The Balance of Terror: War by Other Means in the Contemporary Middle East

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VOL. 28


No. 1
P. 51
The Balance of Terror: War by Other Means in the Contemporary Middle East

MIDDLE EASTERN "Terrorism" is the subject of much discussion in the American press and academic community. It is a topic frequently revisited by renowned international affairs journals and prestigious think tanks. The growing salience of this public debate, however, belies the absence of virtually any consensus regarding a precise definition of terrorism. The conventional wisdom on what constitutes terrorism brings to mind the words of former U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart in defining obscenity: "I shall not today attempt further to define [it] . . . and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so, but I know it when I see it." [1] Thus, arriving at an objective definition of terrorism as a distinct category of political violence becomes a priority before one can undertake an objective analysis of terrorism in the Middle East.




Terrorism is generally understood to be a form of politically inspired violence that is distinguishable in some manner from "conventional" war. Contemporary use of the term by Western scholars, politicians, and journalists tends to mirror normative perceptions of what is "unconventional." Ronald Reagan described the 1983 destruction of the American marine barracks in Beirut--in which 241 U.S. servicemen were killed in an attack by a lone suicide bomber rather than an organized assault force--as "an act of terrorism" precisely because the incident was decidedly unconventional relative to the Western historical tradition of political bloodletting. Even if the means of conducting an act of violence could be quantified objectively, however, the difference between "conventional" and "unconventional" means of conducting a military operation is not relevant to an analysis of political behavior.


Another normative distinction commonly drawn between conventional force and terrorism concerns the nature of the political actor employing violence. According to this view, conventional force is "legitimate" coercion employed only by state actors, whereas terrorism is "illegitimate" violence used by nonstate actors. [2] An attribute of the actor cannot, of course, be considered the objective, defining criterion of an action. Proponents of this view are far more interested in identifying the "terrorists" than in defining precisely what terrorism is.


To be analytically useful, the definition of terrorism must be shorn of such normative connotations and predicated on a functional distinction that unambiguously delineates terrorist violence from conventional warfare. Toward this end, I propose defining terrorism as the attempt to alter the policies of a state or nonstate political actor through the use or threat of violence against its civilian constituency. 


In addition to its functional specificity, this definition has the merit of preserving the original connotation of the word "terrorism," which was first used to describe violence against civilians employed by the Jacobin and Thermidorian regimes in France. [3] 


Conventional force is widely understood as the use of violence to weaken or disable the military apparatus of a rival actor and/or the underlying economic capacity to produce and sustain its military apparatus. While this definition of conventional force is considerably broader in scope than the parameters of "legal" warfare stipulated by international law, it generally excludes the intentional use of violence against civilians. Although civilians can and usually do suffer as a result of conventional force, this is not its primary objective. Conventional force is distinguished here by its objective (counteracting the military capacity of other actors) rather than its means.


The threat or application of conventional force is a form of "third image" political communication between sovereign actors in the international system. [4] As Clausewitz trenchantly observed, "war is the continuation of policy by other means." Even in times of peace, the relative military capabilities of autonomous political actors condition the structure of political relations between them. [5] When the balance of power shifts in favor of a particular actor, it can negotiate concessions from other actors peacefully if the new balance of power is acknowledged by them (and, hence, implicit in their negotiating positions). When it is not, Clausewitz suggests, the actor will employ violence as a means of demonstrating its advantage until it extracts political concessions that are commensurate with it.


Terrorism, however, consists of two different dimensions of political communication. The first occurs between a "third-image" actor and one or more "second-image" recipients: Actor X uses the threat or application of violence against the civilian constituents of actor Y in order to increase the perceived cost to them of their government's policy toward actor X. This threat is intended to elicit a second channel of communication between actor Y and its civilian constituents in which the citizenry, seeking to avoid further violence, presses for a change in policy toward actor X.


This conceptual model of terrorism is limited in several important respects. Political assassinations, for instance, generally do not constitute acts of terrorism as the term is defined here. Ultimately, the political leadership of an actor is an integral component of its military capability. During the Algerian war for independence, for example, armed activities by the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) virtually ceased in the late 1950s after the French eliminated its top echelon of leaders. On the other hand, many cases of political assassination are clearly not intelligible as conventional force. The assassination of Anwar Sadat, for example, was not intended to weaken the Egyptian state. The objective, rather, was to affect a change in its policies by eradicating the individual primarily responsible for them and communicating to his successor the threat of a similar fate (it was probably for this reason that Vice President Husni Mubarak, standing next to Sadat on the reviewing stand, was spared). The utility of political assassination as an instrument of policy distinct from conventional and terrorist violence should be the subject of further research.


Terrorism, in this context, also excludes actions intended to derive benefits vis-‎-vis other organizations representing the same constituency. Although neglected in this model, "prestige" violence has been quite prevalent in the Middle East. Sandra Mackey notes that in the "scramble for power" within the Lebanese Shi'i community during the mid-1980s, "hostages meant prestige . . . the powerlessness of the West's conventional might to free them made giants of little men who had spent their lives at the bottom of Lebanon's social order." [6] An analogous commentary about the violence of some PLO factions directed against Israelis during the early 1970s would undoubtedly be valid as well. "Terror" is not the primary goal of prestige violence; its principal objective is the notoriety gained among one's own constituency by hurting its perceived enemy--not the prospect of inducing political concessions from this enemy.


It is impossible to construct an objective definition of terrorism that will encompass all acts of political violence that have been labeled as "terrorism" at one time or another--they simply do not share a sufficient degree of functional similarity. That many brutal acts of violence do not fall under the category of terrorism as it is defined here should not be interpreted as signifying that they are somehow less morally reprehensible. Similarly, the inclusion in this category of some actions that are not commonly described as "terrorism" is not a normative evaluation.




The behavior of political actors is assumed in this model to be governed by expected-utility maximization: Policies are chosen so as to maximize the expected net benefits. The utility (net benefit) of terrorism is treated as a dependent variable (UT)--varying in accordance with the type of the political objectives sought and with variable conditions in the domestic political spheres of the actors involved. [7] Strictly speaking, an actor's decision to employ terrorism in pursuit of a given objective is not actually based on its utility, but on its expected utility relative to alternative means. It follows from the expected-utility maximization assumption that an actor will use terrorism only if UT is expected to exceed UD (the utility of nonviolent, diplomatic initiatives) and UC (the utility of conventional force):


E(UT)>E(UC) and E(UT)>E(UD)


For each actor in the international arena, the systemic distribution of conventional military capabilities limits E(UC) in any given situation. This suggests that, all else being equal, those actors who have the weakest conventional capabilities relative to others in the system (i.e., for whom UC is the lowest) are the most inclined to engage in terrorism. This is not necessarily true, however, because the distribution of conventional capabilities usually limits UT in the same fashion as it does UC. The threat of military retaliation from those actors whose interests are threatened is usually sufficient to deter the use of terrorism by weak actors. The U.S. bombing of Libya in April 1986 in retaliation for Qaddafi's alleged role in the Berlin nightclub bombing illustrates this point.


A state can expect to derive negative utility from the overt use of terrorism against another state that is significantly more powerful than itself because of the extremely high risk (near certainty) of military escalation. In such cases, UT < UC because overt use of either terrorism or conventional force will escalate into a disadvantageous conventional war--and the former will probably result in a public demand for harsher concessions in the opposing state. An obvious exception to this rule, of course, is when a state of war already exists (in which case UT varies according to different criteria). The utility of terrorism against significantly weaker actors is governed less by the risk of escalation into full-scale war (because it would be of little utility to the targeted actor).




Although the risk of conventional reprisal always limits UT, it is a constraint that varies according to several important factors. The organizational structure of the actor employing terrorism is perhaps the most important of these variables. Nonstate actors, which usually lack the well-defined territorial boundaries and infrastructure that characterize most states, enjoy varying degrees of limited immunity to conventional retaliation. Perhaps the best example of this immunity is the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Abu Nidal organization despite the decisive impact its activities have had in the region. Since its emergence in 1973, the base of this seemingly amorphous group of 200-500 militants has reappeared in numerous locales (e.g., Libya, Syria, and most recently Iraq) and reportedly has established cells in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and several European cities. [8] 


In addition, the threat of conventional retaliation is reduced considerably if the use of terrorism is covert. There are two types of covert terrorism: anonymous terrorism, in which responsibility is not claimed, and surrogate terrorism, in which responsibility is claimed by a surrogate. The first category includes the infamous "Lavon affair" of July 1954, during which Israeli agents fire-bombed American and British cultural centers in Egypt. This operation, perpetrated under the assumption that either the Muslim Brotherhood or Egyptian communists would be blamed, was intended to invoke British apprehension about withdrawing from the canal zone. [9] Although Israeli complicity was established due to a freak accident (one of the bombs carried by an Israeli agent exploded prematurely), the underlying rationale was sound. The primary disadvantage of anonymous terrorism is the difficulty of transmitting demands to the targeted population.


A second form of covert terrorism involves the use of surrogate nonstate actors to conduct operations and act as a mouthpiece through which states can communicate demands while maintaining "plausible deniability." Iran has seemingly mastered this technique: After direct talks between the French and Iranian governments in 1986, Iran "negotiated" the release of two French hostages in Lebanon held by Hizballah in exchange for a cut in French aid to Iraq and the expulsion of Iranian dissidents from France. [10] 


Although a handful of groups have been willing to cede virtually all autonomous decision making in return for a paycheck (most notably the Abu Nidal group), the decision-making relationship between benefactor and surrogate is rarely this one-sided. In most cases, the benefactor and surrogate must share a mutual enemy and relatively compatible political objectives. Indeed, the benefactor's denial of involvement in a terrorist operation is credible only if the surrogate is seen as having its own reasons for the undertaking. In 1982, for example, Israel recruited Elie Hobeiqa's faction of the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia to carry out the Sabra and Shatila massacres precisely because the LF had demonstrated a willingness in the past to conduct similar atrocities against Palestinians in pursuit of its own political goals.


The utility of terrorism varies significantly according to the type of political objective that is sought. Two distinct categories of terrorism can be distinguished in this respect: redemptive terrorism, which is used to force another actor into ceding specific human or material resources (e.g., prisoners, money, etc.), and strategic terrorism, which is designed to induce fundamental changes in policy. [11] 




The functional structure of redemptive terrorism is characterized by the specificity of both the threat and the demand. Redemptive terrorism usually involves the seizure of civilian hostages as a "bargaining chip" to be exchanged for a specific concession. The incident described below, the first of many recorded hijackings in the Middle East, illustrates the basic format of this category of terrorism.


On 10 December 1952, five Israeli soldiers were captured after crossing the border into Syria. Two days later, Israeli air force jets intercepted a Syrian civilian aircraft en route to Cairo from Damascus and forced it to land at Lydda airport. Shortly thereafter, the non-Syrian passengers and Greek pilot were released, while the remaining Syrian passengers were detained "awaiting further investigation." [12] Within forty-eight hours, the Syrian government agreed to their exchange for the captured Israeli soldiers. [13] 


For the Israelis, the expected cost of achieving their objective through the use of diplomacy or conventional force exceeded the expected cost of employing terrorism. A successful diplomatic initiative to ensure the release of the POWs would have necessitated political concessions to Syria (such as an end to frequent Israeli encroachments into the demilitarized zone). Moreover, an armed incursion into the heart of Syria (assuming the exact location of the POWs had been known) would almost certainly have incurred military casualties and might have instigated a full-scale war with both Egypt and Syria. The seizure of an unarmed aircraft and its civilian passengers entailed considerably fewer risks.


There is little available information regarding the internal deliberations of the Syrian government at this time. However, the governing coalition that had assumed power after the overthrow of Adib Shishakli earlier in the year was extremely fragile (as revealed by subsequent events in Syria) and presumably wished to avoid appearing incapable of ensuring the safety of its civilians abroad. Because of the limited military forces at its disposal, the Syrian government was neither capable of rescuing the hostages nor of protecting other civilian aircraft flying to and from Syria. This left an exchange of the Israeli POW's for the hostages as the only viable option.


Redemptive terrorism often involves a number of additional complexities. The expected utility of conventional force in responding to hostage seizures is extremely low even when the balance of conventional forces is favorable. The botched attempt by the United States to rescue American hostages in Tehran in April 1980 is indicative of these limitations. The commander of the failed rescue mission, Colonel Charlie Beckwith, explained that "there were no pilots in any of the services who had been trained to fly in the conditions this mission required." [14] Despite the superb capability of the U.S. Air Force to launch conventional combat missions, the ad hoc airlift team never even reached the hostages. Even if it had, however, the likelihood of retrieving them all safely would have been small. Even the highly publicized and well executed 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda resulted in the deaths of three hostages.


As a result, redemptive terrorist operations have been used successfully to extract concessions from vastly more powerful actors. The hijacking of TWA flight 847 by Hizballah militants is but one of many notable cases. On 14 June 1985, two armed guerrillas commandeered the airliner en route to Rome from Athens and forced it to land at Beirut International Airport. The thirty-nine American passengers on board then were transferred to various secret locations in West Beirut. Hizballah demanded that the United States force the Israelis to release 766 Shi`i Lebanese prisoners who had been transported into Israel during its withdrawal from parts of southern Lebanon eight days earlier. After a series of deliberations involving numerous intermediaries, the 766 Lebanese prisoners were freed, followed by the release of the American hostages on 1 July. [15] 




Strategic terrorism is designed to effect a long-term change in the status quo by forcing another actor into decisively altering a policy. It has been a common supplement to conventional force in Middle Eastern warfare. In several notable cases, the systematic use of violence against civilians has had a tremendous impact upon the outcome of the war.


The impact of Iraqi missile attacks on Tehran during the final months of the Iran-Iraq war has often been credited with inducing the sudden capitulation of Iran in the summer of 1988. During most of the war, Tehran had enjoyed virtually total immunity from air attacks because of its distance from Iraqi territory. However, on 29 February 1988, seventeen SCUD-B missiles (modified by the Iraqis to travel double their normal range) suddenly rained down on Tehran. This and subsequent attacks over the following seven-week period (in which 123 additional SCUDs fell on the Iranian capital) caused a massive exodus of over three million civilians from the city. [16] 


Surprisingly, these attacks caused only a few hundred fatalities (hardly comparable to the 200,000 deaths that Iran had endured over the course of the war). The impact of the missile attacks on Iranian civilian life was largely psychological--no one in the city was safe from the possibility, however slim, of random death. "It was Russian roulette on a vast scale," remarked one Iranian journalist. [17] Although the effect of the missile attacks was negligible in conventional military terms, it was instrumental in inducing the Iranian government (which previously had rejected any negotiated peace with Iraq) to seek a cease-fire shortly thereafter. Although Iraq also made some military gains later in the spring (recapturing the Faw peninsula in April), the balance of military forces in July 1988 would not seem to have necessitated Iran's acceptance of a UN-mediated cease-fire agreement. [18] 


The Iraqi missile attacks on Tehran coincided with a brutal strategic terrorist campaign launched by the Iraqi regime against Kurdish insurgents that provides a useful basis for comparison. In March 1988, Iranian troops captured the predominantly Kurdish town of Halabja in northeastern Iraq. When Iraqi troops counterattacked the next day, Kurdish guerrillas joined Iranian troops in repulsing the attack [the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP) had signed a joint treaty of alliance with Iran in November 1986]. [19] Iraq responded by attacking the civilian population of Halabja with chemical weapons, killing between 3,000 and 5,000 people. However, despite the immense destruction it created, the "Anfal" campaign hardened, rather than weakened, the resolve of Iraqi Kurds to continue fighting the Iraqi regime.


The use of strategic terrorism rarely induces the targeted population to renounce policies that are deeply rooted in ethnic or religious identity. Daniel Pipes draws an interesting comparison between PLO terrorism during the early seventies and that of the FLN during the Algerian civil war that further underscores this point. [20] Both the PLO and the FLN employed extensive terrorist operations with similar political objectives, yet achieved drastically disparate results. The PLO's objective of creating a secular state in all of Palestine (Pipes uses different wording) was hopeless because it would have necessitated that the Israelis dispense with a deeply held national self-image. Most of the pieds noirs in Algeria, in contrast, still considered themselves French. The political objectives of the FLN, therefore, did not necessitate a negation of the settlers' fundamental ethnic identity--which could always be preserved through emigration to France (an option which they exercised en masse once the French government conceded Algerian independence).


Terrorism became a more effective instrument of policy for the PLO after its leadership announced its support for a two-state solution in the 1970s because the demand for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza did not constitute a negation of Israeli nationalism. As former chief of Israeli military intelligence Yehoshafat Harkabi observed in 1988, this "new" terrorism was employed by the PLO "as a way of forcing Israel to recognize that annexation [of the West Bank] cannot succeed because the price is too high . . . . [A]t its core this terrorism is an attempt to pave the way to a settlement . . . to hasten Israel's willingness to make concessions for the cause of peace." [21] As a result, a steadily increasing number of Israelis began to accept the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.




As the above discussion indicates, the targeted population must be presented with a viable alternative to the current political policy if terrorism is to have a discernible impact on their decision making. For this reason, terrorism usually requires an effective means of conveying the threat and demand to the targeted population. When terrorist operations are launched in the midst of total war, such as the Iraqi missile attacks on Tehran, the threat (further attacks) and demand (e.g., cessation of hostilities) are usually implicit. In most other cases, and in redemptive terrorist operations in particular, the demand is not self-evident and must be communicated explicitly. The only mechanism by which the demand can be disseminated widely to a hostile population is the media. As former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher once said, terrorism depends on "the oxygen of publicity."


Governments clearly have an interest in blocking the transmission of terrorist threats and demands to their constituent populations. One of the reasons that democratic states have been particularly vulnerable to terrorism is that governments normally cannot prevent journalists from reporting terrorist announcements freely. Authoritarian governments, in contrast, do not face this constraint. For example, when a December 1996 bomb blast killed eleven people in Damascus, the government press did not even report its occurrence, much less any associated communiquبs from those responsible. [22] Although democratic governments rarely impose news blackouts after terrorist operations, some have proven adept at distorting the transmission of terrorist threats and demands by other means.


An excellent illustration of government distortion occurred during the massive terrorist campaign launched by Hamas against Israel in the spring of 1996. In August 1995, the Palestinian Authority obtained assurances from Hamas leaders that terrorist operations against Israelis would be halted during the upcoming staged withdrawal of Israeli troops from West Bank population centers. [23] However, following the assassination of Yahya Ayyash by Israeli agents on 5 January 1996, Hamas declared an end to this cease-fire. After the first two bombings, which occurred shortly after the traditional Islamic mourning period of forty days, Hamas publicly announced its willingness to cease terrorist activities in return for a moratorium on future Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders.


In the following days, however, the Israeli government launched a campaign to discredit the declared intent of Hamas's attacks. The central theme, repeatedly emphasized in statements released to the press, was the alleged unpredictability of the attacks. "The Hamas doesn't wait for a date," insisted Israeli Army Chief of Staff Amnon Shahak, "they wait for an opportunity." [24] This propaganda campaign was aided by a startling degree of self-censorship in the Israeli press. The New York Times reported that "daylong commentaries and interviews on both Israeli television channels and on Israeli radio made almost no mention of the purported link between renewal of the bombings and the killing of Mr. Ayyash." [25] By portraying the bombings as incidents of random violence, the Israeli government restructured the perceived alternatives of the Israeli public so as to relieve itself of any pressure to enact a moratorium on assassinations of Hamas leaders and to generate popular support for a military crackdown.




Thus far, I have not directly confronted the question of why the growth of terrorism has occurred on this scale in the Middle East. To be sure, most regions of the world continue to witness outbreaks of terrorist violence. In the Middle East, however, terrorism has begun to supplant conventional force as the principal mode of "diplomacy by other means." This suggests the absence of additional constraints on the utility of terrorism that has inhibited its use in other areas of the world.


Violence against civilians is, in most societies, considered to be morally abhorrent and is explicitly banned by international law. This has had the effect of limiting the utility of terrorism as a means of achieving most political objectives. The use of terrorism by the Bosnian Serb republic during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, for instance, engendered virtually unanimous condemnation by governments throughout the world. Whatever political gains may have been realized through the use of terrorism were far outweighed by the costs of violating international norms (diplomatic and economic isolation, multilateral intervention on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims, etc.), ultimately resulting in the failure of the Bosnian Serbs to achieve any of their wartime objectives.


That terrorism in the Middle East does not incur such costs is largely attributable to the region's immense strategic importance to industrialized states that exert the greatest influence over the formation of international consensus. As a result, world powers have demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to tacitly condone terrorism by "friendly" regimes. In the Middle East, terrorism seldom has risked the loss of great power patronage. Through their involvement in the Middle East, the great powers have produced the highest density of military armaments in the world, while eschewing any responsibility over the manner in which they are used.


Due, in part, to the relative absence of such external constraints, terrorism has become a virtually ubiquitous adjunct to political conflict in the region--it is no longer regarded as exceptional. As David Shipler has noted, this development has contributed to the weakening of internal normative constraints on terrorism within Middle Eastern societies:


Terrorism between Arabs and Jews, in both directions, has had a corrosive effect on the attitudes of average people toward each other, on their capacity to reject violence morally, on the low threshold of outrage that any decent society must maintain to be shocked by its own behavior and to prevent itself from degenerating into brutality. As terrorism becomes normal, it becomes acceptable. It grows into routine. [26] 



The following case analysis of the April 1996 conflict between Israel and Hizballah underscores the stark reality of terrorism becoming an "acceptable" substitute for conventional warfare. This seventeen-day clash deserves special attention because it has the dubious honor of being the only recorded war in which both combatants relied almost exclusively on terrorist operations in the pursuit of their strategic objectives. The analysis will focus on factors conditioning the decision of each side to employ terrorism in the conflict and draw some preliminary conclusions about bilateral terrorist conflict.


The origins of this conflict date back to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Although the objective of the invasion was to eradicate the PLO, the "collateral" destruction visited upon the population of southern Lebanon ignited Shi`i hostility, resulting in intermittent conflict with the newly emergent Hizballah militia. In 1985, Israel withdrew its military forces from most of Lebanon but continued to occupy a fifteen-kilometer-wide "security zone" north of the international border. Up until spring 1998, Israel insisted that any future withdrawal of its troops from this area was contingent on the withdrawal of all other foreign forces, particularly those of Syria. Hizballah has continually demanded that Israel comply with UN Resolution 424 by withdrawing unconditionally from Lebanese territory.


The centrality of terrorism in the security policies of Israel and Hizballah in the 1990s has been conditioned strongly by the perception that it has been effective in the past. Since the 1970s, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has countered security threats emanating from south Lebanon by targeting its civilian inhabitants (both Palestinian and Lebanese). This hallmark of Israeli defense doctrine was founded on what former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban termed the "rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that affected populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities." [27] By raising the costs to Lebanese civilians incurred by the PLO's presence, the IDF cultivated the progressive growth of hostility toward Palestinians that later would culminate in the "Battle of the Camps."


The aftermath of the Israeli invasions of Lebanon witnessed the rapid proliferation of terrorist operations that since have been attributed to Hizballah (its members were rather ambivalent about claims of responsibility in the 1980s--hence the fleeting appearance of such phantoms as the "Revolutionary Justice Organization"). The perception of Hizballah leaders that terrorist attacks against Western civilians in Lebanon raised the costs of American military intervention in Lebanon beyond what the American public was willing to endure provided a "proven" framework of action for expelling the Israelis. After 1985, when the IDF withdrew from areas north of its self-proclaimed "security zone," Hizballah began to extend and consolidate its operational capacities in the south. However, Hizballah was unable to concentrate its efforts against the Israelis until 1990, when its internecine conflict with Amal ended and the Lebanese civil war drew to a close.


The number of attacks against the Israeli security zone increased three-fold in 1991, progressed even further in 1992, and escalated tremendously during the summer of 1993, when Israel launched "Operation Accountability," a week-long terrorist assault against Shi`i villages with the declared intention of instigating a massive flow of refugees north to Beirut. The operation displaced an estimated 350,000 civilians and killed 132 people. [28] The United States and France successfully mediated an unwritten accord whereby Hizballah and Israel agreed not to attack civilians on either side of the border.


During the interlude, both sides observed (with a few exceptions) the spirit of the accord. The beginning of a new escalation, which led to the April 1996 conflict, appears to have been initiated by the killing of two Lebanese civilians by an Israeli helicopter gunship on 30 March 1996, following a series of conventional attacks by Hizballah guerrillas on Israeli troops in the security zone. Hizballah responded almost immediately by firing a barrage of katyusha rockets at civilian settlements in northern Israel, but these apparently caused little or no damage. [29] Intermittent conventional hostilities occurred at a reduced level for another week until a Lebanese teenager was killed by a mine on 9 April. Alleging that Israel was responsible, Hizballah retaliated with more katyushas--this time injuring thirteen Israeli civilians. [30] 


The next day, Israel launched "Operation Grapes of Wrath." The objective was clearly stated by Israeli deputy defense minister Ori Orr: "It is necessary that the Lebanese population living north of the security zone will live under more fear than it lives today." [31] By the sixth day of the attack, Israel had driven an estimated 450,000 civilians from their homes. [32] On that day, Israel declared its acceptance of a proposal that would prohibit future Hizballah attacks on both Israel and the security zone in return for an Israeli promise to "discuss" a withdrawal from Lebanon in nine months. [33] 


The Israelis sought to fundamentally alter the status quo that had existed since July 1993 by forcing the Lebanese government to "reign in" or disarm Hizballah. This entailed a strategy that differed significantly from that of Operation Accountability. Rather than targeting the Shi`i residents of south Lebanon exclusively, the Israeli attacks were designed to disrupt civilian life throughout the entire country. On 16 April, the Israelis bombed all three of Beirut's power plants, depriving its entire population of electricity and causing damage estimated at tens of millions of dollars. The bombing of the power plants (which had recently begun providing electricity to all of Beirut amid much fanfare), water reservoirs, and other economic installations was intended to threaten the stability of the Lebanese government by diminishing its primary source of domestic legitimacy--economic reconstruction. [34] Lebanese officials estimated the total amount of damage inflicted on the country to be $1 billion. [35] 


The Israeli strategy of targeting the entire Lebanese civilian population appears to have been predicated on two assumptions. The first assumption was that non-Shi`i Lebanese whose livelihood was threatened would be willing to exert pressure on the government to disarm Hizballah (for whom they historically have had little affinity). In addition, since the official rationale for the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon is the "protection" of Lebanon from Israeli attack, it was assumed that their readily observable inability to counteract the raids would generate resentment of Syria (Hizballah's principal patron).


Surprisingly, the Lebanese population responded with nearly unanimous solidarity with Hizballah. Because Israel targeted the entire civilian population, the attacks were perceived as having escalated from an assault on Hizballah to an assault on Lebanon. Most Lebanese felt that compliance with Israeli demands to disarm Hizballah would have been tantamount to acquiescence in the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Even opposition leaders such as Michel Aoun and Amin Gemayal expressed (from exile) their support for the Lebanese government's refusal to compromise Lebanese territorial sovereignty. As this study has previously illustrated, terrorism is rarely successful in inducing political concessions that compromise the national self-image of the targeted population--this is why Operation Grapes of Wrath failed.


During the course of the crisis, Hizballah fired an estimated 500 katyushas into northern Israel, wounding dozens of Israelis, inflicting an estimated $50 million in property damage, and causing 16,000 civilians to flee their homes, though no one was killed.36 These attacks helped fuel the widespread sentiment among Israelis that the government of Shimon Peres was unable to deliver on its promises of security, thus contributing to the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in May.


Neither side appeared to make a sustained, systematic attempt to target noncivilians during the conflict. Although the Israeli military conducted 1,200 air raids over Lebanese territory and fired 13,000 artillery shells during the seventeen-day conflict, no more than twenty Hizballah guerrillas were killed according to Israeli intelligence sources. [37] Similarly, Hizballah virtually abstained from conventional attacks, inflicting only one fatality on Israeli troops.


Israel and Hizballah both encountered worldwide condemnation for targeting civilians. Due to the high death toll resulting from its attacks, Israel received much more international criticism (though conspicuously not from its principal external benefactor). The Israelis launched a propaganda campaign designed to minimize the negative impact that its conduct of the war had on world opinion, particularly after its massacre of Lebanese civilians who had taken refuge in a UN facility near the village of Qana. The recurring theme of their justificatory discourse was that Hizballah gunmen had deliberately lured the Israelis into killing civilians. Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi appeared live on a Cable News Network (CNN) television broadcast hours after the Qana massacre claiming that "the Hizballah hide in the middle of the population, hoping that we hit them." [38] 


This effort failed miserably, especially after the UN released a report demonstrating that the Qana massacre had been deliberate. Although Israel had claimed that the camp was hit by a two "stray rounds" of artillery fire due to map errors, the UN investigation of the massacre found that thirteen artillery shells detonated inside the camp, and thirty-six hit the immediate vicinity of the compound. [39] The report concludes that:


The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target . . . . It is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors. [40] 

Even if the Israeli government had not explicitly intended to attack the 800 civilians who had taken refuge at the UN camp in Qana, it certainly communicated that impression to the Lebanese in the immediate aftermath. Hours after the attack, Israeli prime minister Peres declared that he would halt the Israeli campaign only if Hizballah would agree not to attack both northern Israel and the security zone (in effect, a demand for Hizballah's complete capitulation). [41]


The American-mediated cease-fire that eventually ended the April 1996 Israel-Hizballah clash included none of the political concessions demanded by Israel when it initiated the hostilities. Having blocked a concerted attempt by Israel to alter the strategic status quo in southern Lebanon, Hizballah claimed to have won the war. In any case, the most enduring legacy of the Grapes of Wrath campaign is the Israeli public's growing realization that the only viable alternative to continuing the conventional war of attrition in south Lebanon is the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces.




The centrality of terrorism to political conflict in the Middle East has tremendous implications for the study of international relations. Terrorism undoubtedly constitutes the paramount security threat faced by many Middle Eastern states. Just as the balance of conventional military forces influences the structure of political relations between actors in the Middle East, so, too, does the "balance of terror" condition this interaction. As a result, relations between political actors in the Middle East have become less intelligible in strictly realist terms.


This study of the utility of terrorism is a small, but necessary, step toward the development of a more comprehensive theoretical paradigm that will reflect accurately the dynamics of modern international conflict. Such an undertaking has been severely impeded by "terrorism experts" who continue invariably to attribute the prevalence of terrorism in the Middle East to specific ideological, religious, or ethnic groups. Many of those who once insisted that the containment of international communism would eradicate Middle East terrorism are now prescribing the suppression of "Islamic fundamentalism." There is little evidence linking terrorist violence to such purported correlants. It is time that the conceptual slate used to analyze terrorism be wiped clean of such conspicuous normative contaminants.


Gary C. Gambill is a graduate student at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and former assistant editor of the Arab Studies Journal. He is currently the director of Americans for a Free Lebanon, a volunteer organization based in Washington.

1. Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 196 (1964) (Stewart, J., concurring).

2. See Paul Wilkinson, Terrorism and the Liberal State (New York: New York University Press, 1979). 

3. Beau Grosscup, The New Explosion of Terrorism (Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press, 1991), p. 18. 

4. The term "third image," coined by Kenneth Waltz, denotes interaction between units which comprise the international system. Waltz's "second image" of politics refers to interaction between domestic political actors, while the "first image" refers to the political behavior of individuals.

5. I use the term "actor" to denote any sovereign political organization (i.e., groups that recognize no higher political authority, such as Hamas, in addition to governments). 

6. Sandra Mackey, Lebanon: Death of a Nation (New York: Doubleday, 1989), p. 218. 

7. The utility function of an action (U) is usually considered to range from -1 (costs overwhelmingly outweighing benefits) to 1 (benefits overwhelmingly outweighing costs). If U = 0, the costs entailed are equal to the benefits gained. The values, of course, are arbitrary and will not be explicitly measured in this study. 

8. Grosscup, New Explosion, pp. 285, 287. 

9. Donald Neff, Warriors at Suez (Brattleboro, VT: Amana Books, 1988), pp. 56-57. 

10. Grosscup, New Explosion, p. 325.

11. My choice of these terms is arbitrary. Neither of them, to my knowledge, has appeared in the existing literature on terrorism. 

12. See London Times, 13-15 December 1954. 

 13. Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle (Boston: South End Press, 1983), p. 77. Chomsky cites the diary of Israeli prime minister Moshe Sharret, who recalls being told by the U.S. State Department that the Israeli action was "without precedent in the history of international practice." 

14. Charlie A. Beckwith and Donald Knox, Delta Force (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1985), p. 203. 

15. Robin Wright, In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), pp. 130-31. 

16. Ibid., 174. 

17. Ibid. 

18. The agreement provided for a cease-fire in place to be followed by negotiations to resolve outstanding issues, including the dispute over the Iran-Iraq border in the shared Shatt ai-Arab River. Iraq agreed to recognize the middle channel of the river (the thalwiq line) as the international boundary (as demanded by Iran) shortly after its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. 

19. Gerard Chaliand, The Kurdish Tragedy (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1992); p. 65. 

20. Daniel Pipes, "Why Assad's Terror Works and Qadhdhafi's Does Not," Orbis vol. 33, no. 14 (Fall 1989), p. 503. 

21. Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel's Fateful Hour (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), p. 37. 

22. Only after the bombing was reported in the international press did the Syrian government acknowledge the incident (which, predictably, it alleged was perpetrated by Israeli agents). 

23. Yedi'ot Aharonot, 17 January 1996. Alex Fishman notes that "in the months prior to Ayyash's murder, there were comparatively few attacks against Israelis in the West Bank." 

24. Christian Science Monitor, 26 February 1996. 

25. New York Times, 26 February 1996. 

26. David K. Shipler, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 85. 

27. Jerusalem Post, 16 August 1981, cited in Edward Herman and Gerry O'Sullivan, The Terrorism Industry (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), p. 35. 

28. Deirdre Collings, "Peace for Lebanon? Reflections on a Question," in Peace for Lebanon? From War to Reconstruction, ed. Deirdre Collings (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994), p. 289. 

29. CNN News Service, 1 April 1996. 

30. USA Today, 9 April 1996. 

31. Reuters, 9 April 1996. 

32. Baltimore Sun, 17 April 1996. b

33. Ibid. 

34. Ha'Aretz, 15 April 1996; see also Chicago Tribune, 23 April 1996. 

35. Reuters, 30 April 1996. 

36. Middle East International, no. 524 (26 April 1996), p. 5. 

37. Christian Science Monitor, 15 October 1997. 

38. CNN live broadcast, 18 April 1996. 

39. United Nations, "Report of the Secretary General's Military Adviser Concerning the Shelling of the UN Compound at Qana on 18 April 1996," S/1996/337, 7 May 1996, pp. 5-6. The report is reproduced as Doc. A5 in/PS 25, no. 4 (Summer 1996), pp. 140-44. 

40. Ibid., 7. 

41. Washington Post, 19 April 1996.