The price they pay

Targeted killings work. Doing nothing does, well, nothing.

Imad Mughniyeh 224 88 (photo credit: FBI Website)
Imad Mughniyeh 224 88
(photo credit: FBI Website)
The explosion that killed Hizbullah archterrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus on February 12 was very loud. So loud it reverberated way beyond the Syrian capital. According to one estimate, Mughniyeh was wanted in 42 countries. As these lines are being written, it is not clear who is behind the killing. Hizbullah and Hamas naturally blame Israel. Israel denies involvement. And Syria is keeping unusually silent - either out of embarrassment that such an assassination could take place on its soil or for fear of implicating itself. If tears were shed in Israel, they were not for Mughniyeh. They were the type of tears that sometimes silently flow when you suddenly remember dead relatives and friends. The 29 people killed in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, for example, or the 85 victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center there. Mughniyeh, often dubbed "the first bin Laden," made a lot of people cry since he started planning how to blow up and kidnap victims in the 1980s. Within that first decade in Beirut alone, he claimed the lives of 63 victims in the US embassy bombing and of 58 French paratroopers and 241 US marines in the double barracks bombings. You can tell a lot about a guy by his friends. Mughniyeh was one of the closest friends of Hizbullah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and also served as Hizbullah's liaison with Iran. He was an enemy of Israel, the US (where he featured on the FBI's most-wanted list) and every decent person anywhere who cannot accept blowing up people as a way of life. That's why his death reverberated way beyond the region. The terrorist groups who'd lost a top man threatened to avenge his death with attacks on Israel. Not that they need an excuse for hitting at innocent Israelis. Just ask the Twito family in Sderot whose two sons were seriously wounded last week when a Kassam fell as they drew cash from an ATM to buy their dad a birthday present; or the sons of Lubov Razdolskaya, 73, killed by a suicide bomber at the beginning of the month while sorting out errands in a shopping center in Dimona. Such deaths and maimings are incomprehensible. To understand them you have to have the mind of someone like Mughniyeh. Who killed Mughniyeh is immaterial at the moment. From Israel's point of view, we're better off without him (and so is the rest of the world). ISRAEL HAS indeed been discussing again the increased use of targeted killings to help fight the current war - for war it is - against Hamas in the south. There is, of course, concern that there could be innocent Palestinian civilian casualties. But let's keep things in proportion, as we're always being told. Terrorism is, by definition, the targeting of civilians; targeted killings are the deliberate elimination of those terrorists who want to cause those civilian deaths. Israel's options in Gaza are limited. It did not take the Winograd Commission report last month to point out the problems of entering into a military campaign without a clear exit strategy. The almost 20 years spent bogged down in what IDF soldiers call "habotz halevanoni" (the Lebanese mud) in the first Lebanon war taught them that lesson. Risking more soldiers in a ground campaign is obviously not a decision to be taken lightly. Nor are what the European Union so politely terms "the extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists." There is, of course, always the fear of revenge attacks and an escalation in hostilities. (Most European diplomats who don't serve in embassies specifically on Mughniyeh's list of preferred destinations use the terminology "the cycle of violence.") Targeted killings, however, have a major factor in their favor. They work. Even if replacement leaders are eventually found there is an inevitable disruption in the operations of the network as well as a blow to morale. It is commonly believed that the select eliminations helped put an end to the suicide bus bombings. Doing nothing does, well, nothing. In fact, worse than that: It shows the sort of weakness which in the Middle Eastern mind-set invites more attacks. IN PARTICULAR, targeting Hamas's so-called spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and then his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi, in the spring of 2004 had the desired effect. Even President Shimon Peres, usually so dovish the whole world coos at him, last week told a group of more than 1,000 kibbutz youth: "If they shoot at us, we have to fire back without hesitation and without compromise." Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit during February 10's cabinet meeting went further, calling on the IDF to raze an entire neighborhood in Gaza from which rockets have been launched - after warning residents in advance to flee. Just two months ago, when Israel stepped up targeted killings of Hamas leaders in response to the missiles on Sderot and the surrounding area, Hamas started to talk of a "hudna" - a temporary cease-fire. The suggestion - though far from being an offer of peace - shows that the Palestinian leadership in Gaza felt pressured. Israel should sustain that pressure. If kids in Sderot can't go out to play and old ladies in Dimona can't do their shopping without fear, then surely "extra-judicial killings" of the attackers is more than justified. If residents of the western Negev have to sleep fearfully in shelters, the terrorist leaders should at least be driven underground. In all the hype surrounding the initial reports of Mughniyeh's death, I liked the quote I heard on Israel Radio that "even his bodyguards didn't know where he slept." He was too scared of being killed. And there is the added irony that a man who so encouraged others to become martyrs was afraid to die for the cause himself. The explosion echoed so loudly because it sent a message to Hizbullah and Hamas leaders that they are not immune. Someone will always find out where they sleep. Within a couple of hours of Mughniyeh's death, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement denying Israeli involvement. Contrast this to the behavior of Palestinian terror groups who fight each other for the glory of claiming a successful attack. Assuming Israel was not behind Mughniyeh's demise, the main thing is that Hamas and Hizbullah believe it to be. It proves that Israel still has a deterrent capability and that is vital. The US and Europeans chorus the view that Israel has the right to defend itself and then in the next breath denounce almost any self-defense measure (economic or military) that does not involve "painful concessions." The policy of "hisulim" is, admittedly, more a tactic than a strategy, but as long as Israel is unwilling to turn into a collective sitting duck, the assassinations of terrorist leaders is bang on target.