Fighting Suicide Bombers: What Works?

Efraim Benmelech,?Claude Berrebi and?Esteban F. Klor have already argued that a bad economy equals deadlier terrorists. Now, the three economists have turned their attention to the effects of house demolitions on terrorism. A new working paper (ungated version) from the trio?finds that “punitive house demolitions (those targeting Palestinian suicide terrorists and terror operatives) cause an immediate, significant decrease in the number of suicide attacks.” Careful, though: the authors also find that “precautionary house demolitions (demolitions justified by the location of the house but not related to the identity or any action of the house’s owner) cause a significant increase in the number of suicide terror attacks.” [%comments]

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COMMENTS: 13


  1. Jim in NC says:

    So punishment for cause works, and collective, indiscriminate punishment does not work. Hardly a revelation.

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    The blindingly one-sided view of this issue astounds me. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    I suppose you want to portray the Israelis as innocents and the Palestinians as terrorists. Well, you need to talk with some Palestinians….

    In general, the use of technologically-superior forces against unsophisticated forces, causes unconventional warfare to be the only response possible.

    To reduce “terrorist” suicide bombers, how about sitting down with them and trying to come to an accord not based on the notion they they must be pushed into a corner.

    Anyone could see this coming forty years ago. The notion that hitting them harder and pushing them further never works….save genocide.

    I’d throw in a half-dozen genocidal quotes from the Old Testament…but you get the idea.

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  3. Ian Kemmish says:

    What pains to they take to allow for erroneous targeting of the houses to demolish? How do they allow for the purely mechanical factor that destroying “operatives” houses will disrupt existing cell structures and lines of supply and communication?

    Punishment, in the shape of H blocks, signally failed to work in Northern Ireland. Why would materiel revenge affect suicide bombers (whose motivation is not, after all, temporal) more than other classes of terror bomber?

    And how do they account for the apparent ability to discriminate the intent of their enemy in such a subtle way? I may choose to distinguish between “punitive” and “precautionary” acts, but all my enemy sees is provocation. That’s why he’s my enemy – recall the scene in “Battle of Britain” where Churchill’s prompt punitive reaction to the accidental bombing of London is seen as provocation by the Germans.

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  4. Alok says:

    “Cause”??? How about correlated? Causation is too strong a claim to say the least for any putative economic research.

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  5. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Our Constitution has a modern fatal flaw that none of the founding fathers could forsee. And it is a problem that is as real as 9/11.

    Most of the Bill of Rights is about protecting Criminal Rights and Rights of the Accused. Its aim is rehabilitation of criminals and reintegration into society. It assumes that justice will be served with limits and that the criminal has a vested interest in society and his/her own future.

    However the fatal flaw is the SUICIDE BOMBER. A brainwashed psychotic fundemental hyper-religious extremist nutcases seeking the bosom of 72 Virgins.

    Someone who blows up in a violent terrorist explosion killing hundreds is NOT involved in any criminal justice system and will never be served justice or be reintegrated in society. He is dead and far beyond our justice system.

    And if he has a clean record, we cannot touch him prior to his crime, since he is presumed innocent. We cannot touch him before the crime. We will never prosecute him after the crime.

    To successful convict him, we have to catch him in the act. And the act may be a suicidal catastrophe, biological plague, or even a nuclear detonation.

    Succesful intervention of Suicide Bombers require breach of civil liberties such as presumed guilty BEFORE setting off a bomb. The FBI is using entrapment scenarios to nab amateur jihadist. And entrapment prosecutions can backfire as violations of Civil Rights.

    Sucide is a crime as is Murder-Suicide, but the criminal commission can NEVER be prosecuted. Nor the murder of hundreds or thousands. And our justice system fails to keep us safe. And our Freedom suffers from Fear and Terrorism.

    We need special prosecution provisions for Terrorists, including Suspension of Civil Rights. And though Obama is a constitutional scholar, he is pushing a similar agenda.

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  6. David L says:

    Eric, I think you need to better familiarize yourself with the methods and ideologies of Palestinian terror groups. You will quickly see that there is no room to sit down and talk it out with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, etc.–the only option is to weaken them, and to strengthen Palestinian moderates like Abbas.

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  7. Eric M. Jones says:

    @6–David L.

    After both sides have made any solution impossible for 63 years, it is hard to see any quick way to change it–and I suspect there is huge animosity.

    If there is “no room to sit down and talk…”, then genocide is the only option. “…And God said, “Slay all the men and women and animals but keep the virgins for youself…”

    Glad we got that settled.

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  8. Eric Grant says:

    I think those who think there’s no temporal motive for suicide bombers might reconsider. I believe many of them think their “martyrdom” will bring prestige to their families, and may even draw community support for the families. So for some, the option looks appealing the way killing yourself for insurance money does. Punitive demolition (or the prospect of it) negates these potential benefits

    This suggests creating greater opportunity cost for the bombers (if I’m using that term correctly) might produce even better results). If they can earn more and do better for their families by living and working, then “martyrdom” becomes less appealing. Although random rocket firing might still look like a pretty good option.

    Also: just because it (punitive demolition) may “work,” that won’t make it moral. Torturing the spouses and children of terrorists might generate usable intelligence too, but it will still be evil.

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  9. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Eric M. Jones:
    Your approach to mediation was EXACTLY what world famous Anglican Envoy, Peace-Negotiator Terry Waite did. He was on the path to Sainthood or the Nobel Prize for bringing out Westerners kidnapped in various Middle Eastern locales. He had traveled extensively to the Middle East and had a working fluency in Arab. He successfully dealt with the Iranians, Sadam, Arabs and Hamas extremist groups and was well guarded and respected.

    In 1987 he disappeared while negotiating in Beirut. He was held hostage for ransom for over 4 years, most of it in solitary confinement by an Islamic Jihadist group. He was finally released after 1700 days.

    He went part mad from PTSD and depression. He never went back again to Beirut negotiate with the arabs. I think he has a more realistic attitude today towards negotiation. Somehow his mind changed–nobody really knows why.

    I think you could be a great envoy for Peace Talks! The Arabs love peacemakers. And you would be welcome to stay as a ‘guest’.

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  10. tungbo says:

    @Drill-Baby-Drill Drill

    One should be cautious to limit one’s view to the “suicide bomber” by him/her-self. Except for the delusional loners who goes ‘postal’, the politically motivated “suicide bombers” are supported by a network of supporters as well as an ideology that justify their actions.
    Therefor, the rational approach to preventing “suicide bombing” would be to act to disrupt the effectiveness of the support network and their ideology. Some of the financial transactions forensics is now going after the fiscal support. Change of policy or effective communication of competing alternatives can defuse the persuasivenss of their ideology. ( Attack on the so called ‘ground zero mosque’ produce exactly the opposite effect. )

    The working paper mentioned supports this view: razing the house of bombers disrupts their support network, but razing random houses only reinforces their ideology. Such approaches do NOT require suspension of any civil liberty or presumption of guilt.

    The assertion, “And if he has a clean record, we cannot touch him prior to his crime, since he is presumed innocent.” is not accurate. One can be charged with ‘Conspiracy’ or ‘attempted murder’ without actually setting off a bomb. Presumption of Innocence only means that the prosecutor bears the burden of proof as opposed to the accused; it does not mean one cannot be arrested.

    Even for citizens of Israel, the chance of being killed by a suicide bomber is VERY small. We probably have a greater chance to be run over by a car. I assert that it is our FEAR which is overblown. So allow me to suggest that “Freedom suffers from Fear and Terrorism” when we blithely give up our civil liberties for the illusion of a quick fix.

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  11. Dave says:

    Why the long URL via Google for the ungated version?

    The actual location of the document is sitting in the middle of that long string of characters: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/benmelech/files/HD_october_18_with_tables.pdf

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  12. Kristine A says:

    My uncle worked in intel during the 80s in DC. He tells me that the simplest solution to stop the suicide bombers: retaliation to families. Let it be known any suicide bomber’s family will be met with immediate death. The suicide bombings immediately stop. They can die heroes and martyrs but can’t let their families suffer a similar fate. My uncle’s conclusion (tongue in cheek): too bad the US has a conscience, or we could have eradicated suicide bombing decades ago. Because the bad part about the deal to make it work? We actually have to follow through with it.

    p.s. After my uncle was released from service he received a medal of honor for work he did in intel. He asked them what project it was for. Their response? We can’t tell you, it’s classified.

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  13. Rex says:

    Demolition of houses for terrorism is a pretext for a land grab. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Israel is an outlaw nation.

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