Defence IQ Library: "A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures Of Israeli Counterterrorism" by D Byman

Neil Waghorn

Israeli Counterterrorism is renowned and feared around the world. Israel’s intelligence service, The Mossad, has a reputation built upon operations such as Wrath of God – a series of bloody retaliatory strikes across the globe against those thought to be responsible for the killing of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. The actions of Mossad led to the establishment of an aura of omniscience around Israeli Counterterrorism and its ability to strike virtually anywhere. A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism exposes this aura as a fallacy; Israeli Counterterrorism is not perfect. Its actions have fed the circle of violence in the Middle East and led to the deaths of countless Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
A catalogue of counterterrorism
A High Price offers a history of Israeli Counterterrorism from the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 through to 2009. It shows how the various policies and strategies have developed to counter Palestinian and other terror threats. Importantly, it also highlights how Israeli actions have led to the evolution and emergence of new terrorist tactics, such as suicide bombings. One recurring theme that A High Price focuses on is that of an overriding paradox: the following of a single tactical success with successive strategic failures combined with a lack of strategic planning. This, interestingly, has occurred time and again on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. The history of this cycle of violence is well spelled out in A High Price, which provides excellent context and examples for the final section of the work, although at times becoming repetitive.
The final section draws together variations of one basic lesson: there is no easy solution to the on-going conflict. Almost as important as this is the overriding message that certain mistakes in Israeli Counterterrorism must not be repeated. The scope of this section, however, is entirely too broad and, although it provides a useful oversight, these lessons should be examined in more depth.

The Israeli Security Barrier; a strategy not without downsides. Image: WikiMedia

Balancing the blame
Byman manages to balance his narrative, highlighting negative aspects of both sides of the conflict as well as providing an insight into the rationale behind the actions. Many Israeli actions over the years, such as the naval blockade of Gaza, have polarised public opinion, so it is to Byman’s credit that he shows faults of both sides, despite A High Price's focus on Israeli actions. One particularly interesting section is that of Israeli actions against Israeli terrorism. Israel's actions against Israeli terrorists arguably demonstrate glaring double standards when compared to Israel's treatment of Palestinian terrorists. This is an area with scope for further study and could produce extremely revealing findings.
The political and military dimensions
A High Price examines both the formative military and political factors thta shape Israeli Counterterrorism, whilst recognising that these are inseparable in Counterterrorism. This analysis is directed not just towards Israel, but also towards the political situation within various Palestinian groups, as well as Israel’s neighbours Jordan and Egypt. Byman stresses how the diplomatic situation for the parties involved has influenced and, at times, forced the hands of leaders. A repeated theme throughout is that Palestinian factions feel they must constantly outdo their rival factions' violent acts in order to maintain their reputations and support.
The work also provides details of military operations on both sides and in enough depth to examine the factors and causes, but without distracting or confusing the reader. Again, when discussing military actions, Byman covers both sides of the conflict rather than focusing just on Israeli actions.
A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism is a well balanced account of the terrorist challenges Israel has faced and how it has attempted, and at times succeeded, to counter those threats. Although the style at times is a little crass, with some swearing perhaps being unnecessary, it is an easy read and provides a good overview to the issues facing Israel, and highlights some lessons for those historians and political theorists who may have glossed over these intricacies.