'Deaths in 2002 Shehadeh killing came from faulty intel'

No disciplinary action recommended; Yesh Gvul calls report a whitewash and vows to petition High Court.

Netanyahu Shahada Report 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Netanyahu Shahada Report 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Faulty intelligence led planners to place insufficient emphasis on the risks to innocent civilians during the targeted killing of senior Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh in 2002, the commission charged with investigating the incident said in its final report, which was submitted on Sunday to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The report, authored by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan, former Shin Bet agent Yitzhak Dar and retired Supreme Court justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen, said that in deciding to drop a one-ton bomb on Shehadeh’s house in Gaza City, “too much weight was placed on the immediate strike on Shehadeh, and too little weight was given to the possible risk to uninvolved civilians as a result of the strike.”
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The commission, however, recommended that no criminal or disciplinary actions be taken against those involved in the operation. Instead, it suggested a series of systemic improvements.
“The targeted killing against Shehadeh was imperative because of the increase and escalation in terrorist attacks since 2000, in a manner that led to a situation of actual war, classified as an ‘armed conflict,’” according to the report.
“These attacks were carried out mainly by the Hamas Movement, to which Shehadeh belonged, as one of its senior leaders and head of its Operational Branch.... Therefore, targeted killing was selected as a measure that would guarantee Shehadeh’s elimination, with the expectation that this would not cause disproportionate harm to uninvolved civilians.”
The commission concluded that the difficult collateral consequences of the strike against Shehadeh, in which uninvolved civilians, mostly women and children, were killed and many others wounded, “became clear in hindsight, as disproportionate in the circumstances of the incident in question.”
All those involved in the operation showed awareness and sensitivity throughout the entire operation to the issue of risk to uninvolved civilians and the duty to avoid or minimize it to the extent possible, in line with the principle of proportionality, although a gap arose between what was expected and what actually occurred, according to the report.
“The decision-makers foresaw proportionate harm to uninvolved civilians. The gap between their expectation and the actual harm caused did not stem from disregard or indifference to human lives, but was the result of incorrect assessments and mistaken judgment due to an intelligence failure and varying interpretations of the meaning of the information,” the report read.
“The intelligence failure was partly the result of objective constraints with regard to circumstances, time pressure and a concern that the operation would be thwarted, thereby posing a certain, immediate and substantial risk to the lives of Israeli citizens.”
Since the incident, there was a significant decrease in the use of targeted killings in the war on terrorism, and technological means were developed to ensure the success of such operations, including with regard to their collateral consequences, according to the report.
“No targeted killing operation carried out since the strike against Shehadeh has resulted in a similar outcome, in either scope or gravity,” it stated.
The main recommendations issued by the commission included calls for the security forces to “incorporate and internalize, on an ongoing basis, the principles and norms of Israeli and international law and the ethical and moral foundations on which they are predicated”; for careful adherence to the principle of proportionality, especially concerning the weapons used in operations of this type; and for security forces to “expand and reinforce the system of intelligence-gathering in all that relates to the risk of harm to uninvolved civilians resulting from a targeted killing against a legitimate target.”
The commission also recommended that differences of opinion or substantial reservations among senior officials in the mechanisms involved, which can significantly affect the decision of the political echelon, should be made known, with special emphasis on the risk of harm to uninvolved civilians.
The report concluded by stating that “despite the outcome that resulted in this instance, the means of targeted killing was and continues to be a lawful tool in the war against deadly terrorism, provided that the operation is carried out in accordance with the principles and rules set out by Israeli and international law and the ethical and moral norms on which they are based.”
Yesh Gvul leader Yoav Hass, one of those who submitted the first High Court petition that eventually led to the commission’s establishment, said the report whitewashed the incident and that the group would go back to court over it.
“Thirteen innocent people were killed and 150 more were wounded because the decision-makers decided that dropping a one-ton bomb in a densely populated area was the best way to kill a man. Now, nearly a decade later, we learn that no one will take responsibility for their deaths,” Hass said. “We will go back to the High Court and argue that the commission did not do its job properly.”
Hass said the commission was a toothless body with no power to subpoena witnesses and was made up of people who were not apt to be critical of the IDF.