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!