#7: Targeted Killings
(August 8, 2002)
Israel is faced with a nearly impossible situation in attempting to protect its civilian population from Palestinians who are prepared to blow themselves up to murder innocent Jews. Israel's preferred strategy is diplomacy, but even after conceding territory in the hope of peace, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority continues to respond to Israeli concessions with terror.
Yasser Arafat made a commitment at Oslo to arrest and try terrorists. He knows who the leaders of the terrorist organizations are, but has chosen not to take action against them. If he did, Israel would have no need to defend itself against suicide bombers.
Israel is often urged to "exercise restraint." While this restraint might win praise from world leaders, it does nothing to assuage the pain of the victims or to prevent further attacks.
The same nations that urge restraint to Israel have often reacted forcefully when put in similar situations. For example, the British assassinated Nazis after World War II and targeted IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland. The United States has attempted to assassinate Osama bin Laden and has made no secret that he is currently a target.
Israel's policy of eliminating the masterminds of terror attacks is supported by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. The policy is also supported by the American public. An August 2001 poll by the America Middle East Information Network found that 73 percent of respondents felt Israel was justified in killing terrorists if it had proof they were planning bombings or other attacks that could kill Israelis.
Assassinations are effective. They signal terrorists that if they target others, they will become targets themselves. They are pre-emptive strikes at people who would otherwise murder Jews. They throw the terrorists off balance and prevent attacks.
"Targeted killings" do not perpetuate a cycle of violence, as critics contend, because the people who blow themselves up to become martyrs could always find a justification for their actions. They are determined to bomb the Jews out of the Middle East and will not stop until their goal is achieved.
It is always a tragedy when innocent civilians are killed in a counterterrorism operation. Civilians would not be at risk if the Palestinian Authority arrested the terrorists, the murderers did not choose to hide among noncombatants, and the civilians refused to protect the killers.
Ironically, on the same day that American officials were condemning Israel for a raid on the leader of the military wing of Hamas, news reports disclosed that the United States bombed a village in Afghanistan in an operation directed at a Taliban leader that instead killed 48 Afghan civilians at a wedding party. In both cases, flawed intelligence played a role in the tragic mistakes.
International law in general, and the law of armed conflict in particular, recognize that individuals who directly take part in hostilities cannot then claim immunity from attack or protection as innocent civilians. An individual who becomes a combatant, such as a terrorist who plans bombings and ambushes, is considered a combatant until hostilities come to an end, and is therefore a legitimate military target both when planning future attacks, and after these attacks have been committed.