Israelis have a unique experience of dealing with a plethora of terrorist groups in the past 47 years. While nothing can condone the atrocities the Israeli state has conducted over the years, we can actually learn from its experience of tackling terrorism. According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, terrorist groups have managed to carry out 1,685 attacks in Israel, resulting in more than 3,000 fatalities since 1968. The Israelis learned to deal with terrorism the hard way.
Even after inflicting consecutive crushing defeats on its much larger and formidable Arab neighbours, Israel’s security policies were focused more on strengthening its military capabilities and firepower. A wave of terrorist attacks were launched by militant groups in 1968, the year which also heralded a new era of modern terrorism. The year was marked by a series of hijackings and militant groups made them a part and parcel of their terrorist plots, coupled with assassinations and bomb attacks at Israeli interests both at home and abroad. The Israeli national airline El Al was hijacked on at least four occasions whereas several other airlines carrying Israeli passengers were also hijacked during the 1970s and 1980s. One high-profile incident of international terrorism was carried out in 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes were assassinated at the Munich Olympic Village after a hostage situation. Israelis were targeted in many different ways: assassinations (186), armed assaults (211), bombings/explosions (1,199), attacks on infrastructure (73), hijackings (four), kidnappings (18), hostage-taking (seven), unarmed assaults (23) and miscellaneous (19). In the face of these attacks, Israel’s counterterrorism policies remained successful although they are considered controversial.
The Israeli counterterrorism model is basically police-driven and intelligence-led. Israeli policymakers use military units in curbing terrorism in Gaza and West Bank territories whereas in the mainland, the Israeli police lead all operations with high-grade intelligence provided by the domestic intelligence department Shin Bet. The Israeli military, after receiving information regarding the whereabouts of sponsors and planners of attacks, strikes their hideouts on the basis of high-grade intelligence reports.
Israel’s focus remains on training. The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the University of Herzilya is considered one of the best institutions in the world for carrying out research work. The institute has trained scores of academics like Baor Ganor, Eli Bermen, Ami Pehdazur, Assaf Maghdem and Elly Karmon, who are world-renowned in having produced impressive work on counterterrorism. The institute advises the Israeli government on matters concerning counterterrorism backed by high quality research. On the foreign front, the Israeli government has managed to sign peace deals with its hostile neighbours, Egypt and Jordan, limiting the scope of terrorist organisations. However, Israel continues to face problems from the Syrian and Lebanese borders.
On the judicial front, counterterrorism laws and procedures adopted by the Israeli parliament provide enormous powers to law-enforcement agencies to curb and combat terrorism. Terrorists, their sympathisers and supporters, have been awarded lengthy prison terms. Israeli defence production companies also produce state-of-the-art high-tech counterterrorism equipment providing a substantial edge to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Finally, Israeli counterterrorism policies are largely successful because of the prevailing general consensus among the people, the government, the military, intelligence-gathering organisations and the police regarding the importance of dealing with terrorism. Public opinion polls, time and again, have shown that the Israeli public and government are on the same page as far as dealing with terrorism is concerned. Irrespective of which party is in power, the masses have always stood behind the government and supported counterterrorism policy measures. Israel’s counterterrorism policies might be controversial and harsh but enjoy great support among the Israeli masses.
Pakistan, despite its long-standing moral and diplomatic support to the Palestinian cause, can attempt to learn some highly successful features of Israeli counterterrorism policies. Israel has managed to curb terrorist activities within its borders and has defeated a variety of terrorist organisations working against the interests of the state. Pakistani policymakers, if not replicate all of Israeli counterterrorism policies, may endeavour to adopt some in order to root out the menace of terrorism in which more than 55,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives.