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Unformatted text preview: AUTHOR: Ehud Sprinzak TITLE: Rational Fanatics October 23, 1983, was one of the most horrific days in the history of modern terrorism. Two massive explosions destroyed the barracks of the U.S. and French contingents of the multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers. Both explosions were carried out by Muslim extremists who drove to the heart of the target area and detonated bombs with no intention of escaping. Subsequent suicide attacks against Israeli and U.S. targets in Lebanon and Kuwait made it clear that a new type of killing had entered the repertoire of modern terrorism: a suicide operation in which the success of the attack depends on the death of the perpetrator. This tactic stunned security experts. Two centuries of experience suggested that terrorists, though ready to risk their lives, wished to live after the terrorist act in order to benefit from its accomplishments. But this new terrorism defied that belief. It seemed qualitatively different, appearing almost supernatural, extremely lethal, and impossible to stop. Within six months, French and U.S. Presidents Francois Mitterrand and Ronald Reagan pulled their troops out of Lebanon--a tacit admission that the new terrorism rendered all known counterterrorist measures useless. Government officials erected concrete barriers around the White House and sealed the Pentagon's underground bus tunnels. Nobody was reassured. As Time magazine skeptically observed in 1983: "No security expert thinks such defensive measures will stop a determined Islamic terrorist who expects to join Allah by killing some Americans." Whereas the press lost no time in labeling these bombers irrational zealots, terrorism spets offered a more nuanced appraisal, arguing that suicide terrorism has inherent tactical advantages over "conventional" terrorism: It is a simple and low-cost operation (requiring no escape routes or complicated rescue operations); it guarantees mass casualties and extensive damage (since the suicide bomber can choose the exact time, location, and circumstances of the attack); there is no fear that interrogated terrorists will surrender important information (because their deaths are certain); and it has an immense impact on the public and the media (due to the overwhelming sense of helplessness). Dr. Ramadan Shalah, secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, summarized the chilling logic of the new terror tactic: "Our enemy possesses the most sophisticated weapons in the world and its army is trained to a very high standard.... We have nothing with which to repel killing and thuggery against us except the weapon of martyrdom. It is easy and costs us only our lives... human bombs cannot be defeated, not even by nuclear bombs." The prevalence of suicide terrorism during the last two decades testifies to its gruesome effectiveness [see table on opposite page]. It has formed a vital part of several terror campaigns, including Hezbollah's successful operation against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the mid-1980s, the 1994-96 Hamas bus bombings aimed at stopping the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the 1995-99 Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)...
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