In yesterday’s Jerusalem Post, Evelyn Gordon quotes the chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, who has unleashed a scathing attack on the government’s failure to build Israel’s deterrence against Palestinian and Hezbollah terror. What’s interesting here is his distinction between physical deterrence (i.e., having a more powerful army than your enemy) and psychological deterrence (i.e., controlling the interpretation of events such that your enemies are too scared to attack). Here is the passage that caught my eye:
According to repeated polls, 70 to 85 percent of Palestinians believe that Israel quit Gaza due to anti-Israel terror. And with reason: In 2000, no Israeli government would have considered withdrawing from Gaza unilaterally. Yet a relatively low casualty level Gaza-based terror accounted for less than 15 percent (some 150 people) of Israel’s intifada-related fatalities over the ensuing five years sufficed to reverse this stance. Thus, clearly, terror worked.
Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who is widely regarded as Hamas’s leader in the West Bank, explained the thought process in an astonishingly frank interview in last Friday’s Ha’aretz. He himself, the interview implies, was unenthusiastic about suicide bombings. Yet Israel’s own actions proved the tactic so effective that its opponents within the organization were effectively silenced.
“Members of the Israeli peace camp, those who spoke about ending the occupation and withdrawing, pushed us forward in our decision to continue the suicide attacks,” he said. “The cracks in your steadfastness encouraged us greatly and proved that this method is very effective. Ariel Sharon’s plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip was also a great achievement that resulted from our activities. For us, one of the best proofs of the rift that suicide attacks had created in Israeli society was the phenomenon of refusal to serve in the army. We thought this rift should be deepened, and use of the suicide bomber weapon became a matter of consensus in our organization.
Never mind the absurdity of the causal links: To suggest that low rates of service in the IDF are the result of suicide bombings is to fundamentally misunderstand how Israeli society works–Israelis are much more likely to serve during periods of terror and military threat, as proven by the remarkable rate of reserve participation during both the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield against the Palestinians, and during the 2006 Lebanon war. What is interesting is the fact that Palestinians perceive such a link–which in terms of deterrence is exactly what counts.