INTO THE FRAY: Terminating terrorists and assessing assassinations

For your perusal, my latest INTO THE FRAY column

Terminating terrorists and assessing assassinations

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Whatever the operational efficacy of targeted assassinations may be—or not be—the conscience of every decent individual should rebel at the thought that arch-purveyors of terror should be permitted to pursue their deadly profession with impunity


It appears this week on the following sites (in alphabetical order):

JERUSALEM HERALD:  (To be  post)

Several short excerpts:

Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin attributed to Aesop, Greek fabulist (circa 620 BCE – circa 584 BC).

Last week’s assassination of the commander of the Quds brigades, the overseas arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) thrust the topic of targeted killings of high-ranking adversaries dramatically to the center of international debate—and ignited the dispute over their use…both in terms of their moral justification and their operational efficacy.

Targeted assassinations: A brief overview

Broadly defined, “targeted killing” is a form of assassination carried out by governments against their perceived enemies, typically beyond the borders of their own countries—either for what they are about to perpetrate in the future or what they have perpetrated in the past…Such targeted killing operations and their underlying rationale span the divide between the view of terrorism as a crime, on the one hand; and the view of terrorism as an act of war on the other.

Targeted assassination: Punitive or preemptive?

Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi (L), head of IISS died in targeted killing in 2019; Osama bin Laden (R), head of a-Qaeda, died in targeted killing in 2011.

It would seem that Israel and the US have employed targeted assassination both to preempt planned enemy attacks that are about to be carried out and to punish past ones that have already been committed…[T]he killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was probably far more punitive (for his role in the 9/11 atrocities in 2001), than preemptive—to forestall imminent future attacks by the founder of al-Qaeda. By contrast, the targeted assassination of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019 was—despite the ISIS leader’s grisly record of murder and mayhem—largely preemptive…

Punitive or preemptive? (cont.)

Egyptian President, Abdul Gamal Nasser, and domestically produced rocket

Israel, too has engaged in targeted killing across the globe, for motives both preemptive and punitive…Thus, in the early 1960s, Israel initiated a campaign, Operation Damocles, of assassination and intimidation against German scientists, engaged to work on the development of a rocket project for Nasser’s Egypt…Operation Wrath of God was very different, being launched ostensibly to avenge the Munich massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics by the Black September terror organization and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). …But not only terrorists have been in Israeli sights…

Israeli targeted killings: A brief –and abbreviated—review

Since the 1950s, Israel has engaged in targeted killings of individuals considered to be (or to have been) an unacceptable menace to its security or to the lives of its citizens. The following is a brief—and admittedly arbitrarily abbreviated—list of some of the more noteworthy cases, generally thought to have been executed (no pun intended) by Israel.

On July 27, 1979, Zuheir Mohsein  leader of the pro-Syrian a-Sa’iqa faction of the PLO was shot and killed as he left a casino in Cannes….

Israeli targeted killings: A brief review (cont.)

The aftermath of the attack on Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in retaliation for targeted killing of head of Hezbollah, Abbas al Moussawi


On March 22, 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, and spiritual leader of the organization, was killed outside a mosque after morning prayers by an Israeli airstrike…On February 12, 2008, Imad Mughniyeh (Al-Hajj Radwan), number two in Hezbollah‘s leadership, was killed by a car bomb blast in a neighborhood of Damascus…


Israeli targeted killings: Assessing the efficacy

How effective have targeted killings been as an instrument of policy for Israel?

There is no unequivocal answer to this question. Indeed, the record is, at best, ambivalent…Indeed, arguably the only case where a single targeting killing appears to have brought about the end of a terror organization is that of Zuheir Mohsen and the a-Saiqa movement which he headed. Once the second largest faction in the PLO after Fatah, since the demise of Mohsen, a-Saiqa has descended into insignificance and irrelevance…Overall, however, it does appear that, unless targeted assassinations are part of a sustained, ongoing policy of lethal pursuit of adversaries, the effect of a “stand alone” assassination is, at best, short-lived.

The imponderable “What ifs”

Of course, one of the imponderable questions is that of what would have occurred had targeted assassinations not been undertaken…After all, one thing is certain. If Israel’s enemies know that they are in danger of losing their lives, their modus operandi will inevitably be more constrained, cumbersome and costly…

There is, of course, one other consideration that militates strongly in favor of targeted assassinations. After all, whatever the operational efficacy of targeted assassinations may be—or not be—the conscience of every decent individual should rebel at the thought that arch-purveyors of terror should be permitted to pursue their deadly vocation with impunity.

Indeed, as Bret Stephens recently wrote…:
No U.S. president [or Israeli Prime Minister – MS]…should ever convey to an enemy the impression it can plot attacks against Americans [or Israelis – MS] with impunity. To do otherwise is to invite worse.”

Indeed it is!!

As usual your talkbacks/comments/critiques welcome,

Best wishes,














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