What can we learn from Israel about fighting terrorism? Seemingly, a great deal. Ever since its founding in 1948, Israel has been contending with attacks that have exacted an awful human toll. They have come in almost every conceivable form: snipers, suicide bombers, cross-border raids, rockets, airplane bombings, hijackings. Long before the U.S. began to develop its counterterrorism measures, Israel had a full repertoire: targeted killings, hostage rescues, retaliatory raids, rigorous airport security measures and incursions into countries harboring terrorists. Israel also has extensive experience with the dilemmas that arise with incarceration and interrogation, including that most vexing of all categories: captives who are believed to know about impending plots.
In “A High Price,” Daniel Byman, a Georgetown University professor, surveys Israel’s record and tries to extract lessons. A carnage-covered checkerboard is what emerges from his meticulously researched historical narrative. On one side are the daring exploits that won Israel the admiration of the world, as in the miraculous 1976 commando raid on the airport at Entebbe, Uganda, that freed Israelis and Jews taken hostage in an airline hijacking. On the other side is a long record of failure, as shown by the sheer number of successful terrorist attacks. Most of these atrocities demonstrate the inherent difficulty of Israel’s security challenge, but in some instances, Mr. Byman says, the terrorists have benefited from Israel’s “political maneuvering, ignorance, and outright hubris.” Continue reading