Where Are The Suicide Bombers?

1983/10/23: US Marine carried on a stretcher after being injured in the suicide bombing attack at US Marine Operations center, Beirut, Lebanon. AP

This story was written by CBSNews.com's James Klatell.



Suicide bombings have long been the most visible symptom of the struggle between Israel and its Muslim enemies, but during the most recent fighting there have been none.

Hezbollah's fighters along the Lebanese border are firing rockets into Israel and fighting a guerilla-style campaign against Israeli troops, while Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have not been able to strike back at Israeli forces.

"The focus for Hamas and Hezbollah is fighting Israeli forces, so they haven't been putting as much energy into sending a suicide bomber into Israel," said Yehudit Barsky, director of the American Jewish Committee's Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.

But the absence of suicide attacks is not likely a permanent development. Hezbollah pioneered such bombings in the 1980s — most famously with the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon that killed 241 people — and Palestinian militant groups terrorized Israel with dozens of bombings during the Intifada that started in 2000.

Both have increased their threats against Israel recently, and terrorism experts say that militants will eventually find a way to carry out those threats.

The questions that no one can answer are where and when a strike would occur.

"The big problem that Israel has got right now is that its behavior is generating the next generation of suicide bombers," said Robert Pape, the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism."

Pape believes that Israel's offensive in southern Lebanon will likely inspire civilians from all walks of life to volunteer for suicide missions.

"If this keeps up, and you end up provoking a really large suicide bombing campaign, it could be a tragedy," Pape said.

Israeli security forces have gone on high alert several times already because of suicide bombing threats in Israeli cities.

Three people were arrested in Tel Aviv on Friday for being involved in one plot, and potential bombers were stopped earlier in Jerusalem and the central city of Kfar Saba.

Fred Burton, a former counterterrorism agent for the U.S. State Department, said that increased security precautions Israel has taken during the current crisis probably explain why there haven't been any successful suicide attacks.

"You have enhanced security, and let's face it you have a very secure mindset to begin with," said Burton, now vice president of the private security firm Stratfor. "You ratchet up that 10 fold, and it's just very difficult to carry out an attack with the heightened sense of security."

Burton said Palestinian militant groups in Gaza — such as Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — are pinned down by the Israel's intelligence and security apparatus.

But the threats keep coming. Khader Habib, a leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, told The Associated Press his group would respond to Israeli attacks on Gaza with rocket attacks and suicide bombings. "We will carry out our (suicide) operations against Israeli soldiers," he said.

"It's not that they're not trying," said Barsky. "The difference now is that Israel is in a state of actual war, as opposed to what was happening in 2000 and 2002."

On the other front of the Mideast war, Hezbollah is possibly a more dangerous threat because of its numbers, long reach and outside support.

"They have tens of thousands of dedicated cadres that are willing to engage in martyrdom operations," Nicholas Noe, the editor in chief of Beirut-based mideastwire.com told CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

For the time being, Hezbollah seems content to fight the Israelis with rockets and in small battles along the border.

"If you look at the history of the last war between Israel and Hezbollah, it wasn't really suicide operations that forced the Israeli withdrawal," said Farhana Ali, a terrorism analyst at the Rand Corporation. "It was the continued guerilla warfare tactics. So, I think that if Hezbollah can continue to do that at the scale that it is doing now, and can increase the casualties on the other side, then for them that is a success."

But Ali also said, "I think it's a tactic that they could very use again, because they know they have used it successfully."

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has promised in televised statements that his forces have new tactics and surprises in the arsenal.

Most experts said they believe the longer Israel is actively attacking southern Lebanon, the greater the chance of Hezbollah retaliating with a terror bombing or suicide attack.

"I think that the longer this drags out in Israel and Lebanon, the probability is we're going to see some sort of an attack in place at an Israeli location," Burton said. "But I don't think it will be inside of Israel."

Burton explained that Hezbollah would have difficulty striking inside of Israel because of the Israeli's "laser-like focus" on internal security.

"They have shown the ability — long before al Qaeda came along — to carry out these kind of attacks from Southeast Asia to South America," he said. "What we're seeing is great concern on the Israeli part of targeting of their official missions and diplomatic locations around the globe … anytime you get messages like that from the Israelis it's usually based on intelligence warnings and indicators that they feel something is up."

Pape, however, said that volunteers for Hezbollah suicide missions would most likely strike closer to home. "Suicide bombing campaigns are a tactic against foreign occupation," he said.

"I think that they will continue guerilla warfare as long as they can," Ali said. "Suicide missions are always a means of last resort."
By James Klatell
  • James Klatell

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