A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism
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In the sixty-plus years of the Jewish state’s existence, Israeli governments have exhausted almost every option in defending their country against terror attacks. Israel has survived and even thrived—but both its citizens and its Arab neighbors have paid dearly. In A High Price, Daniel Byman breaks down the dual myths of Israeli omnipotence and—conversely—ineptitude in fighting terror, offering instead a historical account of the state’s bold but often failed efforts to fight terrorist groups. Beginning with the violent border disputes that emerged after Israel’s founding in 1948, Byman charts the rise of Yasir Arafat’s Fatah and leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—organizations that ushered in the era of international terrorism epitomized by the 1972 hostage-taking at the Munich Olympics. Byman follows how Israel fought these groups and new ones, such as Hamas, in the decades that follow, with particular attention to the grinding and painful struggle during the second intifada. Israel’s debacles in Lebanon against groups like the Lebanese Hizballah are also examined in-depth, as is the country’s problematic response to Jewish terrorist groups that have struck at Arabs and Israelis seeking peace. In surveying Israel’s response to terror, the author points to the coups of shadowy Israeli intelligence services, the much-emulated use of defensive measures such as sky marshals on airplanes, and the role of controversial techniques such as targeted killings and the security barrier that separates Israel from Palestinian areas. Equally instructive are the shortcomings that have undermined Israel’s counterterrorism goals, including a disregard for long-term planning and a failure to recognize the long-term political repercussions of counterterrorism tactics. Israel is often a laboratory: new terrorist techniques are often used against it first, and Israel in turn develops innovative countermeasures that other states copy. A High Price expertly explains how Israel’s successes and failures can serve to inform all countries fighting terrorism today.
Daniel Byman is Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He has served on the 9/11 Commission staff and as an analyst with the U.S. government.