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Suicide : A Suicide Bomber Essay
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  1. NPR Choice page
  2. Dozens of Indian paramilitaries killed in Kashmir car bombing
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Although policing this multi-faith, historically beleaguered city has doubtless always involved difficult challenges, none can compare with the current situation. There were still three weeks to go before the end of the year. Nineteen of these events had been suicide bombings. In the calculus of terrorism, it doesn't get much better. Once there were only "bags on buses, not vests or belts" to contend with, the policeman said.


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The purpose is to prove that the police can do whatever they want but it won't help. This, of course, is the age-old strategy of terrorists everywhere—to undermine public confidence in the ability of the authorities to protect and defend citizens, thereby creating a climate of fear and intimidation amenable to terrorist exploitation. In Jerusalem, and in Israel as a whole, this strategy has not succeeded. But it has fundamentally changed daily behavior patterns—the first step toward crushing morale and breaking the will to resist.

The terrorists appear to be deliberately homing in on the few remaining places where Israelis thought they could socialize in peace. An unprecedented string of attacks in the first four months of last year illustrated this careful strategy, beginning at bus stops and malls and moving into more private realms, such as corner supermarkets and local coffee bars. In March, for example, no one paid much attention to a young man dressed like an ultra-Orthodox Jew who was standing near some parked cars as guests left a bar mitzvah celebration at a social hall in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Yisrael.

Then he blew himself up, killing nine people, eight of them children, and wounding fifty-nine. The tight-knit religious community had felt that it was protected by God, pointing to the miraculous lack of injury a year before when a booby-trapped car blew up in front of the same hall. Using a strategy al Qaeda has made familiar, the terrorists revisited the site.

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Less than a month after the Beit Yisrael attack the suicide bombers and their leaders drove home the point that Israelis cannot feel safe anywhere by going to the one large Israeli city that had felt immune from the suspicion and antipathy prevalent elsewhere—Haifa, with its successful mixture of Jews, Christian and Muslim Arabs, and followers of the Bahai faith.

The University of Haifa has long had the highest proportion of Arab students of any Israeli university. The nearby Matza restaurant, owned by Jews but run by an Israeli Arab family from Galilee, seemed to embody the unusually cordial relations that exist among the city's diverse communities. Matza was popular with Jews and Arabs alike, and the presence of its Arab staff and patrons provided a feeling of safety from attack.

That feeling was shattered at two-thirty on a quiet Sunday afternoon, when a suicide bomber killed fifteen people and wounded nearly fifty. As we had tea late one afternoon in the regal though almost preternaturally quiet surroundings of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Benny Morris, a professor of history at Ben Gurion University, explained, "The Palestinians say they have found a strategic weapon, and suicide bombing is it. This hotel is empty. The streets are empty. They have effectively terrorized Israeli society. My wife won't use a bus anymore, only a taxi. Even the police have been affected.

I don't come to Jerusalem with my children anymore. I'd give back the settlements. I'd give over my bank account to live in peace. By any measure was an astonishing year for Israel in terms of suicide bombings. An average of five attacks a month were made, nearly double the number during the first fifteen months of the second intifada—and that number was itself more than ten times the monthly average since Indeed, according to a database maintained by the National Security Studies Center, at Haifa University, there were nearly as many suicide attacks in Israel last year fifty-nine as there had been in the previous eight years combined sixty-two.

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In Jerusalem alone there were nine suicide attacks during the first four months of , killing thirty-three and injuring No one went out to restaurants. We went as a group of people to one another's houses only. Again, terrorism is meant to produce psychological effects that reach far beyond the immediate victims of the attack. As the French philosopher Gaston Bouthoul argued three decades ago in a theoretical treatise on the subject, the "anonymous, unidentifiable threat creates huge anxiety, and the terrorist tries to spread fear by contagion, to immobilise and subjugate those living under this threat.

Ultimately, Hamas will win. Terrorists hope to compel the enemy society's acquiescence, if not outright surrender, to their demands. After decades of struggle the Palestinians are convinced that they have finally discovered Israel's Achilles' heel. Ismail Haniya, another Hamas leader, was quoted in March of last year in The Washington Post as saying that Jews "love life more than any other people, and they prefer not to die. An Israeli policeman told me, "A suicide bomber goes on a bus and finds himself face-to-face with victims and he smiles and he activates the bomb—but we learned that only by asking people afterwards who survived.

It is just as prevalent among Sunni terrorists. Indeed, the last will and testament of Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the September 11 hijackers, and his "primer" for martyrs, The Sky Smiles, My Young Son , clearly evidence a belief in the joy of death. This perceived weakness of an ostensibly powerful society has given rise to what is known in the Middle East as the "spider-web theory," which originated within Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia organization, following a struggle that ultimately compelled the Israel Defense Forces to withdraw from southern Lebanon in May of The term is said to have been coined by Hizbollah's secretary general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who described Israel as a still formidable military power whose civil society had become materialistic and lazy, its citizens self-satisfied, comfortable, and pampered to the point where they had gone soft.

Therefore, Israel is a spider-web society: it looks strong from the outside, but touch it and it will fall apart. A society facing such a determined foe can respond. Israel, with its necessarily advanced military and intelligence capacities, was able in the first four months of last year to meet the most concerted effort to date by Palestinian terrorists to test the resolve of its government and the mettle of its citizens. Twelve Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks in January, twenty-six in February, in March, and forty-one in April.

After April of , however, a period of relative quiet settled over Israel. The number of suicide attacks, according to the National Security Studies Center, declined from sixteen in March to six in April, six in May, five in June, and six in July before falling still further to two in August and similarly small numbers for the remainder of the year.

The military answer was Operation Defensive Shield, which began in March and involved both the IDF's huge deployment of personnel to the West Bank and its continuing presence in all the major Palestinian population centers that Israel regards as wellsprings of the suicide campaign. This presence has involved aggressive military operations to pre-empt suicide bombing, along with curfews and other restrictions on the movement of residents. The success of the IDF's strategy is utterly dependent on regularly acquiring intelligence and rapidly disseminating it to operational units that can take appropriate action.

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Thus the IDF must continue to occupy the West Bank's major population centers, so that Israeli intelligence agents can stay in close—and relatively safe—proximity to their information sources, and troops can act immediately either to round up suspects or to rescue the agent should an operation go awry. The IDF presence facilitates intelligence gathering, and the troops can also conduct massive sweeps, house to house and block to block, pick up people, and interrogate them.

The IDF units in West Bank cities and towns can amass detailed knowledge of a community, identifying terrorists and their sympathizers, tracking their movements and daily routines, and observing the people with whom they associate. Agents from Shabak, Israel's General Security Service also known as the Shin Bet , work alongside these units, participating in operations and often assigning missions. Shabak already knows everything about them, and that is such a shock to them. So they are afraid, and they will tell Shabak everything. A junior officer well acquainted with this environment says, "Whoever has better intelligence is the winner.

The strategy—at least in the short run—is working. The dramatic decline in the number of suicide operations since last spring is proof enough. We do it so that we fight the war in their homes rather than in our homes. We try to make certain that we fight on their ground, where we can have the maximum advantage. Citizens in Israel, as in America, have a fundamental expectation that their government and its military and security forces will protect and defend them.

Soldiers are expected to die, if necessary, in order to discharge this responsibility. The IDF is better prepared, protected, educated. For Palestinian civilians it means no respite from roadblocks and identity checks, cordon-and-search operations, lightning snatch-and-grabs, bombing raids, helicopter strikes, ground attacks, and other countermeasures that have turned densely populated civilian areas into war zones.

Many Israelis do not relish involvement in this protracted war of attrition, but even more of them accept that there is no alternative. It imposes a strain on the army, yes, but this is what the army is for.

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This view cut across ideological and demographic lines. As we dined one evening at Matza, which has been rebuilt, a centrist graduate student at Haifa University named Uzi Nisim told me that Palestinian terrorists "will have the power to hit us, to hurt us, once [the IDF] withdraws from Jenin and elsewhere on the West Bank. He said, "There is widespread recognition in Israel that this is the only way to stop terrorism.

Otherwise I wouldn't feel safe going out. Nevertheless, few Israelis believe that the current situation will lead to any improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations over the long run. Dennis Zinn, the defense correspondent for Israel's Channel 1, told me, "Yes, there is a drop-off [in suicide bombings].

When you have bombs coming down on your heads, you can't carry out planning and suicide attacks. But that doesn't take away their motivation. It only increases it. Given the relative ease and the strategic and tactical attraction of suicide bombing, it is perhaps no wonder that after a five-day visit to Israel last fall, Louis Anemone, the security chief of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, concluded that New Yorkers—and, by implication, other Americans—face the same threat.

In March, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge also referred to the threat, saying in an interview with Fox News that we have to "prepare for the inevitability" of suicide bombings in the United States. Anemone even argued that "today's terrorists appear to be using Israel as a testing ground to prepare for a sustained attack against the U.

When they were arrested, the terrorists were probably less than a day away from attacking: according to law-enforcement authorities, five bombs had been primed. All that's required is a willingness to kill and a willingness to die. According to the Rand Corporation's chronology of worldwide terrorism, which begins in the year acknowledged as marking the advent of modern international terrorism, whereby terrorists attack other countries or foreign targets in their own country , nearly two thirds of the suicide bombings recorded have occurred in the past two years.

No society, least of all the United States, can regard itself as immune from this threat. So did Dan Schueftan, the Israeli strategist, when I asked him if he thought suicide terrorism would come to America in a form similar to that seen in Israel this past year. He said, "It is an interesting comment that the terrorists make: we will finish defeating the Jews because they love life so much.

Their goal is to bring misery and grief to people who have an arrogance of power. Who has this? The United States and Israel. Europe will suffer too. I don't think that it will happen in the U.


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  7. We had the same discussion back in , when El Al aircraft were hijacked and people said this is your problem, not ours. The United States, of course, is not Israel. However much we may want to harden our hearts and our targets, the challenge goes far beyond fortifying a single national airline or corralling the enemy into a territory ringed by walls and barbed-wire fences that can be intensively monitored by our armed forces.

    But we can take precautions based on Israel's experience, and be confident that we are substantially reducing the threat of suicide terrorism here. The police, the military, and intelligence agencies can take steps that work from the outside in, beginning far in time and distance from a potential attack and ending at the moment and the site of an actual attack. Although the importance of these steps is widely recognized, they have been implemented only unevenly across the United States. Exactly what shape that struggle will take remains to be seen. But a recruitment video reportedly circulated by al Qaeda as recently as spring of last year may provide some important clues.

    The seven-minute tape, seized from an al Qaeda member by U.

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    It depicts scenes of jihad ists in combat, followed by the successive images of twenty-seven martyrs with their names, where they were from, and where they died. Twelve of the martyrs are featured in a concluding segment with voice-over that says, "They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah. And with regard to those left behind who have not yet joined them in their bliss, the martyrs glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they cause to grieve. The greatest military onslaught in history against a terrorist group crushed the infrastructure of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, depriving it of training camps, operational bases, and command-and-control headquarters; killing and wounding many of its leaders and fighters; and dispersing the survivors.

    Yet this group still actively seeks to rally its forces and attract recruits. Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden's chief lieutenant, laid out a list of terrorist principles in his book, Knights Under the Prophet's Banner , prominent among them the need for al Qaeda to "move the battle to the enemy's ground to burn the hands of those who ignite fire in our countries.

    Suleiman Abu Gheith, al Qaeda's chief spokesman, has said as much. In rhetoric disturbingly reminiscent of the way that Palestinian terrorists describe their inevitable triumph over Israel, Abu Gheith declared, "Those youths that destroyed Americans with their planes, they did a good deed. There are thousands more young followers who look forward to death like Americans look forward to living. All rights reserved. RAND reprints present previously published journal articles and book chapters with the permission of the publisher.

    By the s, Palestinian terror groups from both Hamas and Fatah would use suicide bombs against Israel. Up until then, there were some suicide attacks worldwide from , said Robert A. Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who directs its Chicago Project on Security and Threats. The US war in Iraq followed, which fueled bloody sectarian violence that put it on the brink of civil war.

    Suicide bombers pounded the country. An al-Qaida branch there would morph into the Islamic State group, which would launch its own suicide attacks around the world. Today, the number of suicide attacks since is around 6,, Pape said, with around half in Iraq and Syria alone. However, there is no recent history of Muslim extremist attacks in Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist island nation off the southern tip of India. Nor was there any explanation for how a group previously not known for violence could engineer such a massive attack, which experts said resembled an assault by the Islamic State group or al-Qaida.

    Sri Lankan security personnel walk next to dead bodies on the floor amid blast debris at St. Anthony's Shrine, following an explosion in the church in Kochchikade in Colombo, on April 21, In this September 11, file photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York as part of a plot by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

    An Israeli police officer at the scene of a public bus bombing in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Wednesday, March 5,