August 26, 2002
While there have been fewer suicide bombings in Israel over the six weeks, it's not because the Palestinian militants have stopped trying. The Israelis, being properly terrorized by 73 suicide bombings carried out between 1998 and the present, have carefully studied how the suicide bombers operate and develop ways to stop them. The suicide have attacks killed or wounded over 2,000 Israelis so far. This provides tremendous incentive for Israelis to find solutions.
Israeli police have long known how the terrorist groups recruit, equip and deliver bombers. This information was obtained from Palestinian publications, captured documents and interrogations of Palestinian militants. The increasing violence between Palestinians and Israelis has made it a lot easier for the Palestinians to recruit suicide bombers. The actual bombs are cheap and simple to make. Eventually, the Israelis found several weaknesses in the suicide bomber system. The first one discovered was transportation. Most of the suicide bomber volunteers live in the West Bank, and have to be transported to areas with a large Israeli population. As the Israelis discovered, most of the $100-200 cost of each suicide bombing went to paying a driver or guide to get the suicide bomber close to a target area. Using a system of checkpoints and profiling, the Israelis began to catch most of the suicide bombers. But some still got through. So the Israelis went back to a 1990s technique that, while it worked, was widely criticized as unfair and inhumane. Namely, the family home of the suicide bomber was destroyed. The bomber usually came from a family that housed several generations in one house (which was often the family's major asset. Before resuming this practice, the family actually profited from the bombing, receiving up to $30,000 for their son (or daughter's) sacrifice. Soon after the house destruction policy went into effect, there were reports of family's forcibly restraining adult children from joining the suicide bombing effort (or reporting the kid to the Israelis, who would then arrest the bomber volunteer.)
One of the best sources of information on how all this has worked is the Israeli media, where a nervous population is desperate for some reassuring news. A lot of this information was already be widely distributed by the Islamic terrorist groups, as suicide bombing appears to many of them as a powerful weapon against a government. But the bombings are backfiring as world opinion turns against the bombers. A lot of this turn of events has to do with September 11, 2001, which the Palestinians did not anticipate. The attacks have terrorized Israel. Immigration to Israel is down over 40 percent from two years, and migration from Israel is up as well. The Israeli economy is suffering, although not nearly as much as in Palestinian areas. The suicide bombing attacks proved to be a powerful weapon, but not a decisive one. As with any offensive weapon, the targets of these attacks responded with countermeasures to make the attacks much more difficult. Some of the terrorists are considering switching to attacks solely on Israeli soldiers and settlers in Palestinian areas. But these are the most heavily protected targets and may prove too difficult to go after. This is because a percentage of the failed attacks result in captured bombers. These people tend to be so demoralized by their failure that they talk more to Israeli interrogators than their handlers would like. The information obtained makes it easier for the Israelis to go after the people who organize the attacks. These experts are harder to replace than the suicide bombers themselves. Moreover, as it becomes increasingly clear that Israel won't simply disappear because of a wave of suicide bombing attacks, it becomes harder to recruit suicide attack volunteers. Thus the suicide bombing campaign has won some battles, but appears to be losing their war.