A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism

A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism

A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism

A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism


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 nuanced, definitive historical account of the state's bold but often failed efforts to fight terrorist groups. The product of painstaking research and countless interviews, the book chronicles different periods of Israeli counterterrorism. 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 Priceexpertly explains how Israel's successes and failures can serve to inform all countries fighting terrorism today.


The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land
of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a
high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won’t survive.

—Advice given to Ariel Sharon, then a special forces commander in
the Israeli Army, by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion after the
controversial retaliatory raid on Qibya in 1953

IT STARTED as an ordinary day in March. Passengers sat quietly on a bus traveling from the southern seaside resort town of Eilat to Beersheba. Some had gone for business, but most had been on vacation and were now returning with souvenirs and suntans. As the bus snaked its way along a mountain road, it neared a stone monument. Suddenly there was chaos. First the Palestinians sprayed the bus with gunfire. Then they looted the bodies; later a woman was found with no shoes, her ring finger cut off. Eleven died and two were gravely wounded in the attack. Fiveyear-old Miri Firstenberg survived only because a soldier riding on the bus threw his body in front of her. Afterward the killers fled to safety in a neighboring Arab state. The Israeli media declared, “The massacre was an act of war, which can only be met by an act of war on our part.”

As the magnitude of the attack became clear, the Israeli prime minister faced enormous political pressure. His rivals, already deriding him as feckless in the face of terrorism, were waiting to pounce should he appear weak. The Israeli public needed to know their government was fighting back, and the security elite feared that a feeble reaction would simply embolden radicals. Everyone agreed that the killers and their supporters must be held accountable. But how exactly?

The killers hid under the protection of a seemingly sympathetic regime, one that was simply too weak to take action. The accused government even offered to help in the investigation, an offer some Israelis derided as insincere. Some Israeli security officials wanted to attack the protector regime’s . . .

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