Israeli Counterterrorism in Dealing with Palestinian Terrorism after 1993: Reactive or Pre-emptive? PART 3

The Second Intifada (2000-2005)

This part describes one of the bloodiest time periods in Israeli history. It is divided into two longer sections. The first part discusses the background of the Second Intifada and terrorist activities which took place at that time. Also, this section captures the Israeli counterterrorism activities carried out at the beginning of the Intifada. The first part mostly assesses the failure of the Israeli counterterrorism activities.  The second part shows that Israel had to change its tactics which brought counterterrorism activities with a more positive impact. It is also important to mention that despite the fact that the Second Intifada lasted for more than six years, this chapter is focused only on the first three years of that struggle.

In 1999, one of the most famous Israeli soldiers and politicians, Ehud Barak, won the elections. Despite his professional military background, he wanted to bring both nations together and made peace more real. “I know not only the suffering of my people, but also recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people” (Byman, 2011, p.113). Nonetheless, experts and people well-informed in the conflict predicted a disaster. It came sooner than many had expected. Ariel Sharon, former Israeli soldier, politician and national hero, planned to visit the Temple Mount, the place tremendously crucial for Muslims and Jews around the world. It was apparent many months before, that once Sharon had visited the Temple Mount, bloody violence would escalate.

Terrorism during the Second Intifada

And he did it. Sharon visited the Temple Mount to demonstrate the Israeli/Jewish dominance. In the days after the visit, riots swelled. Day after day riots were joined by more and more Palestinians. Terrorism started to flourish once again. Outraged Palestinians did not differ between soldiers and civilians. All of them were attacked, and casualties on both sides grew. The second Intifada lasted eight years and left more than 1000 dead Israelis and 5000 dead Palestinians. What is also important to emphasize is that the Israeli death toll during the Second Intifada was higher than the Israeli casualties had been since 1948 (Bickerton, Klausner, 2015) (Byman, 2011). Israeli civilians were dying due to suicide bombing, stoning, lynching, stabbing, and a variety of attacks perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists during the Second Intifada. “Amongst Israelis, 69% of those killed were civilians and 31% members of the IDF” (OCHA, 2007).

The success of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada was profoundly influenced by the game played by Yasser Arafat. Earlier, in 1995, Arafat had formed the Tanzim, a military wing of his Fatah. The Tanzim played a significant role also during the Second Intifada. When the riots escalated, Arafat called for moderation. Simultaneously, allowing the Tanzim leaders to support violence by which he appeared to be not involved in terrorism (Bickerton, Klausner, 2015) (Byman, 2011). Moreover, Arafat controlled the position of Fatah by arresting the members of other terrorist groups, mainly Hamas. However, he allowed Hamas to attack if it was beneficial for him and the concessions he required from the Israeli state. “As the Second Intifada spread, Arafat tried to exploit the violence but also keep a lid on it” (Byman, 2011, p.121).

Israeli Counterterrorism during the Second Intifada

Israel reacted to the outbreak of the Second Intifada strongly. During the first days of the Intifada, the IDF forces used rubber bullets to control the riots. However, the more violent the riots were, the more violent the behaviour of the IDF forces became. After a few Israeli soldiers were wounded, soldiers started to use rubber bullets from a shorter distance which was lethal for some of the demonstrators.

The very first month left 109 Palestinians dead. Israeli snipers started to use live ammunition to eliminate those who appeared to be dangerous. Among the rioters, conversely there were Palestinian snipers who fired upon the Israeli soldiers. However, the inability of the Israeli snipers to shoot the targets in crowds heightened the Palestinian death toll (Byman, 2011). Despite the very high toll of the Palestinian casualties, Israeli commanders were convinced it was the only way to push the violence back. “A result of the IDF’s deliberate goal of having a casualty ratio that would demonstrate Israeli strength” (Byman, 2011, p.124).

During the first days of the Second Intifada, the IDF forces could be criticised because they did not distinguish between terrorists and rioting crowds. That mistake in the Israeli tactics was responsible for such a high death toll on the Palestinian side. It is important to emphasize that the way in which the IDF fought against the riots during the very early days of the Intifada lacked both, the central nature of the reactive and pre-emptive counterterrorism strategies. Firing into rioting crowds had nothing in common with applying laws and justice on those who were responsible for the attacks and riots during which the IDF soldiers and citizens were killed. In addition, the Israeli activities during the first days did not protect its citizens from terrorism and violence. Moreover, the more Palestinians that were killed by the IDF during the riots, the more violent the attacks of Palestinians on ordinary Israelis became. Israel tried to punish the terrorists responsible for the riots and escalations in violence. It is also important to emphasize that not only the Palestinian terrorists, but also the behaviour of the IDF soldiers significantly increased the ferocity of the violence.

In an attempt to punish the Palestinian terrorists the tactics of house demolitions became one of the most used during the first months of the Second Intifada. In 2002, more than 250 houses were demolished by the Israeli forces. The main symbol of these tactics became a D-9 bulldozer. These particular tactics and the D-9 predecessors had been used by the IDF since the 1950’s and had participated in many conflicts like the Sinai War or the Operation Peace for Galilee (Army Technology, n.d.). These tactics operated with an element of deterrence. “Their come at a price that will be paid by everyone taking part in hostile terrorist activity” (Byman, 2011, p. 166).

However, it is a question whether the necessary effect of deterrence worked in practice. In many cases, a bulldozed house was rebuilt from the money provided by the Palestinian authorities. In addition, houses which were bulldozed were empty, and terrorists continued to perform their actions. Therefore, the perpetrators were neither imprisoned, nor eliminated.

The Israeli demolitions lacked both, the nature of the reactive and pre-emptive strategies. Demolitions could be understood as the application of the reactive strategy if the terrorists living in the houses would have been captured, imprisoned or eliminated. However, the majority of them ran away and continued to carry out acts of terrorism. Demolitions did not fulfill the primary goal of the pre-emptive strategies because terrorists were able to continue. Furthermore, the houses re-built after demolitions only increased the trust of the Palestinians toward the Palestinian authorities and motivated them to carry out more terrorist attacks. Therefore, to bulldoze the homes of the Palestinian terrorists was useful only if Israel controlled the area of demolition. “Former chief of staff Bogi Yaalon cautions that house demolitions are effective only when Israel controls the territory” (Byman, 2011, p.167).

Thus, all mentioned actions did not stop the violence. Israeli counterterrorism during the first month of the Intifada was everything but not sufficient. The growing number of casualties only made the Palestinians outraged which led to directly supported violence and terrorist attacks against Israel. It provoked the PIJ to perpetrate further suicide bombings which left several Israelis dead. Many critics blame Israeli forces for the harsh reaction. However, it is important to realize, regular Israeli troops deployed during the first month of the Second Intifada were not trained in dealing with violent crowds. Israel possessed units trained for such action. However, the number of rioters and the ferocity of violence found Israel unprepared and without enough soldiers trained in dealing with rioting crowds mixed with snipers. Ineffectiveness of the Israeli actions forced the Israeli officials to conduct an operation which would calm ordinary Israelis who were the primary targets of terrorism (Byman, 2011).

Before introducing the second part of this chapter, it is significant to mention that Israel had to transfer the gravity of the violence into the Palestinian territories. There can arise a question, is it more efficient to allow Palestinians to riot in Israel, as we could be seen during the first month of the Intifada. Or, is it more efficient to conduct an operation which would take place within the Palestinian territories, by which the focus of the rioting Palestinians and Palestinian terrorists would transfer outside of Israeli borders? As it is seen in the subsequent part, Israel had to conduct an operation, which would change the focus of Palestinians and bring those responsible for violence in front of a court.

Counterterrorism during the Second Intifada – Defensive Shield Operation (29 March-3 May 2002)

Terrorism was hammering Israel. The majority of Israelis required an operation which would paralyze those who attack. Therefore, on March 29, 2002, the Defensive Shield Operation began.

Area A, entirely under the Palestinian control, was recaptured by the IDF forces. Ramallah, where Arafat’s headquarters was based, was one of the first places where the IDF forces were deployed. IDF had to face fierce resistance in the town of Jenin, the home of many top-wanted Palestinian terrorists. The city was full of booby-traps, snipers and bombs waiting for the IDF soldiers. During the operation in Jenin, one of the essential elements of Israeli counterterrorism was used. Mista’aravim, an “undercover unit was the border Guard’s second elite force: the literal translation of the word Mista’aravim is “those who masquerade as Arabs” (Katz, 2016, p.11). They significantly helped to build a mosaic consisting of information about every house they raided or searched in Jenin. As a way of preventing the IDF soldiers from the traps prepared by terrorists, Israeli intelligence, Shin Bet mostly, carried out hundreds of interrogations. This helped the IDF soldiers to reveal some traps and also, acquire the known position of enemy snipers, top-wanted terrorists, and gun stocks.

Thus, interrogations carried out during the Defensive Shield in Jenin could be understood as the proponents of the reactive and pre-emptive strategy simultaneously. Once the terrorists were captured, they were sent to Israel for trial and interrogation. After the interrogations, they were imprisoned (application of the Israeli law and punishment) which could be understood as the fulfillment of the reactive strategy. Simultaneously, the imprisoned or killed terrorists could not continue in their terrorist activities by which attacks became less feasible for them. Therefore, the imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and information obtained by interrogation helped to protect the lives of the IDF soldiers and civilians. Moreover, the threat to lives of the IDF soldiers and civilians were prevented by the data obtained during interrogations of top-wanted terrorists, which helped to reveal gun stocks, hiding places of terrorists or planned terrorist attacks. Such actions could be understood as the fulfilment of the pre-emptive strategy. Terrorist attacks became less feasible because many terrorists were imprisoned, dead or their guns were in Israeli custody.

The following part explains why the newly designed demolitions of the residential houses of the terrorists were lot more efficient that those mentioned a few paragraphs above.

Another vital tool of Israeli counterterrorism became house demolitions and the using of human shields. During the operation in Jenin, Israel started to use D-9 armored bulldozers to “open the doors” of the houses where terrorists or bombs resided. In comparison with the first days of the Second Intifada, Israel in Jenin bulldozed houses of which inside terrorists were hiding. That particular tactic helped avoid casualties connected to the ever problematic entering of the booby-trapped houses. Moreover, D-9 bulldozers had a very significant psychological impact on the terrorists in Jenin. However, using the D-9 bulldozers was problematic. Residents of Jenin mixed with the terrorists were very well aware of the fact, that Israelis could not use the bulldozers, otherwise, they would be blamed for civilian casualties by the international community (Byman, 2011).

Therefore, Israeli soldiers were not allowed to use the D-9 bulldozers in the mentioned cases and aware of the traps prepared by the militants, started to use the residents of Jenin as shields. During the searching of houses, Palestinians were gathered in one room, while one of them was chosen to search a house with the IDF forces. Many times these criticized tactics helped avoid casualties on both sides. Terrorists did not want to shoot their own people, therefore the Israeli military casualties declined. Although, after few weeks, the tactics of using human shields were forbidden after the Israeli Supreme Court “ruled it impermissible on human rights grounds” (Byman, 2011, p.151). After the operation, many critics appeared to blame Israeli soldiers for their brutality. However, the numbers speak for the IDF. Only 23 IDF members and 52 Palestinians died during the operation.

The tactics of demolition and human shields decreased the number of casualties on both sides. During the house demolitions in Jenin, only one Israeli soldier was killed in an accident. Using of the D-9 could be understood as a proponent of the pre-emptive strategy because it significantly decreased the chance of terrorists hidden in the Jenin houses to kill the IDF soldiers or to detonate bombs hidden in their houses. Also, the impact of deterrence played a significant role, because many terrorists rather surrendered than stayed in a house which was about to be demolished. The terrorists captured after their surrender are the fulfillment of the reactive strategies. They were interrogated, brought in front of a court and many times imprisoned (application of the Israeli law and punishment).  By their imprisonment, the primary purpose of the pre-emptive strategy was fulfilled, because they could not continue in terrorism targeted on the IDF soldiers or ordinary Israelis. Furthermore, it is important to emphasize, that the tactic of human shields was recognized illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court. On the other hand, it could be understood as a pre-emptive strategy, because it helped to decrease the number of the IDF casualties.

Picture 1: Palestinian security detainees and prisoners held in IPS and IDF prisons

(B’tselem, 2018)

Based on previous experience with terrorist attacks perpetrated after counterterrorism actions, Israel had to formulate tactics which would restrict the ability of the Palestinian militants to attack. Therefore, another significant tool of Israeli counterterrorism during the Defensive Shield Operation was imprisonment of a high number of Palestinians who cooperated with terrorist organizations. The main aim of these tactics was to keep Palestinians out of the streets and not to allow them to work for terrorist organizations. During the Second Intifada, Israeli jails were full of Palestinian militants.

As we can see in the picture above, more than 3000 Palestinians were in Israeli custody in 2002. The effect of those tactics was devastating for some terrorist groups which stayed paralyzed and without enough fighters able to carry out terrorist attacks. Moreover, imprisonment of a few highly placed Palestinian terrorists provided important intelligence which led to the detention and elimination of other militants (Byman, 2011, p. 160). Despite the critics of these tactics and actions during the Defensive Shield, they proved to be effective and far more beneficial than Israelis had expected. Many terrorists and members of terrorist organizations were killed. The most experienced militants were killed or arrested, and the new young members were not so skilled or combatable. According to the statistics, more than 95% percent of the intended Palestinian attacks were prevented due to the intelligence Israel obtained during and shortly after the Defensive Shield in the West Bank (Byman, 2011).

The 3000 Palestinians imprisoned in 2002 meet the criteria of the reactive strategy, because those detected militants were tried by Israeli courts and the Israeli laws were applied. “In 2002 the Knesset passed the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law, allowing Israel to detain members of terrorist and guerrilla groups” (Byman, 2011, p.161). Their imprisonment is also the fulfillment of the pre-emptive tactics because a high number of terrorist attacks were prevented thanks to the imprisonment (which kept them off the streets) or intelligence obtained from the imprisoned Palestinian militants. The information from interrogations helped jail or eliminate some other highly ranked terrorists and masterminds, which is prevention, because terrorist organisations lost people able enough to design and conduct terrorist attacks. While the most critical terrorists were imprisoned or killed, the ability of their terrorist organizations to strike in Israel decreased rapidly. Moreover, their death or imprisonment meets the primary goals of the reactive strategy, because they were tried and punished (jailed or killed) by Israel.

These tactics could be compared to the imprisonments during the Netanyahu period. However, the imprisonment of the Palestinian terrorists during and shortly after the Defensive Shield proved to be by far more efficient. Therefore, Israel should not rely on the cooperation with the highest Palestinian proponents and imprisonment of the wanted militants under Palestinian custody. It is way more efficient and feasible to keep the prisoners in Israeli jails, where Israel could have full control over the terrorists.

The Israeli counterterrorism actions during the first months of the Intifada can be understood as neither reactive nor pre-emptive. However, the reactive and pre-emptive counterterrorism strategies started to be fulfilled immediately after Israeli soldiers changed the battlefield and began to fight within the Palestinian towns.  The tactics of interrogations and imprisonment of more than three thousand Palestinian militants could be understood as reactive and pre-emptive counterterrorism strategies simultaneously.  On the other hand, house demolition during the second part of the Intifada proved to be more efficient immediately after Israel started to bulldoze houses within which the wanted militants were hiding. Therefore, the tactics of house demolition fulfilled the goal of the pre-emptive strategies and helped avoid casualties.

Written by Tomáš Iliev

Již brzy vám přineseme poslední část článku zabývající se izraelskými protiteroristickými strategiemi v letech 2008 až 2009 v průběhu války v Gaze.


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BTSELEM. (2018). Palestinian security detainees and prisoners held in IPS and IDF prisons. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from BTSELEM:

Byman. D. (2011). A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. Oxford University Press.

Israeli-Palestinian Fatalities Since 2000. (2007). Retrieved December 28, 2017, from OCHA:

Katz. Samuel. M. (2016). The Ghost Warriors. Berkley Caliber.