Israel got the upper hand in its battle with the Palestinians in early 2004. The reduction in effective attacks against Israel was very abrupt, much more abrupt than I expected. I think that there were two reasons for the success, one that has been widely identified and another that has not. The one that has been widely identified is the wall. Israel began to wall-off itself from the Palestinians in the West Bank. The West Bank was the place from which almost all of the effective Palestinian terror attacks emanated (the other territory, Gaza was already walled-off). As the wall progressed, the Israelis had fewer and fewer infiltration points to monitor, resulting in closer monitoring of the remaining locations.
The monitoring worked. The Israelis were able to intercept more of the bombers and the Palestinians are trying less because of the increasing futility. There is no sneaking, negotiating, whining or cajoling your way around a wall.
This reminds me of an incident I had in raising my eldest son. He was about three or four years old and was just being moved to a bed from a crib. One of the first nights he realized that he could get out of the bed (unlike the crib) and leave his room, which he did, over and over again. My wife and I tried to keep him in the room and he kept coming out. He was bull-headed. We fought a running battle with him for most of that night. Parents grew more and more angry and more and more desperate. Yelling and threats of punishment were no use. We spent much of the night up, as did our other children. The next night the same thing happened.
The following day I installed a latch on his door (I still feel guilty about this) that would allow the door to open a bit but not enough for him to get out. The result was remarkable. That night he pulled at the door and shouted for ten minutes (the door would open a bit and he could see the latch). Then, he retreated to his bed and slept soundly the rest of the night. We never had another problem. I realized that before the latch he believed he could get a concession from is parents and the possibility of that made him continue his hopeless quest. When he was confronted with the latch he very quickly realized that it would grant no concessions and he abandoned his quest.
I think the wall is the latch for the Palestinians. I pray the Palestinian people exhibit the wisdom of a 3-year old by abandoning their counterproductive quest.
The other reason Israel has gained the upper hand is that they stopped respecting a Palestinian fiction. The Palestinian terror groups (especially Hamas) had long maintained that they had a military wing and a political wing. Since the first Intifada, Israel had respected that distinction, despite the fact that the political wings clearly supported the military wings. That all ended on March 22, 2004. On that day, Israel killed the leader of the Hamas political wing, Ahmed Yassin, with a missile strike. Several weeks later his overconfident replacement was also killed. After each killing, many Palestinians shrieked black vows of revenge and the media amplified them with apocalyptic predictions about the security of Israel. Yet, the threatened response never materialized. I think I can guess why. The political wing leaders do not want to be martyrs and they can control the military wings. You don’t spend years and years clawing your way to the top of an organization (can you imagine what kind of horrific struggle that would entail in a violent organizations like Hamas?) just to trade all of that effort for martyrdom. Political leaders crave power and power is only fun if you are alive to wield it. Start killing them and the remaining ambitious ones will seek accommodation even as they jockey to fill the vacant post.
Killing the military functionaries does not create a deterrent. These positions are filled with wanna-be martyrs. The sick Palestinian culture will always supply more brainwashed youths for these positions.