Mostly Deterred: An Episodic Analysis of The Israel-Gaza Conflict

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Does violent retaliation to attacks by state and non-state actors lead to deterrence or, on the contrary, to counter-retaliation and protracted violence? We study this question in the context of Israel's conflict with Gaza between 2007 and 2014, using original security reports from the United Nations. We build an original dataset including over 16,000 Palestinian projectile launches and over 8,800 Israeli airstrikes, recorded with precise timing. Our findings weigh heavily against the argument that retaliation perpetuates this conflict. The conflict is characterized by short-lived episodes of violence separated by quiet interludes. Episodes tend to last less than one day and are followed by 3.5 days of calm, on average. Most episodes have no retaliation: 61% are one-sided, consisting only of provocations that go unanswered. Among episodes that do, the median number of successive counter-retaliations is only 3. Moreover, counter-retaliation does not induce subsequent episodes: 91% of episodes are initiated by Gazan militants’ attacks and 85% of episodes end with Gazan militants’ attacks. We find that Israeli retaliation strongly correlates with Gazans’ initial number of attacks and type of rockets fired. Yet, rather than provoking an immediate increase in violence or de-escalation, retaliation seems to have no short-term effect, as would be predicted by a model of long-term deterrence.

Last updated on 09/23/2019