Analysis: Botched targeted killings

Recent events could alter decision-making process, type of weapons.

gaza airstrike 224.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
gaza airstrike 224.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In 2002, an IAF pilot dropped a one-ton bomb, leveling an entire building in Gaza City and killing Hamas leader Salah Shehada and 14 civilians, including children. Since then, the IAF has come a long way in its accuracy in targeted strikes on terrorists, but as the events of the last week demonstrate, there is always room for improvement. While the air force no longer drops one-ton bombs or levels buildings, it does target terrorists in urban and populated areas, one of the main reasons behind the large number of civilian casualties in three botched assassination attempts over the past week. Last Tuesday, eight innocent civilians including two children were killed in an IAF missile strike on a Katyusha rocket cell on a busy street in Gaza City. This Tuesday, another three children were killed in another botched missile strike, this time on a car carrying a top Fatah terrorist on a busy street in the Jabalya refugee camp. And on Wednesday, again, the IAF missed its target and instead of hitting the terror cell, one of two missiles hit a nearby home, killing a pregnant woman and her tourist brother. So while the IAF says it does check itself after every operation, even the successful ones, the events of the past week could prompt additional changes not only in the targeted killing decision-making process but also when it comes to the type of weapons used. Following the Shehada assassination, the IAF stopped using one-ton bombs and has over the years developed, in conjunction with local defense industries, accurate missiles that usually carry just the right amount of explosives needed to destroy a car. The IAF has also received world recognition and an Israeli-developed guidance system was used, the media reported last week, in the assassination earlier this month of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The type of missile used on Wednesday, however, might no longer be used for strikes on the densely populated streets of Gaza and the IAF might be prompted by the recent failures to develop new and more accurate munitions. A high-ranking officer told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night that the IAF was in the midst of developing a new specially designed missile to be used in targeted killings in urban areas. He said the new munition would reduce the level of collateral damage. Over the past week, the IAF has conducted systems checks on all of its aircraft used in targeted killings as well as on the missiles. None were found to be faulty, the officer revealed. But one possible reason he gave for the recent rise in the number of civilian casualties was the upsurge in the number of IAF strikes on Gaza since the beginning of the year. Since January, the number of air strikes has already reached a number twice the entire number of strikes carried out in 2005. And as the officer explained: "When operating inside urban areas with such a system, there is a probability that civilians will be hurt." The IAF claims that it invests a great deal in minimizing collateral damage during air strikes, even to the extent of canceling targeted assassinations at the last minute after fears arise that innocent civilians might be hurt. But Israel is at war, the IAF stresses, and in war innocent civilians sometimes unfortunately get hurt. "The Palestinians launch rockets from urban areas," a high-ranking IAF officer told the Post this week. "And therefore we need to hit them there too." The IAF, he said, is made up of "emotional human beings" who do not take the killing of innocent civilians in stride. "But," he continued, "when there is a cell on its way to an attack and you know that if you don't attack Kassams will begin falling in Sderot, then you need to make the right decision."