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Targeted killings work (ISRAEL INSIDER COMMENTARY) By Sean Gannon 12/10/03)Source: http://web.israelinsider.com/bin/en.jsp?enPage=ViewsPage&enDisplay=view&enDispWhat=object&enDispWho=Article%5El3063&enZone=Views&enVersion=0& ISRAEL INSIDER ISRAEL INSIDER Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Focusing as it has done on the moral and legal issues involved, the torrent of criticism directed against targeted killings has been relatively easy to deflect. To kill people who are coming to kill you is to exercise an inalienable right of self-defense recognized by all but those who inhabit the most radically pacifist of moral universes. To deny Israel the right to target the known commanders of enemy forces engaged in an illegal terrorist war against it is absurd. But while the recent ´pilots´ letter´ has kept these issues alive, many of the opponents of targeted killings have shifted the emphasis of their argument to the policy´s effectiveness claiming, in Barak Barfi´s words, that "targeted killings simply don´t work. Rather than increasing Israel´s security, they only leave it vulnerable to more attacks."

This is simply untrue. Targeted killings cannot, of course, prevent each and every terrorist attack but there can be little doubt about the fact that, in undermining the operational capabilities of the Palestinian terrorist gangs, the policy does save lives. By keeping the terrorists on a constant state of alert for their own security, the policy leaves them less time, energy and resources to endanger that of their potential victims. As all of those whose names appear on the official "bank of targets" are well aware of their status as marked men they, instead of organizing and executing terrorist attacks, must as Ariel Sharon has pointed out, stay "busy protecting themselves." Whether this is achieved through living the life of a fugitive or seeking ´protective custody´ in Palestinian jails, the net result is a disruption of their activities which diminishes the threat which they pose to Israel.

Furthermore, while individual killings might sometimes appear to have limited impact, the cumulative effect of three years of targeted strikes against top and middle ranking terrorist operatives has had been considerable. As Ziad Abu Amr explained to the Washington Post in August 2001, just nine months after Israel resurrected the policy: "The lack of cadres affects the level of professionalism." Each organization has but a limited number of members with expertise in strategic planning, training techniques, tactical skills and weapons manufacture and their elimination seriously undermines their ability to conduct their murderous campaigns against Israel.

According to Michael Eisenstadt, security officials in Israel believe that targeted killings "may have depleted the ranks of the most experienced Palestinian planners, and caused Islamic Jihad and Hamas to rush what is usually a protracted, painstaking process that in the past took weeks, in order to prove that they remain in the fight." So- called ´work accidents,´ premature detonations in the field, the prevention of attacks by terrorists with inadequate disguise and the failure of some explosives´ belts to detonate, are all the result of an operational incompetence consequent on the depletion of the ´professional´ ranks.

The presence on board the Abu Hassan, the weapons ship captured in May, of Hizbullah´s explosives expert, Hamad Masalem Mussa Abu Amra, and the inclusion in the cargo of 36 instructional CDs on the preparation of explosives and execution of attacks was further evidence that the terrorists have suffered from a lack of expertise in these areas. For the fact that the Palestinians found it necessary to import such skills from abroad underlines the fact that they have become less available at home. As Israeli spokesman Ra´anan Gissin remarked at the time; "Many of the Palestinian experts are not with us anymore. We´ve taken them out one by one."

But the primary indicator of the success of Israel´s policy of targeted killings is the persistence with which the terrorists themselves demand that Jerusalem rescind it. The policy has been instrumental in pushing the Palestinian terrorist organizations towards ceasefire negotiations where the ending of assassinations always tops their list of demands. Fatah officials told Ariel Sharon in a meeting in January 2002 that this was their primary requirement while both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have at various times since September 2000 offered to cease operations inside the Green Line if Israel stopped targeting their leaders.

Hamas no. 2, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, boasted to the Jerusalem Post last January that "resistance to occupiers will be always be expensive, it will and does cost us a lot, but we are ready to accept that." But after the June attempt on his own life, he too began talking of hudna. As the commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigades in Jenin caustically observed one month later; "the man [Rantisi] got two rockets and immediately raised the white flag." And while he called off the hudna after the targeted killing of Ismail Abu Shanab on August 20th Rantisi, after sustained IDF strikes against his organization, turned to Egypt and the PA to revive it just two week later. And during the recent Cairo negotiations, the Islamists once again cited the end of assassinations as their main price of compliance with a ceasefire.

Mr. Barfi´s claim that targeted killings are not only ineffectual but actually counterproductive, that "rather than stopping or even decreasing attacks, these assassinations [are] the main catalysts for their escalation," also ignores the available evidence. Terrorist outrages presented as rapid retaliatory attacks for particular targeted strikes are frequently shown to have been much longer in the planning, the June 11th and August 19th Jerusalem bus bombings being cases in point. His claim also seems to suggest that the terrorists act only when goaded by Israel, ignoring the fact that security forces foil attempted attacks all the time, even when IDF activity in the territories is minimal. As former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh pointed out just months into the al-Aqsa war, "Islamic Jihad and others do not need excuses to carry out attacks since they are constantly trying to harm Israelis."

It is, therefore, difficult to see how the targeted killing of terrorists whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel through the massacre of its citizens can be said, in the final analysis, to cost Jewish lives. True, 59 innocents were horribly murdered in the wake of Israel´s assassination of Yehiyeh Ayyash but it should be remembered that he already ´engineered´ the murder of 50 Israelis and the wounding of a further 340 by the time of his death; Abdullah Kawasmeh had killed 35, Raed al-Karmi at least 9. Each was planning the murder of more.

One must also consider how many more Israelis would have been murdered had Mohammed Bishara made it inside the Green Line with the carload of explosives he was driving when he was targeted in June 2001? How many would have died in Omar Sa´adah´s planned attack on the Maccabiah Games, thwarted only by the rocket attack which killed him in Bethlehem one month later? How many were saved by the death of Salah Shehadeh, eliminated as he plotted what Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called a "mega-terror attack, perhaps the biggest ever against Israel?" How many were would have been killed with the weapons which Hamas´s Khadar al-Husari would have transferred to terrorists had he himself not been killed on September 1st?

The fact is that terrorism against Israel results, not from the deaths of such men, but from their hate-filled and murderous lives. To let them live is to let innocents die. (© 2001-2003 Koret Communications Ltd. 12/10/03)

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