being in place now. The success of the measures is in question, with some of the policies against the acts of terrorism by Israel attracting sharp reactions throughout the world. Some of them have also been ineffective at preventing acts of terrorism.

Some of the authors have argued that the counterterrorism measures put in place by Israel have resulted in more aggression from her enemies as opposed to reduced attacks. Byman is one of the authors with the view that the counterterrorism measures are not effective, and she states, “Surprisingly enough, Israelis rallied around the extreme right thinking that hawkish policies would deter future attacks. In fact, the long-term ramifications on the Palestinian polity will encourage rather than deter future attacks” (2011, p. 80). Bloom continues to state that the current spate of attacks on Israelis and the policies put in place only serve to motivate more martyrs to participate in the violence (2011, p. 80).

The measures of the effectiveness of counterterrorism policies and strategies have attracted much researches. Surprisingly, fewer studies have been done on this topic in Israel. The need to establish the efficiency of counterterrorism measures arises as governments and security institutions attempt to establish the value that they have against terrorists. The impact of security threats is also major on the economy of Israel and thus the need to ensure that a stable and secure environment is provided for the economy to grow (Kaplan 2013, p. 7). Several methodological approaches are meant to measure the effectiveness of counterterrorism strategies. However, this case has also elicited debate among the proponents of each approach (Byman 2011, p. 923). The issue has also been of significance in the United States, with the Congressional Research Service creating a report of the challenges of measuring the effectiveness of the methodologies (Brophy-Baermann & Conybeare 1994, p. 196). In this report, it is stated that government institutions often place “an over reliance on quantitative indicators such as the number of incidents while ignoring qualitative indicators such as the morale of the terrorist organisation” (Brophy-Baermann & Conybeare 1994, p. 196). The authors also stated that normative data in most of the qualitative indicators of the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures is not usually put into account (Brophy-Baermann & Conybeare 1994, p. 196).

Some of the measures used in the measurement of effectiveness have been over-reliant on quantitative measures. This argument according to Byman ignores the changes that are so frequent in terrorist organisations. He describes them as being quantum-like (2011, p. 923). Based on the above reasons, the measurement of the effectiveness of counterterrorism strategies should therefore be by both qualitative and quantitative measures such as the number of terrorist activities, the trends, and the social attitudes towards the same (Faria, & Arce 2012, p. 436). However, several problems could arise out of the use of these methods, which include the quantum changes described above in the terrorist organisations. Some authors have also suggested that, since terrorist organisations often develop in a non-linear manner, “imply doing time-series analyses of raw data may ignore data such as when terrorists develop radically new strategies and tactics” (Enders, Sandler, & Gaibulloev 2011, p. 186).

Despite the challenges of using these qualitative and quantitative means of measuring the changes in terrorism activity and the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures, the methods are still in application though with several modifications. One of the alterations that have been suggested in these measures is the factoring of the quantum changes in the terror networks (Faria, & Arce 2012, p. 433). Other measures include the use of advanced technology in gathering intelligence, “impact on society, targets, and their protection, alliances, disruption, amount of unproductive energy expended, sophistication of effort, and morale and momentum” (Faria, & Arce 2012, p. 435). In focusing on the changes of the above factors in any terror network, it is possible to note any changes in the organisation and hence compute the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures.

One of the objective measures used to measure the effectiveness of counterterrorism strategies is using statistics on terrorist attacks. Byman used this measure by calculating the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures using what he referred to as ‘quantitative time-series assessment (2011, p. 928). According to him, “if the amount of terrorist violence decreases over time, counter-terror policies have been successful” (Byman 2011, p. 928). The authors who have used both qualitative and quantitative measures of determining the efficiency of counterterrorism strategies include Navot who used both of these indicators (2008, p. 253). In her arguments, she states that the effective decline of terrorism is when there is “physical defeat of the extremist organisation, a decision to abandon the terrorist strategy, and organisational disintegration” (Faria, & Arce 2012, p. 433).

As indicated above, researchers have not been largely interested in the counterterrorism measures and their effectiveness in averting possible terrorist threats to the state of Israel despite the importance of this topic. There is, therefore, limited literature that is of use on the methodologies of measuring the success of the counterterrorism measures in the setting of Israel. However, important works on terrorism have effects on the state including the effects on the economy and social life. Some of the authors who have engaged on this topic indicate that the measurement of the effectiveness and impact of counterterrorism measures in Israel can be done through empirical, technical, and political criteria (Jones 2007, p. 293). An assessment of the major terrorist attacks on Israel is vital in this kind of measurement. For the purpose of this essay, the focus should be on the contemporary incidences of terrorism.

Ever since the first attacks on Israel and her interests abroad, a number of counterterrorism measures have been employed to prevent subsequent terror attacks. The state has generally run a program where targeted assassinations are used as confirmed in the year 2001 when it was revealed that the state often authorises the assassinations (Navot 2008, p. 253). As Byman states, “During the al-Aqsa Intifada, Israeli military forces killed dozens of suspected terrorists affiliated with Hamas, the PIJ, Fatah, and the PFLP” (2011, p. 923). One of the main arguments against the use of targeted assassinations by the state of Israel is the murder of innocent bystanders caught up between the terrorists and the authorities, with this case being a source of concern for many human rights groups (Ratnesar 2003, p. 296). The statistical findings on this mode of counterterrorism are staggering, with the number of bystanders killed being about half of the targeted individuals. Some of the statistics indicate that, during the al-Aqsa Intifada, “the IDF killed 119 Hamas members, 96 affiliated with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or al-Fatah, 35 PIJ members and 23 from either the PFLP, PA intelligence, or another affiliation” (Rasmussen 2011, p. 332).

In the year 2001, the assassination of Abu ‘Ali Mustafa by the IDF led to the assassination of the tourism minister in Israel and a series of other attacks by the Palestinians. Israel used the same counterterrorism measure to assassinate Palestinian leaders (Greenwald 1999, p. 35). This counterterrorism measure is thought to have escalated the conflict with the Palestinians the other measure that Israel has used in counterterrorism is the demolition of homes and collective punishment of the Palestinians for any attack on its soil (Chipman et al., 2011, p. 259). Over the past decade, the Israeli Defence Forces have engaged in the demolition of houses and occupation of the Gaza strip and the west retaliation of any attacks that it may have had on its soil by the Palestinians.

In the incursions and occupations, the houses in these regions are demolished as a way of dissuading and weakening the Palestinians and their terrorist movements. This form of collective punishment has also elicited sharp reactions from various sectors including the human rights groups (Faria, & Arce 2012, p. 437). It is reported that the IDF made about 13 major operations and incursions into the Palestinian population to, “bulldoze Palestinian land, quarantine ‘troublesome’ areas, restrict Palestinian movement, and or strengthen Israeli settlements” (Ganor, & Falk 2013, p. 118). The use of collective punishment by the Israeli authorities involves the punishing of people for a crime that they did not commit. The measure has been used in the past engagements with terror outfits in the Palestinian territories and within Israel where a number of Palestinians were arrested and detained without prosecution. Those included in the swoop by the authorities included thousands of innocent suspects.

The above actions by Israel are prohibited under international laws. They are regarded as intimidation measures (Romanov, Zussman & Zussman 2012, p. 187). The United Nations has spelt out some of the things that an occupying force is not allowed to do in the land it has occupied. The destruction of property is one of them (Navot 2008, p. 253). Furthermore, the destruction of the Palestinian homes has made it difficult for the states that accept Palestinian refugees into their territories (Kaplan, Mintz & Mishal 2006, p. 556). The other counter-terrorism measure and tactic that the Israeli authorities have used in the past include administrative detention. This strategy according to Byman “is a procedure under which detainees are held without charge or trial. No charges are filed, and that there is no intention of bringing a detainee to trial” (2011, p. 923). The United Nations is on the forefront in the protection of civil and human rights all over the world though there has been criticism on various fields due to the lack of proper policies on the on-going state of war in and around Israel. Other human rights groups have also expressed concern over the treatment of prisoners of war by Israel and her enemies.

The policy of administrative detention is widely used in Israel as a means of countering terrorism. There are reports that over 600 Palestinians are some of the people that were held administratively by the Israeli government in the year 2006 (Faria, & Arce 2012, p. 438). Most of the prisoners were held in the military camps that are spread out in the state of Israel and elsewhere in the world. The other measure that Israel has used to counter terrorism threats includes the use of border control. According to Kurtulus, “the Israelis have been reluctant to negotiate on the status of their borders (2012, p. 43) due to the existence of “several religious, military and economic reasons” (Kurtulus 2012, p. 46). The state of Israel is founded on a number of religious and cultural sites in the Middle East with several groups laying claim to this territory. The state has therefore engaged in tightening her borders to prevent nay incursion by a foreign force and or prevent any terror activities across the borders (Olmert 2011, p.209). The other significant measure that Israel has utilised in its counterterrorism is the use of technological advantage. An example is the strategy by Northrop Grumman who developed a “Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser (M-THEL) designed to protect Israel from Hezbollah’s Katyusha-type rockets fired from inside Lebanon” (Kurtulus 2012, p. 46).

Some of the other technological advances that have been used in Israel as a counterterrorism measure include the tracking of movement of people and cargo. Biometric passports are some of the measures that been adopted in the country (Kurtulus 2012, p. 46). Some of the devices developed by the Israelis can detect chemicals used in making explosives, and this has assisted in predicting the attacks before they occur (Bombshell 2011). The use of technology is one of the defensive measures that have been used by the Israelis. The other measure that is defensive in nature is the control of the financing of the terrorist organisations working against Israel (Kurtulus 2012, p. 46). The above measures are all in use in the current state of Israel, with their use also being adopted by other states. For the purpose of this study, the effectiveness of these measures will be discussed with appropriate theories being stated.

One of the quantitative measures of effectiveness as utilised in Israel to evaluate counterterrorism measures is the terrorism incidences. Looking at the period between the year 2000 and 2005, the terrorism incidences are generally reported to decrease in number, “with 19 being reported in 2000, 85 in 2001, 108 in2002, 75 in 2003, 30 in 2004 and 76 in 2005” (Spilerman 2013, p. 926). This finding indicates that the counterterrorism measures put in place were effective in the years 2003 and 2004 despite a change in the following year. The actual effectiveness of the counterterrorism measures in this method of evaluation is, however, inaccurate since it does not indicate the threats that were intercepted at the same period (Kurtulus 2012, p. 51).

The other quantitative measure that is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures is the number of casualties and deaths of citizens resulting from terrorist attacks (Harrison 2006, p. 192). In using data for the above years, the number of Israeli casualties that were reported was highest in the year 2002. However, the number declined significantly throughout the following years (Byman 2012, p. 73). This revelation can be used as a means of measuring the effectiveness of the counterterrorism measures instituted within this period, as it shows marked effectiveness. Some authors have suggested that one may use the average number of injuries that are encountered in a terrorist attack as a measure of effectiveness. Based on this measure or strategy, there was a significant reduction in the average number of casualties per terrorist attack after the year 2002, which also correlates with the number of casualties indicating better counterterrorism strategies.

Apart from the above quantitative measures of effectiveness, several qualitative measures were also utilised by other researchers. One of the qualitative measures that may be used is the assessment of social attitudes of the society. According to Byman, the social attitudes may be assessed by focusing on “negative psychological or behavioural impact of terrorism on a society, loss of public confidence in governments, or in their security measures, and the degree to which terrorists are able to radicalise and polarise” (2012, p. 73). The attitudes of the Israelis and Palestinians during the period listed above were evaluated through a series of studies that aim at establishing their support or opposition of the terrorism acts against Israel (Navot 2008, p. 253). Generally, the opinions of the two groups sampled remained constant during the period (Byman 2012, p. 73).

The other qualitative measure evaluated is the alterations in the tactics used by the terrorists (Byman 2012, p. 73). A significant change in the terrorism tactics, according to Byman, can be regarded as an organisation’s adjustment to adapt to terrorism policies (2012, p. 73). If a focus is made on the years that are used as a baseline in this study, a general change in tactics is observed. The researchers state that the terrorists increased their armed attacks and assassinations in the year 2002 with the bombings also increasing around the same year (Navot 2008, p. 253). Some of the possible suggestions made for the change in tactics include the aggressiveness of the Israeli tactics, the ineffectiveness of previous terrorist acts or the increased cost for carrying out the previous attacks. Another reason was that the bombings might have been found to be more effective in carrying out the terrorist acts within Israel (Navot 2008, p. 253).

Navot states, “One way to measure whether or not a counter-terror policy has been effective is to look at whether or not the targeted organisation still has the ability to attain its stated political ends” (2008, p. 253). This qualitative mode of establishing the efficiency of counterterrorism measures is often referred to as organisational disintegration. It can be used in the case of Israel to evaluate the effectiveness of her counterterrorism measures. A terrorist organisation may be defeated such that it abandons its terrorist activities. At present, this qualitative measure, if used, may indicate that Israeli counterterrorism measures have not been effective because none of the major terrorist threats have been neutralised by the Israeli forces (Navot 2008, p. 253). The challenges with the neutralisation of terrorist threats especially in the case of Israel are the recurrence that the problem has in nature. The reasons for the attacks on Israel have not been fully and critically analysed to provide lasting solutions. Many financial, political, and military implications of any terrorist acts are evident. Any government should frequently assess her counterterrorism measures to establish their effectiveness.


In conclusion, terrorism remains the single most important threat to national security for many nations in the world with various measures being put to fight it. Israel remains a principle focus for the acts of terrorism having experienced a number in the past decade. The measures of evaluating the effectiveness of the counterterrorism measures and strategies in place may be qualitative and quantitative in nature, with both of these having their parameters of measurement. With the use of these measures of evaluation, it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures. However, some of the measures used in both of the categories have been described. The results indicate a general reduction in the terrorism activity and fatalities in the Israeli territory, and hence a positive finding.


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