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What terror statistics tell us about the issues


What is the most important fact that nobody mentions about disengagement? Is Israel winning the war on terror? Is the barrier preventing terror attacks? Statistics can help answer some of these questions.

There are only imperfect statistics available regarding the number of terror attacks by Palestinians, but those available allow us to draw some tentative conclusions.

The motivation for the Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan becomes clear, when we consider that over half of the total terror attacks occurred in the Gaza strip. We can also judge the success of Israel's preventive measures, including the efficacy of the security barrier, in thwarting terror attacks, and judge whether or not the Intifada is really over as some are claiming.

According to IDF figures, from September 2000 until June 24, 2004 there were a total of 22,406 Palestinian terror attacks of all kinds, of which only 889 were inside the Green Line, 12,776 were in the Gaza Strip and 8,741 were in the West Bank. The Gaza strip accounts for 57% of all attacks.

There were about 1.5 attacks for each and every one of the approximately 8000 settlers, requiring a huge security overhead. This may explain why Ariel Sharon and security advisors are anxious to withdraw from Gaza. The figures are not broken down by month.

According to the IDF there were a total of 135 successful suicide attacks and 406 unsuccessful ones in green line Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza strip up to and including August of 2004. These figures include "work accidents" which the IDF presumes were suicide attacks in the making, but they apparently do not include fatal attacks that do not involve suicide bombings such as the killing of Shalhevet Pas by a sharpshooter in Hebron, or the "execution" of the Hatuel family in Gaza, or the killing of 14 year old Kobi Mandel. Separately compiled statististics indicate that about 89 of the suicide attacks were within the green line, and among those, about 30 were in the Jerusalem area.
The graph breaks down the statistics by months, and gives the number of attacks and the number of prevented attacks for each month.

The summarized data for monthly averages of attacks are given below.

Summarized data - monthly averages of attacks

Caught Total % Prevented
2000* 1.33 0 1.33 0%
2001 3.00 1.67 4.67 34%
2002 4.92 9.33 14.2561%
2003 2.08 15.3317.42 88%
2004 1.38 11.25 12.63 87%

* Last 3 months of 2000, first 8 months of 2003)

2002 was the worst year in terms of successful attacks, averaging almost 5 successful attacks a month out of 14 attempts. But in 2002, the average success rate in preventing attacks climbed to 61% per month, while in 2003 and 2004 the IDF claims it was able to prevent about 88% of the attacks on average. More detailed figures tell us that the change occurred sometime after April 2004:

Caught Total % Prevented
Jan 02 3 0 3 0
Feb 02 8 3 11 27
Mar 02 17 8 25 32
Apr 02 5 4 9 44
May 02 7 7 14 50
Jun 02 5 10 15 67
Jul 02 2 12 14 86
Aug 02 2 10 12 83
Sep 02 2 9 11 82
Oct 02 4 15 19 79
Nov 02 4 19 23 83
Dec 02 0 15 15 100

March 2002 was the peak of the violence. Over 100 people were killed in a month, triggering operation Defensive Shield as well as tighter security measures. The IDF occupied Palestinian cities in the West Bank, arrested and killed leaders of terrorist groups and instituted event tighter closure and checkpoints. Captured documents boosted intelligence capabilities. The improvement in prevention of attacks is evident especially from June of 2002, and it cannot be due to the security barrier. In June of 2002, the Israeli government announced the intention of building the security barrier, but actual construction did not begin for some months, and it was not until July of 2003 that the government announced completion of the northern section of the fence. The security fence may be stopping some attacks or shifting some of the attacks. Given that attacks within green line Israel constituted only 4% of the total number of terror incidents (buth suicide attacks and nonsuicide attacks), it is hard to say that the barrier can going to stop a significant amount of terror. It may stop a significant percentage of suicide attacks, or it may shift them to the West Bank or to areas of Jerusalem accessible to Palestinians. But non-suicide attacks can kill too.

The security measures did not immediately reduce the number of attempted suicide attacks according to IDF figures. In 2002, there was an average of 14.25 attempts per month, while in 2003 there were 17.42 attempts per month on average. However, there were almost 5 successful attacks on average each month in 2002, but only 2 successful attacks per month in 2003, and only 1.38 successful attacks per month in 2004.

Is the Intifada over? In the first 8 months of 2004, there was also a statistically significant (p < 0.04 by one-tailed test) drop in the number of attempted suicide attacks to an average of 12.63 per month. We cannot say that the Intifada is over by any means however. There are still more attempted suicide attacks per month than there were in 2001, the first year of the Intifada, and we have no data regarding the number of attacks of all kinds in different periods. Total non-suicide attacks may be increasing. Qassam rocket attacks and mortar attacks for example, have increased in recent months.

Relative to the nightmare of Iraq, where terror attacks and kidnappings seem to be totally out of control, Israel has achieved some success in curbing suicide attacks, but this doesn't mean that Israel has won its war on terror. A country that suffers over a dozen attempted suicide attacks a month cannot say "business is normal," especially not if even one attack per month is successful. The success in preventing suicide attacks has been very expensive in manpower and in lives of Israeli soldiers. History also shows that when one particular tactic is mastered by a foe, terrorists find new ones to replace it.

Nobody should believe that terror can be stopped without a political solution. Anyone who is opposed to disengagement in Gaza should consider whether the questionable right of 8,000 Israelis to live Gaza has been worth the huge expense of maintaining them there, the cost in lives and the over 12,000 terror attacks they have drawn upon themselves and the soldiers guarding them in the last four years. Isn't incredible that this huge cost - 57% of all terror attacks in the last 4 years, is never mentioned in all the deliberations about disengagement? Isn't it odd that so much effort is put into building a barrier that may prevent 4% of the total attacks?

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000298.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 8 comments


An interesting work.

Still, I am not sure you would reach the same conclusions if fatalities instead of attacks were counted.

Also, I have read numerous times that the fence around Gaza was quite effective. So Palestinians have no choice other than to attack the israeli colons among them or throw rockets that are more symbolic than effective attacks on Israel proper.

If the qassam attacks were added to the attacks of Israel proper, conclusion would again be different, I suspect.


Posted by Paul @ 09/25/2004 10:12 PM CST

There are some data about casualties at http://www1.idf.il/SIP_STORAGE/DOVER/files/4/33524.doc but there is no breakdown by month or area where they occurred. For that we will may have to do our own compilation. That is a lot of work!

What the data show: 445 people died of suicide attacks out of a total of 972. Most of the other casualties were from actions such as ambushes, lynchings, mortars, anti-tank weapons and drive-by shootings that are mostly in the West Bank and Gaza. I remember reading that the percent of casualties are proportionately greater within the green line - relative to number of attacks, but I don't have the detailed statistics.

I suspect that prevention of suicide attacks in particular became a special project of the IDF and that is why they give us such detailed data for this particular form of attack. Of course, if they provide a solution for suicide bombing and it is no longer effective, terrorists will resort to other methods.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 09/25/2004 11:34 PM CST

This is an extremely valuable analysis. I wonder whether The New Republic would be interested in publishing it. You could inquire at: letters@tnr.com.
Among other things, the enormous excess of terror attacks (especially calculated per settler) in Gaza is little known. As you point out, the Sharon government has obviously noticed it, at last.

Posted by Jon Gallant @ 09/26/2004 05:27 AM CST

Do you think that Palestinians have right to have homeland? I mean Israel got theirs in 1948, so Isn't it time for Palestinians to get theirs as well?

Posted by David @ 09/30/2004 04:46 AM CST

the reason for withdrawing from gaza isn't because suicide attacks are so common. Palestinians are increasing theyr attacks so that they could make it lok like that israel has to retreat, but that's not the case, Sharon want's to show that he is ready for peace, and terrorists want to increase theyr attacks, to make it look like retreaval, and do as much damage as they can before jews are gone and nothing remains to fight against.

Posted by jared @ 10/02/2004 12:42 AM CST

Without regard to the "cost of defense" in Aza, I suspect that Sharon understands that the Kassams will get better and better, and more war technology will be taught in Aza by all the terrorist groups. It may be necessary to use heavier weapons in the future to control this, and we cannot afford to have 8000 Israelis become 'hostages' to these threats.

Posted by Hy finegold @ 10/03/2004 09:54 AM CST

conflicts of the Middle East

Posted by alsannine @ 10/05/2004 04:35 PM CST

I really find this material interesting. It is seemingly obvious that statistics are tough to dispute. My only problem with this is that I've read elsewhere that as far back as the begining of the land of Palestine, the Palestinians haven't kept kept any real written records, but the Israelies have. That alone leads me to question the legitimacy of anything I read. Even today it seems as if things are skewed and tough infer from what is being passed along. For example, in Nigeria the British government just went down there to do a poll to figure out how many people have been killed in the past three years in their mostly religious conflict and the numbers came out to be over 50,000 people, five times the estimated amount.

Posted by Eric Hensel @ 10/10/2004 03:39 AM CST

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