With fire or water?

Liberal democracies face a stark choice: Fight enemies using conventional means, which may result in the deaths of countless civilians, or concentrate on eliminating the ringleaders.

dubai police chief tamim khalfan 311 (photo credit: AP)
dubai police chief tamim khalfan 311
(photo credit: AP)
We may not know who actually killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, but judging by the ever-growing number of purported suspects, they may soon include the majority of the sheikdom’s residents. What we do know, however, is that the object of the operation was a dangerous terrorist leader and murderer who, over the years, had been responsible for the death of countless innocent victims, both Jewish and Palestinian.
Assassinations, even if called executions, as President Nicolas Sarkozy correctly put it, are not nice. As a general rule and given a choice, it is preferable to put even such arch-criminals as Mabhouh on trial. The allies in World War II faced a similar dilemma with regard to Nazi war criminals – the Russians and a number of British cabinet ministers pushing for swift execution as soon as they were captured. At the end of the day, however, it was decided that because of the enormity of their crimes and the historical significance of the lessons to be learned, the leaders of Nazi Germany should be put on public trial.
But in the case of Mabhouh, not only was there no chance of bringing him to court, and unless stopped, he was bound to continue the deadly activities in which he was engaged at the time of his death.
All of which brings up another cogent question: Officials in Dubai have stated that they are determined to protect their country’s “tourist-friendly” image, but have not explained how they intend to reconcile this image with the terrorist-friendly reality.
After all, if, as their chief of police, who apparently wants to be seen as the Arab Dick Tracy (though he is much more reminiscent of France’s Louis de Funès) claims, his police apparatus is almost perfect, why didn’t he know that Hamas terrorists were using Dubai as a base of operations? And if he did know, why did he choose to ignore it?
THE “HOLIER than thou” media, including some hypocritical Israeli journalists, have had a field day in condemning Israel’s real or alleged crimes, so one must praise Andrew Roberts, considered by many to be Britain’s foremost World War II historian, for his forceful article in the Financial Times.
“All the Dubai operation will do,” he wrote, “is remind the world that security services of states at war – and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbullah certainly constitutes that – occasionally employ targeted assassinations.”
He also reminded us that “when Britain was at war, Winston Churchill sanctioned the assassination by its Special Operations executive of S.S. General Reinhard Heydrich,” the scourge of Czechoslavakia, as well as of other Nazi functionaries. And didn’t the US try to assassinate Osama Bin Laden? Or are the recent deaths among the Taliban leadership a result of a sudden coronary epidemic?
But looking to the future, there is an even more critical and pertinent question involved; ever since Vietnam, and increasingly so in recent years, the Free World has been engaged in lopsided wars with various extremist politically or religiously motivated terrorist groups whose principal modus operandi is violence, including suicide bombing, directed indiscriminately at as large a number of people as possible. They try not to fight regular troops on the battlefield, preferring to kill innocents in order to wreak havoc wherever and whenever they can, so as to engender an atmosphere of fear and defeatism which, rightly or wrongly, they believe will benefit their cause.
Their operations deliberately emanate from inside dense concentrations of civilians, making it almost impossible for opposing forces to locate them. This is the situation faced by NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq, and encountered by the IDF in Gaza and Lebanon. Indeed, this will be the nature of most wars in the future.
Liberal democracies such as Israel and the US are facing a starkchoice: Will they fight their enemies by more-or-less conventionalmeans, resulting in the unavoidable death of countless civilians whomthe terrorists use as human shields (as Hamas did during Israel’srecent operation in Gaza, or as the American-led forces encounter intheir fight against the Taliban)? Or should they rather concentrate, bywhichever means (including targeted killings) on eliminating theringleaders and thereby saving innocent lives?
The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of US-Israel Relations.