Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal examines the effects of Israel's 'targeted assassination' policy [emphasis added]:
After [the terrorist massacre at Netanya in 2002], Israel invaded the West Bank and began to target terrorist leaders more aggressively.The bold phrase is, I think, the crux of the situation (not coincidentally, it's also the crux of the article). The 'wise heads' that predict doom every time Israel goes after one of the terrorist leaders don't understand - if you take out their leadership, you provide a convincing argument for peace.
The results, in terms of lives saved, were dramatic. In 2003, the number of Israeli terrorist fatalities declined by more than 50% from the previous year, to 213 from 451. The overall number of attacks also declined, to 3,823 in 2003 from 5,301 in 2002, a drop of 30%. In the spring of 2003, Israel stepped up its campaign of targeted assassinations, including a failed attempt on Yassin's deputy, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Wise heads said Israel had done nothing except incite the Palestinians to greater violence. Instead, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups agreed unilaterally to a cease-fire.
In this context, it bears notice that between 2002 and 2003 the number of Palestinian fatalities also declined significantly, from 1,000 to about 700. The reason here is obvious: As the leaders of Palestinian terror groups were picked off and their operations were disrupted, they were unable to carry out the kind of frequent, large-scale attacks that had provoked Israel's large-scale reprisals. Terrorism is a top-down business, not vice versa. Targeted assassinations not only got rid of the most guilty but diminished the risk of open combat between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian foot soldiers.
[W]hen one looks closely at just who the suicide bombers are (or were), often they turn out to be society's outcasts. Take Reem Salah al-Rahashi, a mother of two, who in January murdered four Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint on the Gaza-Israel border. In a prerecorded video, Rahashi said becoming a shaheed was her lifelong dream. Later it emerged she'd been caught in an extramarital affair, and that her husband and lover had arranged her "martyrdom operation" as an honorable way to settle the matter. It is with such people, not with themselves, that Palestinian leaders attempt to demonstrate their own fearlessness.So what happens when the terrorists stop encouraging people to go and blow themselves up? The Palestinians are human - they care about their own lives, and the lives of their children. You'd have a difficult time, were you not a 'spiritual' terrorist leader, convincing them to go die in your stead.
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