Israel's Fence Defense: The Barrier Is Preventing Terrorism

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

West Bank ( - Israel's security fence has been "highly successful" in stopping suicide bombers from carrying out attacks inside Israel and therefore saving Israeli lives, Israeli officials said this week.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Friday was due to deliver its ruling on the legality of the barrier, which Israel considers to be an invaluable counter-terrorism measure that saves Israeli lives.

The United Nations General Assembly asked the ICJ to give an opinion on the fence. Press reports said the ICJ will declare the barrier illegal and demand that it be torn down -- a decision that will come as no surprise to Israel.

Palestinians charge that the barrier, which they call a wall, is meant as a political grab of land that the Palestinians want to include in a future state. They also complain that the barrier cuts through agricultural lands and separates Palestinians from farms, schools, hospitals and population centers.

While Israel acknowledges and has made provisions for Palestinian humanitarian and commercial needs, the security benefits are too great to ignore, Israel says.

"The security for security reasons," said Col. Tamir Heiman, commander of the Ephraim Brigade in the central part of Israel and the West Bank.

"[The fence here] is operational for a year [and] is highly successful in succeeding to stop terror attacks on Israel," Heiman told journalists this week on an army tour of the fence.

"In the last year the fence stopped 90 percent of attempts to send terror attacks into Israel and its effectiveness proves why we should have built it and why it's very important to the lives of the people in Israel," he said.

According to a report released by the Foreign Ministry this week, terror attacks emanating from the northern West Bank where the fence has been completed decreased from an average of 26 a year to three a year.

In the eleven months since construction started - from August 2003 until the end of June 2004 -- only three suicide bombers sent by terrorist groups in the northern West Bank succeeded in carrying out attacks. Those attacks killed 26 Israelis and wounding 76 others.

Two of the suicide bombers infiltrated through areas where the fence had not yet been completed, while a third - a woman - crossed a checkpoint using a Jordanian passport and blew herself up in a Haifa restaurant.

By contrast, during the 34 months from the beginning of violence in September 2000 until the construction of the barrier began at the end of July 2003, terrorists based in the same area carried out 73 terror attacks, including suicide bombings, shootings and car bombings inside Israel and Jerusalem killing 293 Israelis and wounding 1,950 others.

However, the report said there was no decrease in the number of attempted attacks. Security forces foiled dozens of attacks, arrested terrorists and heads of cells and uncovered 24 explosive belts and bombs.

One senior military official said the effectiveness of the fence was "better than we expected."

He described one case where a suicide bomber was trapped by the fence in the West Bank town of Hable a few kilometers from the Israeli city of Kfar Saba.

When the bomber didn't blow himself up, his dispatcher called and asked what the problem was. The dispatcher couldn't believe that the terrorist could no longer just walk to Kfar Saba. In the end the bomber was captured.

In most places, the barrier consists of huge coils of barbed wire, a security road, a sophisticated electronic fence equipped with sensors and heat-sensitive cameras with another security road and huge barbed wire coil on the other side.

In several places where Palestinians could shoot at Israeli roads or homes from close range, a concrete wall has been erected. In Jerusalem the concrete walls are also used because they require less space than wire barriers.

The fence is monitored at command centers, from which soldiers are able to see all sections of the fence, zero in on suspicious movements, detect if the fence has been touched or breached, and dispatch patrols to check out warnings.

The senior official said the army estimates it would take a young, healthy individual a total of six minutes to cross the barrier -- two minutes for the barbed wire, two minutes to scale the fence and another two minutes to cross the second barbed wire coil.

Response time for a patrol to reach the place of a breach is two to seven minutes, he said. The barrier gives the army invaluable time to reach any potential terrorist, he added.

When it is completed, the fence will stretch some 700 kilometers (420 miles) from north to south at a cost of about $2 million per kilometer (.6 miles) or at least $1.4 billion total. More than 120 miles have already been completed, and Israel plans to complete another 120 miles by years end.

Palestinians have argued that if Israel wants to build a fence, it should build the barrier on its own side of the green line - the invisible 1949 ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan.

But Israel says it has chosen the current route for tactical reasons.

Take a cadet from any officers' training school in the world and ask him to plan the route of the fence and he would come up with this line, Heiman said.

One example is the village of Jeus, he said. The village is on one side of the fence, while its agricultural land is on the other side. Three suicide bombers came from Jeus and their families helped send them. Jeus is very close to the Israeli town of Kochav Yair.

"In order to give us the time it takes to capture the [infiltrator], we need a distance between the village and the town we are defending," he said.

The barrier is punctuated with many agricultural gates and crossing points that are opened at three regular intervals during the day to allow farmers access to their land and school children and others with permits to pass through for legitimate reasons.

In one area, the army realized that the West Bank city of Kalkilya should not be severed from the nearby town of Hable, because they shared professionals, hospitals and other vital services.

There the army is in the process of constructing a huge tunnel to connect the two areas so residents will be able to move freely, on foot or in cars, 24 hours a day without army interference, Heiman said.

At midday one of the gates was opened. Palestinians waited on either side of the open gate for soldiers to check their permits so they could pass.

Muathssim, 36, passed through the gate smiling broadly at the collection of journalists in his horse-drawn cart. "We're living in a prison," he said through a translator, because they have to wait for the gates to be opened and if they miss the opening time they have to wait for hours.

Out of the view of the cameras, a youth walking beside Muathssim's cart turned around, smiled and reached out to shake a soldier's hand.

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