Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Willing to Die: Palestinian suicide bombers

Strategic Goals

Most suicide attacks are methodically designed down to precise details. Moreover, according to Robert A. Papes article, The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, the attacks usually serve specific strategic functions.

Bus after suicide bomb, Israel
Bus after suicide bomb, Israel
 

David Plotz writes in The Logic of Assassination that the most important rationale for bombing is public relations. Those who commit suicide bombings are able to relay their messages successfully to the world with the help of media coverage. Plotz stated that the media coverage of Palestinian bombings often reinforce the Palestinian image as an oppressed and impoverished people using whatever meager weapons they have, including themselves, to fight their tormenters. This has enraged Israelis because suicide bombers are often typed by the media as religious and political victims, instead of the methodical murderers they really are. Thus, Palestinian extremist groups profit by the free publicity and see it as a means of gaining public sympathy.

Pape suggested that suicide attacks are a strategy of coercion and are a means to compel a target government to change policy. This can sometimes be accomplished by killing as many as possible, including oneself in the hopes of achieving a planned goal. In the case of Palestinian suicide militants, this means destroying Israeli citizens until the government decides to finally give into their demands of granting them the land and governing rights to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Furthermore, Pape suggested that the fact that most suicide attacks involved the organized timing of events, specific nationalistic goals and the selection of specific political targets further supported the theory that they are indeed strategically and logically planned. While some attacks have initiated negotiations on political demands, the March 14, 2004, double suicide bombings that killed 10 Israelis caused scheduled talks between Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority to be cancelled. Sharon stated that the attack "reinforces the understanding that there is no Palestinian leader with the courage, the ability, to struggle against terrorism."

Interestingly, Pape claimed that even though moderate attacks may appear successful and set into motion moderate concessions, more aggressive attacks do not. In fact, more aggressive terrorist campaigns are less likely to succeed. He stated that the reason for this is because states such as Israel would not give into terrorist threats that would eventually, weaken the economic prospects of the state or strengthen the rivals of the state.

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