Definition of Terrorism: Israel is "only" half as bad as Al Qaeda?

The definition of terrorism is killing innocent civilian without targeting military target. There is no ambiguity in the case of Munich 1972, many of IRA activities, Bali/Madrid bombing, ETIM bombing of Chinese cities. All victims are civilians in these cases.

But things are not always black and white, as Israel and Hezbollah are accusing each other of terrorism in the recent conflict. Both side also claimed their striking of civilian targets are part of their act of war. Israel claimed the civilians are sheltering the Hezbollah militants. Hezbollah claimed since all Israeli need to serve in the army, their rockets are attacking legitimate enemy soldiers. Israel said it has reason to believe the targets are related to the rocket attacks but occasionally missed; Hezbollah said it is targetting military targets but its weapons are less accurate than Israel's.

There is no end to this argument. Even Al Qaeda can claim its attack on the Pentagon is an act of war, not terrorism, as the victims of UA175 were collateral. So I decided to calculate the collateral damage quantitatively, by computing the Terrorism Ratio (T.R.), which I define as #collateral/#enemy combatant. Here is the result I got (using the wiki data as of today - Aug 6),

Killed Total (casualty+capture)
Enemy Collateral T.R. Enemy Collateral T.R.
Israel 62 706 11.4 416 4,182 10.1
Hz 53
Amal 8
Total (Israel claim) 400
Captured 16
Leb min/max 508 3,400
Neutral soldier 34 73
UN 4 3
Hezbollah 58 38 0.7 249 1,331 5.3
wounded 189 incl shock
captured 2
Al Qaeda: 911 125 2,851 22.8
WTC 2,605
AA11 88
UA175 59
Pentagon 125
AA77 59
UA93 40
Al Qaeda: Pentagon 125 59 0.5
Axis: WWII (M) 17 33 1.9
Allies: WWII (M) 8 4 0.5
US: Gulf War (k) 63 200 3.2
low estimate 25 100 4.0
high estimate 100 300 3.0

Al Qaeda's TR in 9-11 is 22.8. WTC alone is a full terrorism attack by any definition. But if you look at the Pentagon attack alone, the TR is only 0.5. However, one could argue even inside the Pentagon, there may be civilians who were innocent to this "war", such as secretaries and janitors. But then Al Qaeda can argue that they are no different from army chefs and engineers. I think I will just use 22.8 as a reference. a TR of 22.8 is way too high for any reasonable war, as we can compare it with figures from the WWII and the Gulf War.

Israel has a TR of 11.4 in its assault in Israel. It is half as bad as Al Qaeda!

Hezbollah's number is surprising low, at only 0.5. But wait a minute, this is not fair for Israel, because invader usually causes more civilian damage, as we can see in the TR number of the 2 sides in WWII (Axis invasion lasted a lot longer than Allies invasion, though the Axis did killed innocents on purpose). But even if you take this into account and multiple Hezbollah's number by a factor of 4 or 6, it is still no comparison to Israel's atrocity.

Wait another minute, the TR in discussion is calculated using the number of dead. If we use the total casuaty number (include enemy captured and wounded soldier and civilians), Israel's TR is 10.1 and Hezbollah's 5.3. The TR's are both higher than the TR of any other war (0.5-4).

I think Al Qaeda's act in 9-11 was definitely terrorism. I think Hezbollah was also guilty of terrorism, although most of what it has done was normal guerilla warfare until the rocket race. Israel's TR number in this conflict is sandwiched between Hezbollah's and Al Qaeda's. Israel is either extremely inefficient at achieving its goal (if such thing exists at all), or it purposedly planned to "punish" the Lebanese civilian by creating terror. So, is Israel guilty of terrorism?

  • At the beginning of the war you could see from the declarations of various Lebanese leaders that even they were quite satisfied that Israel took care of the Hezbollah. But we went into Lebanon like angry bulls into the arena, attacking anything that moved.
  • Olmert should have defined the objectives of the war from the beginning. But all he said was: "We will be victorious" without defining what victory means...What does [the destruction of the Hezbollah] mean? Is it getting all of them to crawl on their hands and knees and hand over their weapons?
  • We lost, when Olmert said, we will win. Despite that, we will win at the end, because the Israeli society is smarter than its political leaders.
Update (Aug 14 ceasefire #, no fundamental change in the terror ratios)

Total (casualty+capture)

Enemy Collateral T.R.
Enemy Collateral T.R.
Israel 127 908 7.1
498 4,611 9.3
Hz 65

Amal 8


Total (Israel claim) 180




Leb min/max



Neutral soldier



Hezbollah 114 52 0.5
518 150 0.3

402 1200 lightly



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