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Terrorism and Democracy | Issue No. 14

A Decade of Palestinian Terrorism – Report by the Israeli Security Agency

Author: Adv. Ido Rosenzweig, Prof. Yuval Shany

In recent weeks, The Israel Security Agency (ISA) published a report on the characteristics of Palestinian terror attacks in the last decade.http://www.shabak.gov.il/SiteCollectionImages/Hebrew/TerrorInfo/decade/DecadeSummary_he.pdf The report surveys changes in Palestinian terror activity since the beginning of the second intifada and, in particular, a shift in focus from the use of suicide attacks to rocket launching. According to the report, during the last decade 1,178 persons were killed and 8,022 more were injured as a result of Palestinian terror attacks. In this article we present a short summary of the report and discuss its main findings.

During the period between 29 September 2000 (the beginning of the Second Intifada) and 31 December 2009, 1,178 persons were killed and 8022 more were injured as a result of Palestinian terror attacks. Out of the 1178, 790 were Israeli civilians (67%), 328 were members of Israel's security forces (29%) and 60 were foreigners (5%).http://www.shabak.gov.il/SiteCollectionImages/סקירות%20ופרסומים/terror-portal/docs/terrorreport100110.pdf  More than 87% of these casualties were sustained between 2000 and 2004, with a peak of 452 casualties in 2002. The same trend also applies to the number of injuries. Out of a total of 8,022 injured persons, more than 70% were injured between 2000 and 2004 (2,284 in the year 2002).

The report elaborates upon statistics for different types of terror attacks: The vast majority of the casualties (927, 79%) were killed as a result of the following types of attacks: suicide attacks (516;  44%), shooting attacks (313, 26.5%), and explosive devices (98, 8.3%). Other types of terror attacks include mass murder shooting sprees, car bombs, kidnappings, stabbings and assaults. During the decade that preceded  the Second Intifada Israel sustained 344 casualties (141 of whom killed in suicide attacks).

Suicide attacks - Between 2000 and 2009 there were 146 suicide attacks. Most of these attacks occurred between 2001 and 2003 (35, 53 and 26 respectively). Between 2004 and 2009 there has been a sharp decrease in suicide attacks, from 12 in 2004 to none in 2009. According to the ISA, the constant decrease in the amount of suicide attacks is a direct result of the Israeli counter-terrorism activity and the construction of the separation barrier. This notion is emphasized in the report's data regarding thwarted suicide attacks.The report refers to thwarted suicide attacks to situations in which the attackers were already on their way to their targets. While in 2004 there were 159 thwarted suicide attacks (most of which originated in the West Bank), between 2005 and 2009 there were less than 50 attempted attacks, with the exception being  2008, in which there were 63 thwarted suicide attacks. The number of casualties as a result of suicide attacks also fits this trend, with 189 casualties in 2002, 143 in 2003, and a sharp decrease from 2004 (55), to 2007, (three), to 2008 (one).

Mass murder shooting sprees -This type of attack is characterized by the attackers' approach to a large group of people, followed by firing at all directions in order cause as much damage as possible.In some ways this type of attack can be consider as a suicide attack, as the attackers know that they are probably going to die. However, since the attackers do not carry explosives on themselves, the ISA decided to distinguish between these categories of attacks. In the 111 mass murder shooting sprees that took place in the last decade, 80 persons were killed. 44 of the casualties were as a result of 58 attacks that occurred during 2002 alone. Between 2006 and 2008, there was a single mass murder shooting incident each year, the combined casualties of which totaled only eight (all of them during 2008). In 2009 there were no attacks. The vast majority of the attacks (47%) took place in the Gaza Strip between 2001 and 2005. As a result of the Gaza Disengagement and the Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza strip, mass murder shooting attacks in the Gaza Strip ended. 22 attacks (20%) occurred within the "green line" (Israeli sovereign territory) between 2000 and 2009, causing the death of 15 persons (eight civilians and seven security force personnel). All of the casualties were a result of the 13 attacks in 2002. Since 2005 there have been no attacks within Israel proper.

Small arms shooting attacks - The use of small arms for terrorist attacks is one of the most common methods used by the Palestinian terror organizations. Between 2000-2009 there were 13,707 incidents of small arms shooting attacks, causing the death of 313 persons. While 2001 had the highest number of attacks (3270), the largest amount of casualties was in 2002 (106, as opposed to 82 in 2001). There has been a steady decrease in the number of small arms shooting incidents since 2001 (86 attacks in 2009). The sharpest drop in the number of casualties as a result of such attacks can be seen between 2002 (with 106 casualties) and 2003 (with 33 casualties). In the first two years of the second intifada, most of the attacks came from the West Bank. While in Samaria (North West Bank) the number of attacks remained high until 2008, in Judea (South West Bank) there has been a sharp decrease in attacks since 2003. In the Gaza Strip, between 2001 and 2004, there were over 1000 attacks per year. In 2005, as a result of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza there was a decrease to 632 attacks, and since 2006 there were less than 100 attacks perpetrated each year. Moreover, the report demonstrates a significant decrease in the numbers of casualties in the West Bank between 2000-2003, (181 casualties) as compared to 2004-2009 (29 casualties).

Car bomb attacks - During the years of the Second Intifada there were 39 car bomb attacks which caused the death of 38 Israelis. Most of the attacks were perpetrated within the "Green line", with three occurring in Jerusalem. The largest number of attacks occurred in 2002 (10 attacks). Between 2001 and 2002, there were more car bomb attacks (19) than between 2003 and 2009 (18). The casualties from this type of terror attacks are concentrated in the years 2000 (four), 2002 (32) and 2003 (two). The report attributes the drastic decrease in the number of car bombs attacks and casualties to Israel's counter-terrorism efforts and to the construction of the separation barrier, which made it nearly impossible for bomb laden cars to enter into Israel territory.

Explosive charges - Between 2000 and 2009 there were over 3000 incidents of Palestinian terror attacks using explosive charges. These attacks caused the death of 98 persons - 35 Israeli citizens, 45 members of the security forces and 19 foreigners (including Palestinians). Out of 3025 attacks of this type, 2332 occurred between 2002 and 2004 (over 70%). Following the clear trend, 2002 was the peak year for attacks explosive charges--with 704 charges employed, resulting in the death of 48 persons. After 2004 there was a sharp drop in the number of attacks and in 2009 there were only 31 attacks of this kind. According to the ISA, one of the main reasons for this decrease is the Disengagement from Gaza.

Other types of attacks - The report elaborates on a few more types of terror attacks, such as the 2299 grenade launching incidents, most of which took place between 2001 and 2003 in the Gaza Strip. These attacks caused eight casualties (two Israeli citizens and six members of the security forces). There were also 1089 attacks using anti-tank weaponry. Over 97 of these attacks occurred in the Gaza Strip between 2002 and 2009 (with a peak of 424 in 2004). Six Israeli security personnel were killed in these attacks. Stabbing attacks constitute the most steady type of attack perpetrated  throughout the relevant years with an average of 19 stabbing attacks per year between 2001 and 2006 and at least one casualty in each year between 2000 and 2009 (with a peak of four in 2001), totaling 17 in all ( 16 of which were civilians). The ISA explains the stability of this type of attack as resulting from the easy accessibility of the weapon to attackers and the absence of a need for advance planning and logistics.

Rocket and Mortar launching - These type of terror attacks originated only from the Gaza Strip. The main challenge of this type of attack is its ability to reach long distances and cross over the barriers and obstacles that Israel erected surrounding the Gaza Strip following its 2005 withdrawal. As a result of rocket and mortar launching attacks, 32 persons were killed and 1396 were injured.

The use of rocket launching began in 2002 with 17 launchingsA launching event refers to a specific incidents in which one or more rockets or mortar were fired towards Israel.. Between 2003 and 2005 there was an increase in the amount of launching events (up to 286 in 2005). 2006 saw a dramatic increase to 1247. In 2007 there was a small decrease to 938 launching events and at there peak, in 2008, there were 1270 launching events (despite the lull in open confrontation between Israel and Hamas between 19 June 2008 and mid December 2009). In 2009 there were 404 launching events, most of them during "Operation Cast Lead".  Since 2005 there was a total of 6092 rockets fired, causing 18 deaths.

The data presented in the report with regard to mortar launching shows that the use of mortars has become increasingly common--and the numbers stabilized-since 2001 (apx. 500 launching events per year), with two negative peaks of 882 in 2004 and 912 in 2009, and one positive peak of 28 launches in 2006 (which according to the ISA is directly connected to the increase to rocket launching events that year). The total of 4735 mortar launching attacks during the second intifada caused the death of 14 persons, eight of the casualties were members of the security forces, four were Israeli citizens, and two were foreign citizens. 

 One of the immediate and repeated conclusions of the report is the value of the separation barrier constructed by Israel between 2002 and 2004, as well as the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza. These two factors brought about a sharp decrease in the numbers of terror attacks and casualties originating from terrorists in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The report also demonstrates that, accordingly, the Palestinian terror organizations adapted their methods of attack-moving from close-range attacks (such as suicide attacks, assaults, stabbing and kidnapping) to long-range attacks using mortars and rockets. Nevertheless, the data also shows that these organizations did not abandon their main modus operandi of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in direct violation of core IHL principles.

The report suggests that Israel's counter-terrorism policies, including the controversial West separation barrier, have been effective in reducing both the number of attacks and, more dramatically, the number of casualties. Since the proportionality of such measures depends to a large extent on their effectiveness, the information provided here presents a rather compelling prima facie case in favor of the measures employed by Israel.

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