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News Negotiating With Hostage Takers

  1. Aug 1, 2006 #1


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    This is an offshoot of another open thread where this came up. We've discussed it before, but I'm not sure I ever laid out the complete logic behind the reason not negotiating is generally the logically correct course of action. It is a business decision and it is analyzed with a decision matrix and cost-benefit analysis.

    This logic works for all sorts of hostage-like situations and explains Israel's reasoning behind the current conflict.

    The decision matrix itself is straightforward because the choices and outcomes are largely binary and directly related. Kidnappers/hostage takers have two Choices:

    KC1: Take a hostage
    KC2: Don't take a hostage

    Law enforcement has two Choices:

    LC1: Negotiate for release
    LC2: Pursue the hostage takers

    Negotiating with hostage takers does one key thing: it lets the hostage takers win. In the risk/cost-benefit analysis, if people always negotiate, then hostage taking has little downside and people will do a lot of it. In many countries in Africa and Central America, it is so widespread, it is practically an industry because people are willing to pay and police are unwilling/unable to pursue the hostage takers. With no negative consequences, there is no downside and no reason not to do it.

    Now, "pursue" has different meanings for different types of kidnapping, obviously (and sometimes, you negotiate as a stall tactic in support of the pursuit). For the FBI in the US, it means capturing, arresting, and convicting an exceedingly high fraction of kidnappers in the US (95% vs 3% for Columbia). For Israelis, it means storming planes and killing hijackers. But in both cases, the result is the same: the hijackers lose big a very high fraction of the time and as a reult, the cost and risk of hijacking/kidnapping is so high that kidnapping for ransom in the US and hijacking planes for ransom in Israel are now quite rare.

    The pitfall is obvious: in order for this logic to work, you must have a very high success rate in pursuing hostage-takers. In the US, for kidnapping and in Israel for that is the case, so it is logical to pursue the kidnapper. In many places in the world, it isn't, so it is logical to negotiate. It wasn't always this way, though. In my research here, I read an article excerpt that said kidnapping was so rampant in the '30s that the NYT actually put a box-score on their front page and kept running tallies. In the '80s, many Israeli planes were hijacked for ransom. Improving the odds in pursuit made the difference.

    A quick note about the "reward" - for a traditional kidnapper, the reward is money. The kidnapper doesn't really want to kill anyone (it ups the stakes too much). For Israel, the "reward" is a little different: airplane hijackers and soldier kidnappers are perfectly happy just killing their hostages. Both are good outcomes. Because of that, the risk of pursuit (the risk that the pursuit may cause the hostages' deaths) is substantially lower than, say, if you get kidnapped in Columbia. The Israelis essentially consider the hostages to be already dead and see the pursuit as an attempt to save a few.

    Now, the relationship to the current situation in the ME should be clear: this little war started with a hostage taking and Israel choose the pursuit option. This may be a change in tactic, and this tactic does suffer a little from the pitfall outlined above in that the specific hostage-takers here are unlikely to be caught, but Hizbollah is a coherent terrorist organization and the individual hostage-takings are centrally planned. Because of that, the cost-benefit analysis goes on at the upper levels of the organization. Hizbollah actually made a statement that they didn't expect this kind of response. So the equation has changed and if they realize that as a general rule their actions will have severe negative consequences, they'll stop what they are doing, just like the (or their cousin organizations) stopped hijacking planes. That's why Israel has chosen this course of action.

    Info/stats on worldwide hostage-taking.
    http://www.urmia.org/Report/1&2-00-ExperiencetheUnexpected.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
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  3. Aug 1, 2006 #2


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    I agree with the logic about kidnappers, but I'm not quite sure it applies in this instance.

    Technically, if Hezbollah targets only opposing military members, it's an act of war - a different action than murdering or kidnapping civilians. Of course, the fact that they're fighting a war means they can expect the enemy to fight, as well.

    In fact, Israel has given implied acknowledgement of this being warfare vs hostage taking by agreeing to exchange prisoners in the past - a different proposition than negotiating for release of hostages. The fact that Israel has agreed to prisoner exchanges in the past could plausibly lead the Hezbollah to expect the latest kidnapping would result in another prisoner exchange (I kind of have my doubts - it's almost as if both sides were itching to raise hostilities to a more open level).

    Regardless, taking enemy captives is an act of war, at the least, and operations to rescue your own soldiers is justified. There's no obligation to make prisoner exchanges the first option for retrieving soldiers captured by the enemy. The only real question is whether or not the response was at the appropriate level of violence or not. (I'm not real sure about that, but as I said previously, it seems as if both sides were looking for an excuse to resume open warfare.)
  4. Aug 1, 2006 #3
    The bulk of your post is reasonable, but one quick question...

    ...then why did it take Israel two years to strike back? I mean, Hezbollah tried this twice in 2005.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 1, 2006
  5. Aug 1, 2006 #4


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    Sure, it can be treated either way by Israel perfectly legitimately, but for the most part Israel has not been able to go after the kidnappers. And for Hizbollah, the resoning behind why they do it is still simple bartering.
    That's a toughie - a hostage-taker can ask for anything they want in return for releasing the hostage if they think they can get it. Typically in war, one takes prisoners after winning a battle - they don't go out and capture them for the purpose of trading them. They're skipping the battle and going right to the prisoner exchange.
    That's pretty much what you said above and it is true, but regardless of whether or not going after them is justified, I'm exploring whether or not it is a good idea. I'm asking a different question.
    In war, is there such a thing as an "appropriate level of violence"? And like the poster above said, with all the crap Israel has to deal with, I would have thought they had ample excuses to use to have started this earlier. I'm also sure that there is more to their motivation here than simply stopping the kidnappings, but I really do think that is a part of it.
  6. Aug 2, 2006 #5
    If it is a business decision, it implies, one has to make there mind up based on the situation presented. There is no fast and shut case, ever!
    Russ, Humans dont actually think like this, and its absurd to suggest they do. The choice matrix is more close to infinite than it is to a binary, I take hostage, I dont take hostage. Also the Law enforcement (Civilian case) have many more options also. For example;

    Negotiate, then attack
    Negotiate, then give in to demands
    Dont negotiate, and bomb the whole place
    Dont negotiate, and ignore the whole deal, pretending its a hoax

    Are you suggesting that all a hostage taker wants to have a 'chat' with the law enforcement? Russ this is illogical, one should always negotiate, with out negotiating you narrow your options down. Negotiating does NOT mean giving in to demands, and for you to assert that is illogical. Hostage takers do not do what they do to negotiate, the negotiation process is a means to the end, they do what they do to obtain a goal. This goal could be, getting rich, exchanging prisoners.

    Your logical is completely flawed.

    An analogy if you will:

    The negotiation process is a car, that will take you somewhere, either where the Law Enforcer wants to go, where the Hostage taker wants to go, or where you are both happy in varying degrees. If the Law enforcer is controlling the destination (IE driving the car) then your logic of "negotiating lets the Hostage takes win" breaks.

    I have been asked if I was serious regarding Israel negotiating with hezbollah, let me clear any misunderstandings:

    Yes I am serious

    It could have saved us from yet another war, and I think it was a strategic mistake by Israel. I honestly couldnt care less if they 'broke the law' or not. They are an armed terrorist organisation, and took the hostages with clearly defined goals. Israel should have looked at this more closely. You should always negotiated, but it doesnt follow that you have to give in to the demands does it?
  7. Aug 2, 2006 #6


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    In the case of terrorism, negotiating is not an option, it just gives more incentive for the terrorists to do it again.

    Do you remember how the Russians dealt with the taking of hostages in Moscow?

    "The Moscow theatre hostage crisis was the seizure on October 23, 2002 of a crowded Moscow theatre by armed Chechen men and women who claimed allegiance to the separatist movement in Chechnya. They took over 900 hostages and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. After a siege of two and a half days, Russian Spetsnaz ("special forces") raided the building with the assistance of an unidentified "knockout gas". All of the 42 terrorists were killed, along with 130 of the hostages, with no Spetsnaz casualties."

    It was a terrible tradgedy. But it stopped anymore attempts. It laid down a clear message, no negotiations, until the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004. Which was also stopped with brute force.

    I don't agree with the tactics or how the Russian government dealt with the two incidents. Simple disclosures could have saved many civilian lives. But the message sent to terrorists probably prevented many such attacks.
  8. Aug 2, 2006 #7
    I agree it was handled badly in Russia. However I dont agree with not negotiating with terrorists.

    Hezbollah are more akin to the IRA than they are to Al-Qeda. I would agree, there is no point in negotiating with Al-Qeda, due to there disparaged fractured structure and because they do not have any political wing. To deal with Al-Qeda action speak louder than words (that doesnt mean violence). With hezbollah however, there is a point in engaging them on a diplomatic level, they have a political wing, they have goals, and there is something to work towards. I am not suggesting that Israel need to meet there goals, but both sides could negotiate to a stage where both parties are happier. If they believe that they can do more good for their cause through talking then in the end (like with the IRA) they could put their weapons down. I have said this before, but I believe there are to many similarities between the IRA and Hezbollah (and Hamas) to ignore what was achieved in Ireland.

    I agreed with some of what Blair said in LA yesterday, we need to have a renaissance of thought over how to tackle these problems, and we should first look at cases which are similar and take the good points from these and try and implement them in this situation
  9. Aug 2, 2006 #8
    may I just add,

    Doesnt this example show that brute force doesnt do what Russ is asserting?

    If not negotiating and just using brute force was the *only* answer then surely a hostage situation wouldnt have happened again so soon after (2 years), perpetrated by the same group. IMO this example shows the diversity of hostage situations, and no two should be treated the same, and consequently one should always engage the brain look at all the options then take the choice of where you want to drive the situation too.
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