Dr R Balashankar
A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, Daniel Byman, Oxford University Press, Pp 464 (HB), $34.95
IN today’s world, any conflict that involves Muslims on one side ends up being a no-win situation for the other side. The Islamic terrorists provoke, and if the other side retaliates, then there are more attacks and more terrorists and organisations are born. This has been proved ably in Israel and of course India. We are told day in and day out that state action against Muslim terrorist fawn the growth of more terrorists. But somehow, the logic does not work the other way round.
Israel has been at the centre of constant terror attack ever since its inception six decades ago. It has spent considerable money and lost thousands of its soldiers to the continuing war in the region, with almost all its neighbour. How successful have they been? In long term very little, but in short-term retaliation they have been good, almost giving it back as good as they get. This is the sense one gets after reading Daniel Byman’s A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. Negotiated peace is what can last and healthy, he says.
“In the abstract peace is the ideal counterterrorism solution. A peace settlement would empower moderate Palestinians and give Israel a partner for counterterrorism, as the moderate too oppose more radical forces.” But then peace takes two sides to work. After Yasser Arafat’s death, Salam Fayyad became Prime Minister. Fayyad was educated in America, a pro-western economist. Mohammad Abbas was the President. But peace did not work. “Arafat’s heirs inherited ruined institutions, a destroyed infrastructure, an increased military occupation of Palestine area, and, most important, the distrust Arafat had sowed among Israelis. As the PA crumbled in the last stages of the Intifada Palestinian society turned on itself. Kidnappings, robbery, and even murder surged while the courts and police collapsed.”
The Israeli fight against terror has valuable lessons for the world, says Daniel Byman. This is especially true for those states like India which are entrapped in the periodic Islamic religious terrorist attacks. The first, defence, in the form of deterrence has to be high. So high that the attacker would think twice before attacking. This can only escalate, with each testing the others’ limits. Consequently, terrorism and counterterrorism feed on each other. In a society where the two warring communities live in demarcated separate areas, the social fall outs are limited. But in a socio-cultural conundrum like India, the tension, anger and hatred tend to spill over.
“Israel’s history shows that no factor is more important to the success of a terrorist group than sanctuary. The sanctuaries the fedayeen enjoyed in Jordan, Lebanon, and other countries were vital to their survival and continuation of operations, particularly after Israel cleared them out of the West Bank after the 1967 war,” says Byman. This sounds so resoundingly a summation in the case of India vis-à-vis Pakistan. Israel’s intelligence, though not infallible, is a model for counterterrorism. Organisation, training and doctrine often “make the difference between effective counterterrorism and disastrous failure.”
Daniel Byman goes on to list several such lessons to be learnt from the high price Israel has paid in its counterterrorism operations. The author has gone into the genesis and history of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Closely sticking to the subject and theme, Byman has looked at the issue of counterterrorism without obvious bias. There is no doubt that Israel has paid a huge price in its war against terror directed towards it. How long can it sustain this, given the growing clout of the Arab money, is also a major issue. But Byman’s book is a must read for strategists, especially of defence and anti-terror.
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