In This Review

A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism
A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism
By Daniel Byman
Oxford University Press, USA, 2011, 496 pp

The rules of terrorism and counterterrorism have been written around Israel’s struggle for statehood and security. As Byman reminds readers in this comprehensive, balanced, and sharply written history, Jewish militants relied on force from the start to push the British out and keep the Arabs at bay. As the security threat took new forms, the Israelis remained determined not to even hint at weakness. And as Byman shows, they enjoyed some notable successes in disrupting Palestinian terrorist campaigns, especially in the early years of this century. Targeted assassinations have now become established as a legitimate counterterrorist tactic beyond Israel, despite misgivings about their legality and effectiveness. Undertaken with sufficient ruthlessness and regularity, they can do serious damage to a militant organization. But they can also prompt retaliation, and whatever the operational gains that targeted killings reap, they can involve severe political costs. Byman makes a similar judgment about the physical barrier separating the Palestinians from the Israelis; an operational case for it can be made, but the political downsides are substantial. Indeed, Israel’s persistent security predicament suggests that when it comes to counterterrorism, as with other aspects of strategy, the core problem is the failure to integrate the military and the political.