Targeted killings as a counter-insurgency strategy: Part 3

Alex continues his examination of the impact of Israel’s sanctioned targeted killings…

With the beginning of the second intifada the nature, the frequency and magnitude of Israel’s targeted killings (TKs) changed dramatically. Whereas before the insurgency Israel’s TKs against Islamists were covert operations conducted by the secret service, now that Israel was facing a wave of deadly suicide bombings the army itself adopted TKs as a strategy to subdue Hamas. Consequently, the armed forces were sent on a mission to ‘terrorize the terrorists’ with the weapons they had at their disposal. “The main downside of helicopter attacks was that such operations did not allow Israel any deniability. For this reason, Israel claimed responsibility for all helicopter assassinations while remaining mute in most cases on which activists were gunned down in the middle of the street or by long-range sniper bullets.

The first major operation against a high-profile Hamas target was launched in 2002. In that particular case the Israeli airforce dropped a one-ton bomb on a building in Gaza City which had been serving as a shelter for the leader of Hamas’ armed wing. The attack resulted in the collapse of the entire building and killed 14 Palestinians, including Salah Shehade, his wife and 9 children. The response was retributive suicide bombings, as well as wide-spread international condemnation which not only damaged Israel’s reputation, but boosted the popularity of the Hamas.

During the latter period of the intifada Israel put Hamas’ spiritual and political leaders on its death list. One factor that certainly fostered the decision to target these leaders was that after Sharon’s declaration of disengagement from Palestinian territories, Israel was confronted with the loss of crucial intelligence sources. Hence it is likely that the Sharon government, encouraged by popular backing, hurried in orders to make the most of this closing window of opportunity. Between the summer of 2004 and the spring buy generic doxycycline 100mg 2005, the core leadeship of Hamas, including Ismail Abu Shanab, And Aziz Rantisi, and Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, were assassinated. All three operations were conducted with the use of the air-force, missiles or bombs that tore the Hamas leaders and bystanders to pieces.

Nevertheless, from a Realist perspective the adoption of the strategy benefited Israel’s national interest: firstly, a majority of Israelis supported these killings no matter what effect they had on Palestinian public opinion; and secondly, scholars have convincingly demonstrated that the constant application of TKs impaired Hamas to an extent that decreased the frequency of attacks in the mid-term and prompted its remaining leaders to negotiate with Israelis. This highlights that the deterence associated with the use of TKs has at least partially fulfilled its promise. It reaffirms the Realist hypothesis that: “constant elimination of their leaders leave terrorist organizations in a state of confusion and disarray. Those next in line for succession take a long time to step into their predecessors’ shoes. They know that by choosing to take the lead, they add their names to Israel’s target list, where life is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short.”

The third and main benefit of the strategy was that it obviated the need for other more costly means of subduing Hamas. TKs have in fact proved to be a more surgical and efficient application of warfare than, for instance, full-scale military operations that potentially cause more casualties among soldiers and non-combatants – which obviously has an even more negative effect on both domestic and international public opinion. To make possible a gradual withdrawal of its troops from the Gaza strip without jeopardizing its own security, Israel had to inflict maximum impairment on Hamas’ operational capabilities. Thus, the effectiveness of the TKs facilitated a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza strip. So if anything, Israel failed to kill enough Hamas leaders.


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Alex Beck 8 Articles
Alex is a history student from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is of German-Iranian descent and has written about foreign policy analysis and strategic studies.

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