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Targeting Double Standards on Targeted Killings :

I don't often agree with Alan Dershowitz. But he is absolutely right to note the double standards inherent in the near-universal praise for the the recent targeted killing of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi when contrasted with the near-universal condemnation of Israel's very similar targeting of top Hamas terrorists. Many of the same governments and organizations that now applaud the death of Zarqawi condemned the killing of Hamas' top leader Sheikh Yassin in 2004. Interestingly, Hamas itself has been consistent on the issue, and recently issued a statement praising Zarqawi and condemning his assassination (though of course they have no objection to the targeted killing of civilians by Zarqawi and by their own operatives).

In my view, targeting terrorist leaders is not only defensible, but actually more ethical than going after rank and file terrorists or trying to combat terrorism through purely defensive security measures. The rank and file have far less culpability for terrorist attacks than do their leaders, and killing them is less likely to impair terrorist operations. Purely defensive measures, meanwhile, often impose substantial costs on innocent people and may imperil civil liberties. Despite the possibility of collateral damage inflicted on civilians whom the terrorist leaders use as human shields, targeted assassination of terrorist leaders is less likely to harm innocents than most other strategies for combatting terror and more likely to disrupt future terrorist operations.

That does not prove that it should be the only strategy we use, but it does mean that we should reject condemnations of it as somehow immoral. Even more clearly, we should reject the double standards of those who claim that it is permissible to target Zarqawi but wrong for Israel to target equally odious Hamas leaders.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers!

Gabor (mail):
The rank and file have far less culpability for terrorist attacks than do their leaders, and killing them is less likely to impair terrorist operations.

This depends upon the level of immediate control exercised by the leaders. If the organization is an optimally functioning cell system -- which may or may not be the case here -- the removal of the leadership will have minimal impact on any actions already planned. In such a case, it is far more useful to capture the leadership rather than kill it.

When a terrorist organization is able to command volunteers for suicide missions at the lowest level, then it is far from clear to me that these fanatics are far less culpable than the leaders, who, in the present examples, appear to have far more respect for the hadith against suicide when it comes to their own self-preservation.
6.14.2006 9:26am
agesilaus:
Looking at the inept way the Iraqis are handling the Saddam Hussein trial it probably was better just to remove Zarqawi from the board. Otherwise he would have been in the news, everyday, for the next two or three years. A rally point for the terrorists and the democrats.

Also it took the US forces about a half hour to get to the house after the bombing, it would have taken them much longer to get there and to set up for a raid. He might have escaped during that period.

And there must have been considerable doubt that he would have given us any useful information. All in all, it's seems better that he is gone.
6.14.2006 9:36am
Closet Libertarian (www):
As long as the insurgents do not follow the rules of war, they do no get the benefits. Targeting a head of state of a generally lawful state is different from targeting the head of a terrorist organization.
6.14.2006 9:51am
DK:
I disagree - this is not at all the same as the Israeli target killings. News reports indicate that Zarqawi was given medical care by US forces after their arrival, and there are conflicting reports that either gunfire was exchanged before the bombing or that ground troops showed up after the bombing. All of these reports suggest that the Zarqawi killing was a military battle with the possibility of the enemy leader either escaping, being captured, or being killed. This is very different from a target killing which does not offer the possibility of capture or surrender.

I agree with you that targeted killings are justified, but, I don't think they are exactly the same as engaging hostile forces in battle.
6.14.2006 10:07am
Isaac (www):
When ground troops fight their way in, the probability of collateral damages increases. Surrender and arrest are options best offered to targets who don't surround themselves with civillians. Like Closet Libertarian said above, once you endanger civillians by abandoning the conventions of war, you lose the conventions' protections when it becomes necessary to remove you from the field.
6.14.2006 10:18am
DDWWBB (mail):


When most critics attack Israel for using indiscriminate force they do not mean indiscriminate force relative to their military objective, which would be a rather hard charge to pin on Israel. Rather what they mean is indiscriminate force relative to the political platform of withdrawal from the territories. I find it extraordinarily frustrating when the phrase "indiscriminate force" is used without a narrow and specific objective.
6.14.2006 10:22am
Isaac (www):
I suspect you're giving "most critics" too much credit. The difficulty of pinning a charge on Israel in sober, informed discussion doesn't necessarily have any bearing on most critics' willingness to level it in the first place.
6.14.2006 10:30am
agesilaus:
There is nothing new about this anyway, we intentionaly killed Yamamoto during WWII and the Brits did their best to kill Rommel in 1941.

And the Israelis should think about targeting any large group of Hamas functionaries, a meeting of the legislature for example.
6.14.2006 10:30am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
DK, regardless of whether there was a gunfight after the troops got there (and I doubt there was), they did, and this is a fact, target Zarqawi in an airstrike, with the intent of assasinating him. Whether or not they had to squeeze a few more triggers does not change the principle of the thing.
6.14.2006 10:49am
Dan28 (mail):
As long as Israel continues it's occupation of the West Bank, in defiance of the will of more or less every other nation in the world, virtually all of their military actions will be internationally condemned no matter how otherwise justified.

I'm not sure that is fair, of course, but I do believe it is inevitable.
6.14.2006 10:59am
SteveX (mail):
What is the relevant international law in the case of two warring states? E.g., if we had somehow managed to drop a 500-lb bomb through Hitler's bedroom window in 1943, would that have been a legitimate act of war? Or is the head of state "off limits", and only military leaders are legitimate targets (Yamamoto)? What if the head of state is a military leader (Manuel Noriega in Panama, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, or whats-his-name, the Argentine general during the Falklands war)?

Seems to me that the most moral strategy given that you're already in a war is to win it with as few casualties on either side as possible. That in turn argues for targeting the other side's leadership, as high up as possible. The grunts on the other side's front line have no power to stop the war; only the emperor/fuerher/dictator can do that. If we had managed to assassinate the top twenty or so Nazis within a week, any time after 1942, the European war would have been over pretty quickly.
6.14.2006 11:02am
Freder Frederson (mail):
There is a huge difference in the two killings, and if you can't see the difference you are being purposefully obtuse and disingenuous.

There is no doubt Israel has a serious problem with Islamic terrorism, but it has and continues to deal with that problem as a law enforcement and legal issue, both in Israel proper and the occupied territories. But to say that the level of violence in Israel is even comparable to the in Iraq is just ridiculous. Israel has a functioning and effective justice system, Iraq does not. It regularly captures terrorists, tries them in civilian courts and sends them to prison for defined prison terms (not until the "war against terror" ends). When it resorts to extralegal means by targeting leaders of terrorist organizations for assasination, especially when such crude methods as missiles and bombs are used that kill innocent bystanders, is a violation of all the principles of a country that believe in the rule of law. Whether or not the criminals "play by the rules" doesn't even enter into it.

By comparison, as much as the right and the President may pretend otherwise, Iraq is still a country at war (the security is so bad there, the President didn't even tell the Prime Minister of Iraq that he was coming until five minutes before he showed up). As I noted in an earlier thread, while it may be illegal to deliberately target the legitimate civlian leaders of sovereign nations in times of war, Zarqawi was no such thing. He was a leader of a guerilla movement, and as a foreigner, couldn't even claim to be a legal combatant under Geneva. He was a legitimate target for military attack. The only complaint I could see even the most hardcore anti-war leftist making is did the U.S. do everything possible to minimize the possibility of collateral damage. And that is even pretty weak, since I doubt that Zarqawi would have been taken alive and any civilians in that house would have been killed regardless.
6.14.2006 11:03am
Isaac (www):
... and as long as Israel conducts military operations that are subject to condemnation by more or less every other nation in the world, its retention of the West Bank will inevitably continue to be internationally condemned no matter how otherwise justified. :)
6.14.2006 11:05am
Isaac (www):
(My comment was in response to Dan28, above.)
6.14.2006 11:07am
Medis:
Following SteveX, I think at least a practical issue arises when the target is not just a military leader, but also a public figure of some broader sort. Regardless of the immediate military benefits and legality of such an action, it may have unintended negative consequences depending on how people react.
6.14.2006 11:32am
jrose:
Ilya,

Is it morally OK for Hamas to target Israeli leaders? Is it morally OK for al Qaeda to target US or Iraqi leaders? How do you distinguish all of these cases?
6.14.2006 11:43am
Jeek:
When it resorts to extralegal means by targeting leaders of terrorist organizations for assasination, especially when such crude methods as missiles and bombs are used that kill innocent bystanders, is a violation of all the principles of a country that believe in the rule of law.

So in your view, is "Israeli rule of law" supposed to operate in Gaza? Were the Israelis supposed to go into Gaza, arrest those two militants, return them to Israel, and put them on trial? Just curious...

I guess I'm just obtuse, but I don't understand how those two Hamas militants can possibly not be viewed as a legitimate target for military attack, just as Zarqawi was.
6.14.2006 11:51am
Freder Frederson (mail):
So in your view, is "Israeli rule of law" supposed to operate in Gaza? Were the Israelis supposed to go into Gaza, arrest those two militants, return them to Israel, and put them on trial? Just curious...

The situation in Gaza is untenable and your implication is correct, an attempt to arrest any Hamas leaders in Gaza would most likely end in failure. However, that does not legitimate the extralegal assasination of Hamas or other terrorist organization leaders, especially when the method used are almost guaranteed to kill innocent bystanders. I might be more inclined to support methods that were less destructive (e.g., sniper attacks), but bombings and missile attacks are completely unjustified.

Besides, have they really done any good? It seems all they do is create martyrs and inflame hatred Israel among the Palestinians as well as the rest of the world. The solution to the Palestinian problem is no closer to being solved than it was forty years ago, and the situation worse today than it has been in more than twenty years (which of course I blame Bush for).
6.14.2006 12:05pm
Houston Lawyer:
I rember the Israelis landing a comando team in Egypt several years back to take out a senior militant at his home. Everyone knew that the Israelis did it because they came into his house, rounded up his family and then left without killing any innocents. So I believe that they try to spare the innocents when possible, not that they get any credit for it.

I don't know how they square their no death penalty laws with targeted killings.
6.14.2006 12:26pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

Is it morally OK for Hamas to target Israeli leaders? Is it morally OK for al Qaeda to target US or Iraqi leaders? How do you distinguish all of these cases?


You really don't. Hamas is at war with Israel, according to its charter. Given that, they are, as a combatant, justified in attacking the head of their enemy, absolutely. But with that said, you do have to draw a distinction between civilian and military, e.g., Hamas may be "justified" in attacking Shaul Mofaz, but not, say, the Education Minister.

What it boils down to is that war is brutal, and the longer it lasts, the more brutal it is. Efficiency, i.e., killing the head, will usually reduce net brutality.
6.14.2006 12:26pm
Steve White (mail) (www):
Freder, your logic suggests that there is a difference based on the state of war: like it or not, the U.S. is at war in Iraq, whereas Israel is not at war with the Palestinians. This beggars belief: anyone with a sense of history understands that Israel and the Palestinians have been at war since (at least) 1948. That war has sometimes been low-intensity, sometimes all-out, but there has never been any sort of true peace. To claim that the Palestinians can't be 'at war' because they don't have a legitimate government (until recently) is to split hairs. The Israelis see their citizens dying from an outside group of armed, dangerous people. That's war, regardless of the nicieties of international law.

One simply cannot claim that the Israelis are required to fight with one arm tied while Hamas is not similarly constrained (the latter, of course, demands the destruction of the former). If you insist that this is not 'war', then I must insist in return that whatever it is, the Israelis retain the right to find and kill the leaders of the people trying to kill them.
6.14.2006 12:32pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
This beggars belief: anyone with a sense of history understands that Israel and the Palestinians have been at war since (at least) 1948. That war has sometimes been low-intensity, sometimes all-out, but there has never been any sort of true peace. To claim that the Palestinians can't be 'at war' because they don't have a legitimate government (until recently) is to split hairs. The Israelis see their citizens dying from an outside group of armed, dangerous people. That's war, regardless of the nicieties of international law.

Actually, splitting hairs is what the law is all about. And as I stated above, even at the worst periods of unrest in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper, the situation has never been as dire as it currently is in Iraq. Something like 1400 bodies were delivered to the Bagdhad morgue in May. There is a full scale war occurring in Iraq along with complete lawlessness. Even the Iraqi police are of questionable loyalty. To compare the Iraqi government to the stable, functioning Israeli government is just ridiculous.
6.14.2006 12:43pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Freder, you are missing the forest for the trees. The relevant common thread is the existence, acknowledged or not, of a (low intensity) conflict in both Gaza and Iraq. The other relevant common thread is that both Zarqawi and Yassin were, to use a neutral, if inaccurate word, "militant" leaders, whose existence, if allowed to continue would be a threat. In both cases, the big rationale is incapacitation.

I'm sure you can find 1000 other distinctions. Maybe Yassin was killed on a Tuesday, and Zarqawi on a Thursday? The point is that your distinctions do not mandate different conclusions.
6.14.2006 12:51pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Actually, splitting hairs is what the law is all about. And as I stated above, even at the worst periods of unrest in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper, the situation has never been as dire as it currently is in Iraq. Something like 1400 bodies were delivered to the Bagdhad morgue in May.

Freder,

The law is not all about splitting hairs. It is also about defining relevant issues. Assuming for the sake of argument that your statistic is true, is the body count the relevant issue? Suppose Palestinian suicide bombers can only kill 14 or 140 Israelis, with Israel having to devote extraordinary resources to keeping even more out. Does this convey moral or legal protection on those who dispatch them? What is the relevant issue?

Israel has pulled out of Gaza. Hamas, which controls Gaza, refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist, or of its citizens to live there. It continues to shoot rockets at Israel and to send fighters not in uniform to kill Israeli civilians. Freder-- what may the state of Israel legitimately do to defend its citizens against Hamas and its leadership?
6.14.2006 12:56pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Freder, you are missing the forest for the trees. The relevant common thread is the existence, acknowledged or not, of a (low intensity) conflict in both Gaza and Iraq.

Are you really describing the conflict in Iraq as low intensity? If so, you are missing the deep intractable jungle for the sylvan glade. It is hardly a "low intensity" conflict when it has cost the U.S. over 20,000 casulties and the Iraqis and untold number. When the president can't even tell the prime minister he is visiting until he is already on the ground of a supposedly sovereign country. Can you imagine the Foreign head of state showing up at the White House unannounced, the State Department not even being advised of his travel plans.
6.14.2006 1:01pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Freder, I was under the impression you had been in the military. You should really know what a low intensity conflict is. Cue Wiki:


Low intensity conflict (LIC) is an armed conflict, usually between a regular army or law enforcement and non-regular armed militias (terror organization, guerrilla fighters, gangs, rioters etc). The term LIC is used to describe a violent conflict which is not a war—more precisely, not a full-scale war between two armies of organized states.

I'm not saying that the level of fighting in Iraq and Gaza is on the same scale, but they are both at the end of the day LIC.
6.14.2006 1:06pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Freder, I was under the impression you had been in the military.

I have never been in the military. I have worked for them as a civilian contractor and my wife is Active Duty Army (currently in Kuwait). I never want to give the impression that I was in the military.

While it might comfort you to call Iraq a LIC, which I guess by a strict textbook definition it is, calling it that is bordering on ludicrous as it is bordering on a full scale civil war.
6.14.2006 1:13pm
o' connuh j.:
Freder is hilariously all over the place as usual.

but it has and continues to deal with that problem as a law enforcement and legal issue, both in Israel proper and the occupied territories.


Nonsense. The IDF is not military? Targetting militants isn't a military operation? On the one hand you say Israel mounts "extra-legal" military ops. On the other hand you claim it is a problem of "law enforcement" exclusively. Self contradictory babble. Make up your mind.

But to say that the level of violence in Israel is even comparable to the in Iraq is just ridiculous.


Who said that? No one.

Further, aren't confused anti-war types like you eager to point out that Zarqawi was typically responsible for no more than a small percentage of insurgent activity? Now suddenly ALL the deaths in Iraq are attributable to him?

Oops, sounds like self-contradictory babble again.

Israel has a functioning and effective justice system, Iraq does not.


Nor do the Territories. Your argument collapses.

But wait - the US has a functioning and effective justice system as well, so how come your analogy is inapposite? I wonder.
6.14.2006 1:13pm
o' connuh j.:
I'm sure you can find 1000 other distinctions. Maybe Yassin was killed on a Tuesday, and Zarqawi on a Thursday? The point is that your distinctions do not mandate different conclusions.


Exactly. Laughable non sequiturs and point missing hand-waving galore. Maybe he is just being deliberately obtuse, so it's ok.
6.14.2006 1:18pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Further, aren't confused anti-war types like you eager to point out that Zarqawi was typically responsible for no more than a small percentage of insurgent activity? Now suddenly ALL the deaths in Iraq are attributable to him?

Did I say that? Don't think so. All I said was that he was a legitimate military target.

But to say that the level of violence in Israel is even comparable to the in Iraq is just ridiculous.

Maybe nobody said it explicitly, but Ilya's original argument was that the two situations couldn't be distinguished, so it seemed to me that his argument was just that.

But wait - the US has a functioning and effective justice system as well, so how come your analogy is inapposite? I wonder.

Well, if Zarqawi was holed up in a house in a U.S. territory, say Puerto Rico, I might be a little more upset about dropping two 500 lb bombs on him than I am in an active combat zone in Iraq. The status of Gaza and the West Bank are now so hopelessly confused, especially after the election of the Hamas government, that it is hard to discuss its status vis a vis Israel and sovereignty.
6.14.2006 1:23pm
Medis:
Without attempting to compare Iraq to Gaza and the West Bank, it does seem to me that the magnitude and intensity of the conflict in question is relevant to questions such as what amount of incidental killing and injury can be justified.
6.14.2006 1:29pm
o' connuh j.:
Maybe nobody said it explicitly, but Ilya's original argument was that the two situations couldn't be distinguished, so it seemed to me that his argument was just that.


Nobody said it, period.

Just as nobody said Zarqawi and Yassin were killed on the same day either - so what? Is your response then to say, Welp, Ilya said they couldn't be distinguished, but in reality they were killed on different days (a fine but critical distinction!).

You invoke a straw-man, pretend it has relevance, then proceed to knock it down. Absurd logic.

Well, if Zarqawi was holed up in a house in a U.S. territory, say Puerto Rico, I might be a little more upset about dropping two 500 lb bombs on him than I am in an active combat zone in Iraq. The status of Gaza and the West Bank are now so hopelessly confused, especially after the election of the Hamas government, that it is hard to discuss its status vis a vis Israel and sovereignty.


LOL! In other words you can't understand how Israel (the occupying forces) and the USA (occupying forces) are held to different standards when both have carried out targetted assassinations in the territories they occupy. Which was Ilya's point to begin with. QED, pal.
6.14.2006 1:36pm
o' connuh j.:
Medis, yes. The question of proportionality. But Freder nowhere argues the relevance, nor does he show that Al Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for all or most of insurgent attacks in Iraq (some estimates place it at "a small fraction" or 10% of the operations that were ever attributed to him).
6.14.2006 1:46pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
LOL! In other words you can't understand how Israel (the occupying forces) and the USA (occupying forces) are held to different standards when both have carried out targetted assassinations in the territories they occupy. Which was Ilya's point to begin with. QED, pal.

First of all, the U.S. is no longer an "occupying force" in Iraq. Officially it ceased that function when the new government took over.

Secondly, Israel's status in the occupied territories is much more complicated than being simply an "occupying force" under international law.

Ilya's original post was rather disingenuous because he claims he can't distinguish between Israel's targeted killings and that of Zarqawi. If a law professor at a top tier law school really can't see any substansive difference between the two situations and at least acknowledge the distinction, even if he believes Israel's policies are legally justified, I really doubt the quality of scholarship at our law schools.
6.14.2006 1:49pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

First of all, the U.S. is no longer an "occupying force" in Iraq. Officially it ceased that function when the new government took over.

I know and you know that you know better. Just because locals are responsible for keeping some of the order, does not mean we are not in fact an occupying force.



Ilya's original post was rather disingenuous because he claims he can't distinguish between Israel's targeted killings and that of Zarqawi. If a law professor at a top tier law school really can't see any substansive difference between the two situations and at least acknowledge the distinction, even if he believes Israel's policies are legally justified, I really doubt the quality of scholarship at our law schools.

That's one conclusion you could draw. (Just as dubiously), one can conclude that since a professor at a top tier law school finds no distinction between Yassin and Zarkman, the quality of scholarship among ex-civilian contractors with deployed spouses should be called into question.
6.14.2006 2:09pm
Medis:
o' connuh j.,

Again, I'm not taking a stand on the merits of the comparison. But it does seem to me that Ilya's post doesn't do much to acknowledge that the moral propriety of attacking terrorist leaders in this fashion may depend on the wider circumstances.

For example, Ilya says: "Despite the possibility of collateral damage inflicted on civilians whom the terrorist leaders use as human shields, targeted assassination of terrorist leaders is less likely to harm innocents than most other strategies for combatting terror and more likely to disrupt future terrorist operations."

As I think we agree, Ilya is making a relevant point, but this very logic implies that the degree to which we can morally justify "collateral damage inflicted on civilians" depends on things like the magnitude and intensity of the terrorist operations we will disrupt as a result.

Accordingly, I think Ilya's penultimate conclusion is too broad. He says: "That does not prove that it should be the only strategy we use, but it does mean that we should reject condemnations of it as somehow immoral."

The more accurate conclusion would be that these strategies may or may not be immoral, but that can depend on things like whether we have an adequate justification for the incidental killings and injurings of civilians.

Which, finally, makes Ilya's ultimate conclusion too hasty. He says: "Even more clearly, we should reject the double standards of those who claim that it is permissible to target Zarqawi but wrong for Israel to target equally odious Hamas leaders."

But it may or may not be a "double standard". In particular, it might be the same standard being applied in light of different circumstances.

Or not--again, I'm not taking a stand on that issue. I just don't think that Ilya can make such an argument in the abstract.
6.14.2006 2:10pm
o' connuh j.:
First of all, the U.S. is no longer an "occupying force" in Iraq.


Nor Israel in Gaza. The targetted assassinations there should be hunky dory then. But they aren't, which was the point, again.

Of course, the Palestinians can claim till they are blue in the face that Israel (or Iraqi insurgents of the US for that matter) is still an 'occupying force' in Gaza, but that doesn't change one whit of the fact that the IDF and Israel no longer have a presence in those territories to qualify as 'occupying' them.

As for your last paragraph about Ilya not being able to see the "substantive difference", welp, I confess that I am mystified as well, as your explanations are anything but coherent.
6.14.2006 2:12pm
DK:
I don't think I've ever agreed with Freder before, but he is right this time, and I'm surprised fewer people see it. I think target killings ARE justified but I think it is confusing and disingenous to say they are analogous to the Zarqawi killing.

Zarqawi is a MILITARY commander, with deep involvement in actual fighting, including videotapes of him killing people! He lacks even the fig leaf of political cover that Gerry Adams and Sheikh Yassin have. IMHO, killing Zarqawi is analagous to firing a depth charge at a U-boat. Are you trying to kill people when you fire a depth charge? Yes. Does that make it assassination? No. It is combat against a military target.

The difference with Israel's targeted killings is that they explicitly target people who at least claim to be political rather than military leaders, and who are not known to have recently participated in combat, and who have some evidence of potential political/electoral support. Is this justified? Well, I think so, but I think reasonable people can disagree, since many reasonable people think targeted killings only perpetuate a cycle of retributive violence.
6.14.2006 2:58pm
BGates (mail) (www):
While it might comfort you to call Iraq a LIC, which I guess by a strict textbook definition it is, calling it that is bordering on ludicrous as it is bordering on a full scale civil war.

It's all about splitting hairs, Freder.
6.14.2006 3:33pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Despite the claims of Hamas leaders to only be involved in peaceful activities Israel at least claims to only kill individuals involved in the planning and organization of terrorist plots. Now I don't know if this is true or not but until I see evidence otherwise I don't think it is fair to assume that the israeli attacks are so different than the Zarqawi attack in this regard. Moreover, just like the israeli targeted assainations our attacks on people like Zarqawi end up killing innocent civilians (even if they didn't this time) and otherwise seem very comparable. Thus if one was going to critisize israel because they used an unacceptable tactic I think Ilya has it right, this argument would be very hard to square with support for the Zarqawi killing.

However, I don't think this is the best argument one can come up with against Israel's targed killings. While it may be the way people argue for the illegality of Israel's actions it seems to me that the 'legal' issues are more of a distraction than a help in this case. Unlike in well developed legal systems violating international law isn't considered an automatic bad, I believe the NATO intervention in Bosnia violated international law but if I'm mistaken the point stands that people decide whether they find an action good or bad and then if they don't like it use international law as a way to critisize it. Moreover, the way international law is used in these situations disgusts me. I agree with Freder about the important of technicalities, but, as we have seen with previous posts here these technicalities make the israeli palestinian conflict very murky (does the land count as government land or privately owned land etc.. etc..).

So putting aside the legal questions I think someone could make a very good case that Israel's targed assasinations simply do more harm than good. Israel has been engaging in this policy for many years and it doesn't seem to have stopped the bombings nor is it clear it has even reduced them. The palestinian resistance organizations are simply too strong and too large for these strikes to do really serious harm to their capabilities. Thus, one could argue, the main purpose of the strikes is to get vengence and vent Israeli anger. In fact one might even claim that these strikes further stir up palestinian sentiments and thus block a future peace deal.

The situation in Iraq with Zarqawi is quite different. Zarqawi is a singular sort of figurehead whose continued presence was a major PR victory for the insurgents. Unlike in Palestine, rather than further angering most of the people Zarqawi's death was cause for great celebration and arguably increased confidence in the american's/Iraqi government's ability to keep the peace. Besides, the israeli's have been at this for years without ending the violence (though the wall whatever its problems does seem to be helping) it is reasonable for us to at least try and see if it works.

In short while I'm not convinced one could certainly argue differences in the situations make killing Zarqawi justified but Israeli assasinations merely further the cycle of violence. Maybe someone with more evidence can shed more light on the truth of the later claim.
6.14.2006 3:34pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I believe the NATO intervention in Bosnia violated international law

I think you are referring to Kosovo, In Bosnia NATO was invited in pursuant to the Dayton accords.
6.14.2006 3:44pm
Tom952 (mail):
I don't often agree with Alan Dershowitz. But he is absolutely right to note the double standards inherent

Why not wait for someone else to make the point, and then continue to ignore Dershowitz?
6.14.2006 3:50pm
Mark F. (mail):
So, what would people think if George Bush dropped a 500 pound bomb in Manhatttan to kill one suspected terorist and ended up killing some civilian bystanders and destroying a few buildings?
6.14.2006 3:51pm
o' connuh j.:
Essentially, that was what the Russians did during the Moscow theatre siege, except with poison gas. Some concern, a little bit of alarm, but not much outrage as I recall.
6.14.2006 4:02pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
DK,

So if Zarqawi had claimed to be a political leader we wouldn't have been OK? But didn't he in fact claim just that? Does Zarqawi even make a distinction between political and military leadership? Does Hamas?

No, the Israelis are targeting military leaders.

logicnazi,

Israel has been engaging in this policy for many years and it doesn't seem to have stopped the bombings nor is it clear it has even reduced them.

Well, it's clear to me that it dramatically reduced them. And I believe it is clear to the Israeli government as well:
Dagan has apparently shifted much of Mossads efforts towards targeted killing of key terrorist leaders and technicians. This has been credited with sharply reducing the number of attacks, and Israeli victims. While about 150 Palestinian terrorists (and 60 bystanders) have been killed by the targeted killing operations, Palestinian terrorist attacks have been cut by over two thirds in the same two year period. Many senior Palestinian terrorist leaders have been leaving the Palestinian territories, but Dagans agents have now started killing these Palestinians in foreign countries. This happened in the past, but the Israelis stopped it once peace talks began producing results with the Palestinians in the early 1990s. But thats all history now, and the hunt for terrorists is world wide.

Dagan has opposition in the Mossad to this hunter/killer campaign. The Mossad has had to suffer hostility from foreign governments (who dont care to have Israeli hit men, and women, stalking terrorists outside Israel), and the enormous expense (in people, money and diplomatic clout) to run these operations. So Dagan has cleaned house (200 of Mossads 2,000 people have left in the last two years, including seven senior officials), and is hiring aggressively to find and train people for the new, kick-ass/eye-for-an-eye, Mossad.

Critics in the Mossad, and at large, say this is all being done at the expense of the Mossads traditional spying and analysis functions. That may be true, but at the moment, most Israelis are more concerned with stopping terrorist attacks. Hunting down and killing terrorist leaders appears to do that.
A two-thirds cut in terrorist attacks is pretty strong evidence to me. Please note the date - November 22, 2004 - before the wall went up. StrategyPage is an excellent source for informaiton about all things military.

Yours,
Wince
6.14.2006 4:08pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Essentially, that was what the Russians did during the Moscow theatre siege, except with poison gas. Some concern, a little bit of alarm, but not much outrage as I recall.

Not much outrage!? Is that how you remember the Moscow theatre siege aftermath. It seems there was nothing but outrage and complaints about how badly Russian security forces bungled the operation.
6.14.2006 4:16pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
It is hardly a "low intensity" conflict when it has cost the U.S. over 20,000 casulties and the Iraqis and untold number.

After 38 months, the casualty totals begin to approach those suffered in ten hours on Sept. 17, 1862, at Antietam, or about half the losses in three days at Gettsburg.
6.14.2006 4:44pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
After 38 months, the casualty totals begin to approach those suffered in ten hours on Sept. 17, 1862, at Antietam, or about half the losses in three days at Gettsburg.

Correction, American casulties are reaching levels experienced in those two horrendous battles. Is this meant to make us happy that we don't fight such bloody battles anymore or sad we are not willing to throw away human life so needlessly?

The U.S. has purposely not counted or reported Iraqi casulties (except when it suits them), offering varying explanations for not doing so. The absolute indisputable minimum number of Iraqi deaths directly attributable to acts of war or terror(that is documented, verified, deaths reported in western media) is approaching 40,000. The actual number is probably several times higher and doesn't include the excess deaths caused by the general lawlessness, lack of medical care and disease. The casulty rate among Iraqis, both civilians and participants in the war, is probably heartbreaking.
6.14.2006 6:40pm
o' connuh j.:
Sorry, I don't recall a withering amount of criticism from foreign governments, the UN, etc. As I said, there was alarm and concern, but not a lot of outrage (the view seemed to be that it was the only way to free the hostages without setting off explosives). I may be wrong, mists of time and all that.
6.14.2006 7:25pm
Just an Observer:
I have noted a large shift in the general body of opinion in the country toward such targeted killing operations.

During the last years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the CIA operated the Phoenix Program, which essentially consisted of paramilitary ambush or similar "special operations" designed to kill strategically identified Viet Cong or NVA officers.

Phoenix, when it became known, was widely denounced as an "assassination program." I recall thinking at the time that although I opposed the war, I could not see a significantly increased moral violation just because we knew the names of the persons we were trying to kill.

By contrast, the aftermath of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have involved highly-publicized missions to kill individual enemy leaders. Public opinion is generally very supportive, even as the Iraq war becomes less popular.
6.14.2006 8:01pm
Enoch:
The difference with Israel's targeted killings is that they explicitly target people who at least claim to be political rather than military leaders, and who are not known to have recently participated in combat, and who have some evidence of potential political/electoral support. Is this justified?

Palestinian militant killed in Gaza raid

Palestinian militants vowed today to avenge Israel's assassination of the Hamas government's top security chief... The security chief, Jamal Abu Samhadana, was a key player in ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel... Abu Samhadana, 43, was an explosives expert and a suspect in the fatal 2003 bombing of a US convoy in the Gaza Strip.


This guy is a "civilian political leader"? Hmmmm. Sounds like a valid military target to me, if ever there was one.
6.14.2006 8:08pm
Ron Weiner (mail):
Israel has been engaging in this policy for many years and it doesn't seem to have stopped the bombings nor is it clear it has even reduced them.

This is the same fallacy that attempts to charactize the nature of the danger to Israel by the number of deaths of Israeli civilians.

For every "successful" terrorist attack, there are literally 100s of attempts. In addition to the horrible deaths and maimings they've suffered, Israelis has been forced to change their way of life to keep that number as low as they can. Israel is as moral as any fighting force in the history of the world at minimizing civilian casualties.

What critics do not understand (or tendentiously ignore) is that terrorists INTENTIONALLY place themselves in areas that are crawling with civilians to (1) protect themselves, the wusses and (2) to make Israel look ruthless. Terrorists in Iraq do a similar thing to coalition forces. Neither Israel nor the U.S. has anything to apoplogize for.

For more information on the staggering lies of the Palestinians, aided by gullible media and abetted by media collaboration, see
6.15.2006 1:06pm
Ron Weiner (mail):
Sorry. That link is to this enlightening video.
6.15.2006 1:10pm
Seamus (mail):

So, what would people think if George Bush dropped a 500 pound bomb in Manhatttan to kill one suspected terorist and ended up killing some civilian bystanders and destroying a few buildings?



You mean the way the Philadelphia PD burnt down a city block to get rid of the folks from M.O.V.E.?
6.15.2006 1:55pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Specifically attacking leaders on a battle field is a time honored tactic.

We have elevated it to a strategy.
6.16.2006 1:13am