Suicide Bombings in Israel

The Second Intifada brought with it a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinians against Israeli civilians.

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Written by a political analyst and former member of the Peace Watch-- a "watch-dog group" that monitored the implementation of the Oslo Accords--this article analyzes the phenomena of suicide bombing.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the suicide bomb attacks Israel has suffered, that reached their height during the Second Intifada is the banality and ease with which dozens of lives can be taken within seconds. The person committing the homicide can appear like any citizen--a 40 year old man, an 18 year old woman--sitting on a bus or about to enter a shopping mall. All the preparations needed on the part of the killer are strapping on an explosive belt, often packed with nails to make the injuries even more painful, underneath a shirt or trousers. A push of a button, and in a flash several pounds of explosives energy go off. For those in the vicinity, nothing will ever be the same.

The Lebanon Precedent

The use of suicide bombers in the Middle East actually began not as a Palestinian precedent but a Lebanese one, and indeed there are some observers who see its spread to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a part of a general shift of "tactics" learned from Lebanese experiences southward.

The most spectacular usage of a suicide bomb attack in Lebanon was the attack on the U.S. Marines barracks on October 23, 1983, masterminded by Imad Mughnia of the Hezbollah, a pioneer in the development of suicide bombs. The blast killed 241 Marines and led directly to the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

Rescue workers help after a suicide bomber destroyed a bus in Megido, Israel. Photo: Israel Sun

The fact that the U.S. forces could be forced to pull up stakes from an Arab country due to an attack by a local militia made a great impression in the Arab world. Despite this, however, the idea of using suicide bombers in Middle East conflicts seemed to go into remission up to the early 1990s, when the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization began viewing suicide-bombing missions as a central weapon in its arsenal.

Islamic Jihad made use of its connections with Hezbollah for training and received Iranian financial and logistical backing to develop a cadre of munitions experts--who became known as 'engineers' amongst Palestinians--adept at preparing explosives in secret locations such as kitchens in small apartments in crowded refugee camps. Young religious men were recruited to carry out the missions after a stringent period of religious indoctrination and promises of rewards for their actions in the after-life.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.