Islamic Terror Abductions in the Middle East
by Shaul Shay
Portland, Ore.: Sussex Academic Press, 2007. 197 pp. $67.50.
Middle East Quarterly
Kidnapping has become a tactic of choice among Middle Eastern terrorists. Shay, a research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, adds a great deal of valuable analysis in his systematic exploration of the phenomenon.
Shay starts with the basics, a succinct overview of the debate over the definition of terrorism where a lack of consensus has undercut attempts to counter it. An accompanying discussion over abduction—its phases of preparation, motivations, timing, and state reaction—provides a useful theoretical base from which to examine abductions in Palestinian-controlled areas, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Shay's discussion of Palestinian abduction focuses on Hamas. While providing an overview of abductions in the pre-Oslo period, he transforms the 1994 abduction of Israel Defense Forces soldier Nachshon Wachsman into a case study, analyzing the preparations, participants, and execution of the kidnapping, as well as the botched rescue attempt and its aftermath. He then concludes the chapter by summarizing the main characterizations of Hamas abductions, going into such detail as the types of vehicles and weapons used.
Accompanying his discussion of Hezbollah kidnapping in Lebanon is rich analysis of the Iranian role. He is precise and details the division of labor among various Iranian agencies and power brokers. He provides brief studies of abductions occurring between 1986 and 2000, including the famous case of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad. The July 2006 abductions that sparked the summer war between Israel and Hezbollah are covered in a short epilogue.
Shay's analysis of Israeli policy is insightful. While Jerusalem's policy toward negotiating with terrorists might appear inconsistent, Shay suggests the deciding factor relates to the quality of operational data. If Israeli officials feel confident in their intelligence, they utilize force, but if uncertain, they negotiate. As a result, they are much more likely to strike a deal with terrorists based in foreign states than those operating in Palestinian areas.
A separate chapter examining foreign hostages in Lebanon is useful for its comparison of the U.S., French, German, Swiss, and Kuwaiti policies toward terrorist demands.
Compared to his other case studies, Shay's attention to Iraq and Yemen falls short. He neither goes into the depth nor breadth of his other chapters. His discussion of the Islamic tradition of decapitation is useful, but here he does not match the detail offered by Timothy Furnish, a professor at Georgia Perimeter College. And while he limits his focus to the Middle East, attention to the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, not to speak of the many beheadings in southern Thailand, would have strengthened his work.
A succinct final chapter weaves together the cases studies and elucidates patterns. Shay concludes that terrorists regard kidnapping as a strategic tool to extract concessions. Abductions occur in waves with terrorists favoring the tactic when operating in regions where Western states have limited intelligence capability and where the ability of the abductees' home country to stage military reprisals is limited. He concludes, more controversially, that capitulation to terrorist demands can sometimes prevent additional abductions from that country, but at the same time, such surrender encourages terrorists to target citizens of other countries to extract similar concessions from them.
Hostage-taking is, unfortunately, here to stay. While the price of Shay's study might put off the general reader, Islamic Terror Abductions is a sound investment for both policy practitioners and journalists.
 Timothy R. Furnish, "Beheading in the Name of Islam," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, pp. 51-7.
Related Topics: Radical Islam, Terrorism | Spring 2008 MEQ
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