Customer Reviews: A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism
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VINE VOICEon June 6, 2011
Despite the narrow scope implied by the subtitle ("The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism"), Daniel Byman's "A High Price" defines a new benchmark in terms of presenting a lucid, objective, comprehensive, brilliantly analytical exposition of the terror and counter-terror campaign waged in the Middle East involving the State of Israel. Byman's history is organized in 4 sections: "The Early Years", "From Oslo Through the Second Intifada", "The Lebanese Hizballah", "Jewish Terrorism" and, "Findings and Conclusions". In my estimation, it is the best book on the subject amongst the dozens I've read, including the previous reference-standard, "Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services" by Ian Black and Benny Morris (1991). Any supporter or critic of Israel, its adversaries and, indeed of U.S. actions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and now Libya (some of which mimic Israeli initiatives) would be well advised to read Byman's far-reaching analysis before rendering judgment.

Byman's recurring theme is that the components of the Israeli Intelligence Community, (Aman, the military intelligence of the IDF; Mossad, responsible for overseas intelligence work; Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service) are superb practitioners of tactics, but that overall strategy, as set by the Israeli Government, is essentially non-existent. In Byman's words, "In over sixty years of fighting terrorism Israel has at times empowered radicals at the expense of moderates, tarnished its diplomatic image, allowed terrorists to use propaganda to turn defeat into victory and otherwise failed at a strategic level. Such failures are in part due to the difficulty of the challenge Israel has faced and continues to face. But many of these mistakes must be laid at the door of the country's poor national security decision-making system. Israel's national decision making is as disastrous as the military and intelligence services are impressive. Indeed Israel's decision-making process makes America's boisterous democracy and cumbersome bureaucracies appear collegial, high-minded and efficient." Further, Byman contends, "Civilian control over Israel's military, always weak, broke down almost completely in the early days of the Intifada."

Israeli adversaries, ranging from various states to organized non-state groups (Fatah, Hizballah, Hamas, etc) are diverse in their orientations, their goals and their competence. In general, and as already well recognized, the military and diplomatic skills of the Arab states is, at best, marginal. Arafat's PLO, rife with corruption, unable to govern, fractious and factional, was minimally better, whereas the Islamist organizations (Hizballah, in particular) are formidable adversaries; both politically savvy and militarily sophisticated, contentions abundantly illustrated in this book. The candid assessments provided in statements given by principals in the conflict provide many worthwhile insights, unvarnished as they are by the conventional diplomatic circumlocutions, ellipses and dissimulation. For example, General Colin Powell remarked to President Bill Clinton on Arafat, "Don't you ever trust that son of a bitch. He lied to me and he'll lie to you". Similarly, Elliott Abrams (George W. Bush's Middle East adviser) said Arafat was "a political criminal". Unabashed praise, however, was garnered for the performance of Hassam Nasrallah, a master of political propaganda, a canny politician and a committed opponent by his Israeli adversaries and by Byman, himself.

The various Israeli counter-terror methods are each presented in detail and their benefits and deficits analyzed. In the process, many myths and lies accruing to these activities are logically and factually demolished. For instance and acknowledging international anti-Israel bias, Byman reports in detail on the Jenin refugee camp battle. By banning journalists, Israel set the scene for bloated casualty figures, misrepresentation of IDF comportment and, in the process, lost the propaganda war. Palestinians and their sympathizers claimed a "massacre" occurred, while subsequent reports from (for instance) the UN indicated: "The widespread perception of Israeli brutality in Jenin is particularly ironic as the total number of casualties on all sides was far less than was expected and initially feared. The United Nations later found that 23 Israeli soldiers and 52 Palestinians, up to half civilians, die in the fighting...The story of the Israeli campaigning in Jenin is bound up on general beliefs about the nature of the Israeli military...Yet regardless of the reality of the operation, the 'Jenin Massacre' is now part of the Palestinians' narrative of suffering and brutality at the hands of the Israelis." Intelligence gathered in Jenin proved that collusion between Arafat (the putative "peace partner" at the time) with Palestine Islamic Jihad, and Hamas disabused many Israelis of the notion that serious negotiations could be undertaken. Yet, these facts and their implications for the future of the Middle East were ignored. Erroneously concluding that the solution to the propaganda problem was unfettered access by journalists, Israel undermined the 2006 Lebanon War effort by providing journalists with uncensored, minute-by-minute intelligence on military actions, Israeli casualties and other data, all of which was used by Hizballah and in other unfriendly quarters to the detriment of Israel; another propaganda and political disaster.

Terrorist groups (or national liberation movements, for that matter) cannot exist without the material support and physical sanctuary given by sympathetic states, as the US learned (but seemingly forgot) in Viet Nam. Hizballah, for example, enjoys a relatively secure sanctuary in Lebanon and is supported with armaments from Syria and Iran (of increasing destructive power and sophistication)and by money: "...Iran gave Hizballah perhaps 5 to 10 million dollars a month...and [perhaps] twice that...Tehran gave ...a billion dollars to Hizballah to help it rebuild after its 2006 war with Israel." Byman quotes Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a specialist on the topic who contends that, "Even by Hibu'llah's reckoning, it would have taken an additional 50 years for the movement to score the same achievements in the absence of Iranian backing."

Jewish terrorism is admittedly a much smaller and largely fringe phenomenon attributable, at least in part, to fanatic immigrant elements from the US according to the author. While it has occasionally been vigorously condemned by the Israeli establishment (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stating, "As a Jew, I am ashamed"), little has been done to suppress it by Israeli authorities and culprits (when apprehended), are often given ludicrously lenient terms. More alarming, highly religious and nationalistic elements now constitute up to 30% of the Israeli officer corps, previously a bastion of secular, sophisticated, pragmatic men and women.

There are two additional points worthy of note: First, Byman demonstrates that targeted killings are generally worthwhile, as they eliminate highly skilled personnel, disrupting organizational ability, eliminating strategic and tactical planners, removing technicians and charismatic leaders, all of whom are hard to replace. An Israeli court ruling suggested "guidelines" for these actions which would be acceptable to a liberal, Western-style democracy: "...killings were legal under the following conditions: the target is a combatant, the target cannot be arrested, teh operation is approved by senior civilian officials, efforts are taken to reduce civilian casualties and the operation occurs in areas Israel does not control. Perhaps most important, the target has to be a future threat, not just someone who committed crimes in the past." Byman acidly notes that, "In 2010 the Obama administration issued vaguer but related legal justifications for the aggressive targeted killing campaign it is conducting against al-Qa'ida in Pakistan. Second, the "separation fence" or "apartheid wall" (depending on your bias) has been tactically effective but strategically of only dubious benefit. Interestingly, Byman reports that only "30 kilometers" of the wall is made of concrete barriers. The rest is actually a fence. Of course, its meandering path straddles land beyond the 1948 Armistice borders (the "Green Line", which constitutes the de facto international border) and vastly complicates Palestinian lives, as do the road-blocks, check points, blockade of Gaza and the interference with the pragmatic approaches to statehood undertaken by current Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad.

The book ends on a dismal note. Aside from the pernicious impact of proxy forces (Hamas and Hizballah executing policy for Iran); aside from the absolutist, revanchist Islamist convictions of some groups; aside from the corruption; and the mutually self-destructive and interminable nature of the conflict, hope lingers on for a negotiated solution. Byman generally dismisses this possibility, at least in the foreseeable future. There are too many motives by too many actors for a solution to be practical. Additionally, violence has become an end in itself for many: the so-called, "Culture of martyrdom". In short, exactly how, when and if this will end is unclear, but a good place to begin digesting the byzantine complexity of the conflict is this book.
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on August 18, 2011
Daniel Byman has produced an unusually fine work, which is sure to elevate the reader's blood pressure-as it has mine.

The author ruthlessly, but fairly, lays bare the brutality and savagery of the Palestinians, Israelis and their respective allies in the region.

*A High Price* is far more than a compendium of Israel's counter-terrorism efforts. Byman breathes life into the principals by adding a very thoughtful social and political analysis of them.

Byman makes clear that the primary objective of the Israeli government is to protect its citizens. Virtually all of Israel's actions, whether ill-advised or not, follow from this duty.

The motivation of Palestinians is vastly different. Interestingly, Byman only addresses their goals briefly at two or three places in his book. The primary objective of the Palestinians is to wholly occupy what is now the state of Israel.

When Byman discusses the various political factions among Palestinians, it is reminiscent of the deadly rivalry between the SS and SA during the 1930s in Germany. The Palestinian objective is unchanged.

Byman does finally offer the reader-the obligatory and vague-hope for the region's future. However, he is a realist and acknowledges that the most Israel can achieve is to be less hated.

This conflict is a Tragedy which would mesmerize an audience in ancient Greece.
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on September 22, 2011
Byman's book is primarily a critical history of Israel's struggles against Fatah, Hamas, Hizzbollah (aka Hezbollah), the PLO and its offshoot organizations, and its shifting relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

His primary conclusions:

* Israel is tactically proficient and excellent at counterterrorism. But its internal and external politics make its strategic approach a rudderless mess.

* Israel's most successful counterterrorism methods are targeted killings, disproportionate responses (especially economic pressure and the destruction of local resources), the West Bank security fence and involving partners / proxies in the fight. Again, political realities on the world and local stages limit the ability to use these measures.

* Israel's best hope for long-term stability are strong neighbor states that can crack down on extremists without appearing to be collaborators. That's limited by internal politics and Israel's own favored strategy of targeting foreign governments to punish attacks launched from their territory.

* Hamas and Hizzbollah are creations of Israel's lack of strategic foresight or comprehensive plan for dealing with terrorists.

* Long-term survival necessitates a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, but that's nearly impossible to achieve given public opinion.

* Israel's refusal to strongly respond to Jewish terrorism, and its hamstringing of the Palestinian Authority's security forces, are unjustifiable duplicities.

* Not all of Israel's enemies are terrorists alone -- several are effectively legitimate governments. Even among the bom-tossing ilk, such groups are usually united only in their dislike of Israel, and are as dangerous to each other as the IDF is to them all.

Overall, I found Byman's treatment of the intensive complexities of Middle East peace to be even-handed, well-researched and compelling.

He possesses no magic bullet for ending terrorism. If anything, his primary point is that it can't be ended, merely managed.

He both laments that fact that Israel is often unfairly painted as the villain, and takes them to task for manifest failures that lead to repeated mistakes.

His message on direct action is clear: Successfully dealing with terrorists requires a willingness to engage and negotiate with moderate elements, the necessity of recruiting informants / local partners, an exceptionally adept intelligence apparatus (such as Shin Bet), openness and willingness to engage the media in order to spin counterterrorist measures in the most favorable light, willingness to accept casualties; the will to respond severely to attacks; and clear goals of what constitutes not necessarily victory, but an acceptable level of security.

Easier said than done, Byman admits. But it is refreshing to hear an informed, moderate and academic consideration of the problems.

Israel isn't perfect, and it's not always right. And terrorists aren't all bloodthirsty savages, nor are they freedom fighters. There can be a political solution -- there must be -- but only if Israel adopts a more even hand, especially in terms of helping to reinforce legitimate peace partners, of which Byman cites the Palestinian Authority's current leadership.

All in all, an extremely insightful read that helps the casual observer both understand how we came to the current state of affairs in Israel, plus a framework for America and the rest of the world to engage in sensible counterterrorism.
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on October 21, 2011
The reader reviews already listed are great and thorough, and I cannot add to them. I can just add a snippet on what I enjoyed, and a Table of Contents to give you a glimpse of how the book is organized.

Byman's book opens in 1954. Palestinians attack and kill a busload of Jewish Israeli vacationers at Scorpion's Pass. The killers escape. Some say that Israelis and Israel got what it deserves. The Israeli opposition leaders and others call for retaliation against the government that is shielding the Palestinian terrorists. The Labor ruling party worries about the consequences of any unilateral action. No retaliation occurs; more attacks happen. This was 1954, but it could be the scenario from the attacks over the next five decades.

Byman tells how the 1976 Entebbe raid provided the myth of Israeli brilliance and execution, and the mistakes reinforced the myth of Israeli bungling. Byman systematically cuts through all the myths to show the reality of Israel's successes and its failures, the brilliance, and the lack of a focused planned long term strategy. The land of milk and honey is a land of triumphs and errors and missed opportunities for propaganda and public relations.

The errors led to increased radicalization, hurt delicate alliances, and allowed the military and political leaderships to pursue opposite goals. I enjoyed his blunt analyses. He backs his opinions with solid political theory (such as Max Weber's "logic of responsibility") and he provides inside stories (for example, Sharon and Y. Allon opposed the security wall; the slow construction of the wall was on purpose and not due to the courts

Byman's book is segmented as follows: Section 1: The Early Years (1948 -1956); 1956-1970's (The Rise of the PLO); and the 1970s-1993 (Lebanon); Section 2: Oslo (1993-1996); the Netanyahu Period (1996-1999); Hamas (1993-2000); The Second Intifada (2000); a Million Bullets (2000); The 9/11 Ceasefire That Wasn't A Ceasefire (2001-2002); The Battle for Jenin and Operation Defensive Shield (2002); The West Bank Occupation (2003 - present); The Triumph of Hamas (2005-2008); and the War Against Hamas (2009).

Section 3 consists of The Birth of A Monster: Hizballah's Creation (1982-1985); The Limited War on Hizballah (1985-2001); The False Promise of Normalcy (2000-2006); and Hizballah Returns (2006). Section 4 concerns Jewish Terrorism: The Enemy Within (1967-2000) and Settler Violence (2000-2009). And Section 5 concludes with Findings and Conclusions, and discussions on interrogation dilemmas, targeted killings, building the security barrier, reorganizing the government and its agencies for counter terrorism, the fading hopes for peace, what Israel can teach the world, and what Israel can learn from the world.

This book is the next best thing to enrolling in his class at Georgetown.
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on May 2, 2012
Middle East conflict has always been a staple of nightly news, but leave it to the talking heads on TV to leave out the details of events to serve more airtime to faux celebrities. This book highlights interesting details that surrounds the issue of Israel's continued threatened existence and Palestine's morbid "resistance" against the "occupiers". Missed opportunities of lasting peace, assassinations, and foreign meddling of talks - it somehow makes me feel depressed after reading each chapter, it made me believe peace shall never be attained in Israel/Palestine in my lifetime or the next two generations.
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on September 13, 2011
Byman has created an eminently readable and informative work. He pulls no punches in his analysis both praising and criticizing where appropriate and amazingly offering little bias in his conclusions as it relates to Israel or the Palestinians.

A must read for anyone interested in the region.
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on July 14, 2013
I thought the book started off well about how the writer was going to discuss Israel Terrorist problem and show how it had lessons for everyone. As I kept reading I thought well it was not doing that. It turned out to be more centered on Israel with little to generalize although to be fair at the end it started to generalize more when he discusses tactics more.

The book itself, shows the writer has a rather narrow knowledge of Israeli history. It is much more complex then the writer makes out even in his narrow scope. Which I thought was disappointing as there are several good books on Israel's politics better than this one. What I would have preferred is a book that discusses the tactics. For example, he makes the comment that Israel had about 5,000 agents in Gaza. That is actually a huge number for such a small society. It would have been interesting if the writer could have discussed more about it.

Having said that, I think his discussions on terrorism as far as Israel is concerned is basically correct. He does show the restrains that a democratic country finds itself when facing terrorism. He does discuss many of the methods Israel uses to fight and stop terrorism.

One observation he makes that I thought was particularly good was that Israel trying to fight terrorism in the short term sometimes makes a long-term problem. This, however, is a very difficult problem overall as a short-term problem is real while the long-run is often only a possibility. I would say that Israel by going into Oslo thinking it was making a risky short term path but a long term good move, in retrospect actually made it worse both in the long and short term.

It is certainly worth a read.
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on August 31, 2014
Season 2, like Season 1, is not a disappointment in any way. The characters and dialog continue to draw you in;however, this the season where you might really develop a fondness for certain characters, even those that are supposed to be the bad guys/girls. So much fun to watch!
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on July 4, 2015
well documented, wish there could have been more current updated chapter
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on January 22, 2012
I loved this book. Before reading it I couldn't even point out where Israel, Lebanon, Syria, etc were on a map. Seriously. But anytime I heard bits about Israel in the US news, bombings in the middle east, etc I was vaguely interested.

I will admit that when I first got the hardcover in my hands I let it sit on the counter for a week or so as I finished whatever lighter fiction I was reading at the time.

But when one day I did open it and read even a little bit - 20 pages maybe - I was hooked. The author writes very well, and bits of this book are even enjoyable in a funny way.

I would say that if you are interested in Israel, Palestine, Religious-political conflict, etc then you will be happy when finishing this book. Now that I am done with it, when I hear the news I actually understand what, where, who, etc they're talking about!
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