by Dr. Ronen Yitzhak
In June 2006, one of the world's most infamous terrorists, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was assassinated. Zarqawi headed al-Qaida's Iraqi branch and was responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks against Western and Arab targets.
Terrorist attacks, taking hostages, gruesome beheadings -- such was the norm in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The U.S., which set up the new government in Baghdad, kept the order and took on the responsibility of training new Iraqi security forces. The American administration launched a rigorous battle against Zarqawi-style terrorism, assassinating senior al-Qaida figures in Iraq, including ultimately Zarqawi himself.
The method of eliminating terrorist organization leaders is known by anybody working in Middle East intelligence. It has become acceptable practice in the Western war against terrorism. For this reason, it is imperative that Israel adopt such methods here and now. Assassination policy -- or "targeted killings," as it is called today -- had been part and parcel of the overall Israeli policy in the war against Palestinian terrorism. And it is the appropriate, correct way to settle the score with terrorist leaders.
The policy was adopted during the government of Prime Minister Golda Meir, after the September 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. At Meir's command, the leaders of the Black September group, which carried out the massacre, were eliminated, including the organization's commander Ali Hassan Salameh. As part of the Mossad's Operation Wrath of God, the heads of Black September were assassinated one by one in different locations worldwide, over several years, until the organization collapsed -- lacking any leadership -- toward the end of the 1970s.
The effectiveness of assassinating the leaders of terrorist groups was demonstrated during the Second Intifada, which claimed more than 1,000 Israeli lives. Initially, through measured and carefully considered steps, Israel only assassinated the leaders of Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. But for lack of any other option, and as the pride generated by terrorism swelled unchecked, Israel did not hesitate to begin assassinating the leaders of Hamas' political arm as well. Israel ceased to distinguish between the political and military arms. It held all leaders of the movement culpable for terrorism, which is precisely how the founder and spiritual leader of the movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was assassinated in March 2004, followed by Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi a month later.
Despite criticism and fears that these leaders' assassinations would ignite the Palestinian street, looking back, such fears proved false. Over time and with the new Hamas leadership's selection, the prevailing violence actually began to subside until it stopped altogether about a year later.
The assassination of Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip is a necessary measure. It is not an impossibility that Hamas will step up its terrorist activities and amplify violence in the West Bank to prove the ineffectiveness of such policy. But in the long term the ends will justify the means. Eliminating Hamas' field operatives, or the commanders of its military arm, will not suffice to overcome the terrorist threat, hence the need to eliminate the Hamas' leadership, without distinguishing between the military and political wings.
Only through assassinations such as these can Israel inflict serious damage, build deterrence, erode Hamas' people's morale and force them to flee as wanted men. Assassinations will demonstrate Israel's unwillingness to accept terrorism, and, following in the footsteps of other countries, Israel will make it perfectly clear that its goal is to pursue terrorists and eliminate them, wherever they are.
Dr. Ronen Yitzhak
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