Analysis from Israel

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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