Friday, June 3, 2011

Daniel Byman's "A High Price"

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.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, and reported the following:
In 2002, I was in the Middle East while investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Just before I entered Israel, its military killed Saleh Shehada – the founder of Hamas’ military wing whom Israel blamed for the deaths of more than 200 Israelis. The same strike, however, also killed 14 others, including 10 children. Hamas declared that it would not rest until “Jews see their own body parts in every restaurant and park,” and less than 10 days later it retaliated, bombing Hebrew University in Jerusalem and killing seven people, including five American students. An ostensible counterterrorism success was fraught with complications on every level.

Since Israel was founded in 1948, it has fought Palestinian terrorists, Jewish extremists, and the Lebanese Hizballah. I set out to write A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism because I believe that Israel’s experiences, both for better and for worse, offer many lessons to other countries in their own struggles against terrorism.

One lesson highlighted on page 99 of my book is how aggressive counterterrorism measures, in this case arrests of Hamas operatives in the late 1980s, can devastate a group. This simple fact is underappreciated – although many of terrorism’s roots are political, if a group’s leaders are hit hard, the group as a whole becomes dysfunctional. Hamas’ ability to strike plummeted, even though it could draw on deep wellsprings of anger within Palestinian society.

Second, p. 99 reveals how terrorist groups adapt. Rather than collapse after its operatives when to jail, Hamas exploited prisons, using them as a place to indoctrinate other prisoners and organize its members, emerging stronger in the end. Hamas also learned how to organize itself into secretive cells and otherwise become a far harder nut for Israeli intelligence to crack.

A final lesson that appears on p. 99 is how the Oslo peace process, which in 1993 seemed close to fruition, undermined terrorism. When hopes for peace were high, many Palestinians saw violence against Israel as counterproductive, as it made a Palestinian state that much less likely. Sadly, as peace talks stagnated, support for violence grew, leading to more attacks and creating a cycle whereby violence set back negotiations, which in turn begat more violence.
Learn more about A High Price at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue