Sunday, August 21, 2005

Should Israel Assassinate Terrorist Leaders? III

Sorry it took so long, but I've been very busy over the last few days, and will continue to be over the next few days as well. So here's my response:

Note: I did not read the comments on DovBear's blog, so some of these arguments might have already been offered.

DovBear argued that Israel should not continue their policy of assassinations. He listed four major reasons, all of which are either incorrect or misleading.

1) Assassinations are counterproductive.

He gives two reasons:

a) They only radicalize the Palestinians population, thereby increasing the ranks of the terrorists.

I do not deny that assassinations, at least the public ones, are easily used as recruiting tools to convince 18 years olds to detonate bombs in markets. But more than just the desire to kill Israelis is needed. A successful attack requires planning, training, and intelligence. Those three elements are provided by the leadership, whether on the local level, or at the highest ranks of the organization. So while taking out the leadership might increase the number of soldiers, without commanders we have a situation of too many sheep and not enough shepherds.

b) Assassinations violate due process laws and run contrary to a just legal system. Israel's enemies can then use those violations as evidence that Israel is immoral.

This argument misses the point. Assassinations are not punishments, at least not when forward looking. They are military actions taken by an army in accordance with the rules of warfare. An army can attack combatants without affording them due process rights. This is a point he misses throughout his analysis.

The fact that Palestinian propagandists wish to twist the situation to fit their agenda is irrelevant. The IDF should carry out a legitimate military plan and let the PR people worry about how to deal with propaganda.

This statement, by the way, was a little sensational:

"How can Israel claim to be morally superior to the Palestinians if they both play by the same rules?"

Play by the same rules? Even if we assumed that Israel was punishing terrorists without due process, that hardly compares to blowing up civilians, including children, due process or not.

2) Assassinations violate international, Israeli, and American law.

All three positions are wrong.

a) The sole evidence of a breach of Israeli law is Israel's lack of capital punishment. Well, actually that's not exactly true. Israel does have the death penalty, but only applies it in extreme circumstances (Adolph Eichmann). So in theory there's no law prohibiting the application of the death penalty to terrorists.

Of course this argument misses the point. Assassinations are not punishments.

b) International law does not prohibit assassinations. DovBear cites the Geneva Conventions, but as I've noted earlier, the conventions do not apply to Israel in the territories. But even if we assume they did apply, Article 3(d) only applies to punishments carried out against civilians. Assassination is not a punishment.

DovBear also argues that "[t]he killing of innocent non-combatant violates international norms and laws," and therefore any action that creates collateral damage is proscribed. This argument is obviously false. International law only requires that combatants minimize the risk of civilian casualties. No system of law that regulates war could outlaw all conduct that creates the risk of civilian injuries.

c) American law does not speak on this issue. The Code cited authorizes use of force for "legitimate self-defense." Responding to attacks by combatants does not constitute legitimate self-defense?

Although a side point, DovBear misconstrues Israel's policy.

He argues, "Israel's policy of extrajudicial killings, [is] designed to eliminate religious and political leaders...." Israel has attacked both religious and political leaders of Islamic terrorist organizations. But these groups do not properly differentiate between their political, military, and religious branches. Every facet of the organization is involved, often directly, in facilitating terrorist attacks. All are therefore fair game under the laws of war.

3) Assassinations are dangerous because they grant commanders too much power, and that power can be abused.

This argument can be made against any use of force. Majority of the IDF's actions are decided by local commanders. Why don't we assume that abuse will follow? Because the IDF, like any other army, likely reviews commanders' decisions. This review is even more likely when the policy is controversial. And when dealing with the leaders of the terrorist groups, the decision to assassinate largely comes from the upper echelons of the government.

4) Assassinations don't work.

I disagree. DovBear argues that only when the security fence was put up did attacks diminish. But the fence is hardly up all along the border between Israel and the territories. There certainly are gaps. So why haven't the terrorists taken advantage? Because without leadership they are powerless to properly run an effective organization. Without the proper organization, it becomes far easier for Israel to predict attacks and stop them.

A sustained campaign of assassination has greatly weakened the terrorist groups. The decrease in terrorist activity can be traced to many factors, including political pressure and the security fence. But assassinations played an important role in decreasing attacks.

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