Magazine article Law & Order

Israeli Response to Hostage-Taking

Magazine article Law & Order

Israeli Response to Hostage-Taking

Article excerpt

The Israeli General Security Service (SHABAK) and the Military Intelligence (AMAN) have recently warned that the HAMAS terrorist organization is about to adopt a new modus operandi. Besides focusing on mass-killings and bombings, such as those perpetrated recently in the middle of the main Israeli urban centers, this organization will also concentrate on attempts to kidnap either Israeli soldiers or West-Bank Jewish settlers, in order to bargain over them for the release of imprisoned terrorists held in Israeli jails.

Terrorists change their modus operandi all the time. When it becomes more hazardous to seize aircrafts, terrorists hijack buses or trains. When there is a risk involved in murdering diplomats or businessmen, they resort to attacking statesmen, religious leaders and royalty. There is nothing new about the wish of Palestinian terrorist organizations to have their comrades released from Israeli jails.

The more interesting element contained in the latest security alerts, however, concerns the somehow questionable tactical logic behind HAMAS' decision to embrace the methods of kidnapping and hostage taking. It seems that HAMAS tacticians either backfired or simply disregarded what other Palestinian terrorists have learned the hardway many years ago: Israel has one of toughest policies concerning hostage-situations, and no Israeli government has ever capitulated in such incidents, not even when the odds were unfavorable.

Since the birth of the state of Israel in 1948, the threat of illegal border crossings by Palestinian Fedayeen irregulars, infiltrators and refugees, and the threat of terrorism conducted by terrorists belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has been a pervasive fact of daily life. In addition, due to historical, cultural and demographic factors, and as a result of the tight-knit nature of Israeli society, Israel has been extremely sensitive to casualties.

The trauma of losses suffered as a result of terrorism has always been felt on nearly all levels of society. Moreover, the constant threat of terrorism precluded the emergence of an atmosphere of normalcy in a country that has seen six major wars in little more than four decades. Finally, terrorism threatened Israel's deterrent capability. Israel invested substantial effort in cultivating and projecting an image of strength in order to deter its neighbors. Terrorist successes have weakened this image.

As a result of all these factors, Israel has adopted a tough and uncompromising policy against terrorists in general and hostage-takers in particular. For almost 30 years, the Israeli policy concerning kidnappings and hostage-takings has been a clear-cut one: no concessions are made during a hostage situation; a rescue operation should be mounted as soon as all preparations are over and once the tactical situation permits it; and all incidents must be terminated close to their inception, preferably within 24 hours. The Israeli government has been consistent in its stance.

In May 1972 a Boeing 707 of Belgium's Sabena airlines was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, who ordered the captain to land at Lod airport in TelAviv. The four hijackers identified themselves as members of the Black September organization. While Israeli authorities pretended to be willing to accept the Sabena hijackers' demands for the release of 317 Palestinians being held in Israel, members of the Sayeret Matkal elite counter-terrorist unit practiced an assault operation in a nearby hangar.

After 24 hours of talks mediated by the Red Cross, several commandos posing as mechanics boarded the aircraft surreptitiously. killed the two male terrorists, captured their two female accomplices who were wired with high explosives, and rescued 89 passengers and ten crew members. Only one passenger was killed during the rescue.

In May 1974 three heavily armed terrorists of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), wearing knapsacks filled with explosives, grenades and ammunition, infiltrated the Israeli town of Ma'alot, wantonly murdered a family of three and seized a school-house where 90 teenagers on a school outing were sleeping. …

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