Israel, Counter-Terrorism Policy

Israel, Counter-Terrorism Policy


Since it was founded in 1948, the nation of Israel has implemented some of the most rigorous counter-terrorist measures of any country in the world. It suffered its first attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1965 and was subject to PLO Intifadas, or uprisings, in 1987 and again in 2001, which produced dozens of terrorist bombings with hundred of casualties. Israel's zeal to contain and prevent terrorist attacks against its citizens has at times prompted international criticism, particularly regarding its state-sponsored assassinations of known terrorists in other countries and use of coercive interrogation to gather information on terrorist activites.

Israel has perhaps the greatest experience with counter-terrorist measures than any other modern nation. Facing hostility from its Arab neighbors, the Jewish state enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance upon its establishment in 1948. The law defined terrorism to include direct acts of violence as well as threats of violence against an individual, and broadly categorized membership in a terrorist organization to include those who had given money or resources to such a group in addition to those who directly participated in it. The 1948 ordinance also gave authorities such as Shin Bet, the country's intelligence agency, broad prosecutorial powers to detain individuals and shut down suspected terrorist centers. Later amendments to the 1948 ordinance made it illegal to sympathize with terrorist organizations by flying their flags or displaying their symbols and criminalized most contacts made abroad with terrorists (a stipulation repealed in 1993).

Although Israel's counter-terrorist policies were sometimes criticized as being too harsh, its citizens came to expect a high degree of government vigilance over their daily lives. Much of the counter-terrorist effort was resource-intensive, not technologically sophisticated. Searches of individuals and their belongings were routine in public places, and scrutiny at border crossings and the country's main international airport was intense. The government rigorously screened all employees manning security checkpoints at airports and borders and travelers at borders were asked extensively about their travel plans, sources of income, contacts in Israel, and other personal issues.

Although the scrutiny with which Israel conducted such inquiries provoked accusations of anti-Arabic racial profiling, it was largely responsible for producing a near-perfect record of safety on the government-owned airline, El Al. The only incident of hijacking on El Al occurred in July 1968, when three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took control of a plane on its way from Rome to Tel Aviv. The hijackers held the plane's passengers hostage for forty days until Israel acceded to their demands for the release of a group of Palestinian terrorists.

The Israeli government stiffened its resolve to follow a zero-tolerance policy in negotiating with terrorists in June 1976, when a group of Palestinian and German terrorists abducted an Air France plane and held its passengers hostage at an airport in Entebbe, Uganda. After the hijackers demanded the release of fifty-three jailed Palestinian terrorists during an eight-day standoff, an Israeli commando squad stormed the plane and ended the siege. All of the hijackers were killed in the raid. The lives of 98 hostages were saved; four hostages were killed in the raid.

Despite the continuing emphasis on counter-terrorism in Israel, an Intifada, or uprising, sponsored by the PLO from 1987 onward against the Israeli presence in the Occupied Territories resulted in at least 20,000 casualties on both sides. Although tensions subsided after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from much of the Occupied Territories under a series of accords from 1993 to 1997, Israeli citizens continued to face terrorist threats on a daily basis. In 2001, a renewed wave of Intifada actions resulted in dozens of bombings on Israeli soil, which occurred at the rate of two every month. Given the ongoing threat, about 10 percent of the Israeli gross national product is annually spent on defense.



Heller, Mark A. Continuity and Change in Israeli Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Inbar, Efraim. Rabin and Israel's National Security. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

James, Ron. Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Katz, Samuel M. The Hunt for the Engineer: How Israeli Agents Tracked the Hamas Master Bomber. New York: Fromm International, 1999.

Thomas, Gordon. Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Moussad. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.


Gladwell, Martin. "Safety in the Skies." New Yorker. October 1, 2002.

Morris, Jim. "Israel Offers Lessons in Aviation Security." Dallas Morning News. November 8, 2001.

Schwarts, Nelson. "Learning from Israel." Fortune. (January 21, 2002).


Airline Security
Egypt, Intelligence and Security
Eichmann, Adolf: Israeli capture
Intelligence and Democracy: Issues and Conflicts
Palestinian Authority, Intelligence and Security
Pollard Espionage Case
Syria, Intelligence and Security
Terrorism, Philosophical and Ideological Origins
Terrorist and Para-State Organizations

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Israel, Counter-Terrorism Policy forum