Targeted Killings Have a Long History

As happened again only a few days ago, Israel deploys, especially in the Gaza strip, a policy of targeted killing against the leaders and the activists of the various Palestinian terror organisations. This policy frequently receives condemnation both in Israel and abroad, from questions about its morality and legality to accusations of war crimes. To put things in the right perspective, it is important to note that targeted killings were not invented in Israel. They were used by several sovereign states during many years, including in modern times.

Targeted killings have several main objectives:

To eliminate capable leaders and commanders who would be very difficult to replace

As a retaliation for past actions for which those leaders and commanders were responsible

To disrupt the enemy’s command and control structure before or during a war

To prevent or disrupt planned future activities – known as ‘ticking bombs’

I have selected a few well known examples to demonstrate the use of targeted killings by various states during the years:

In May 1942, two Czechoslovak fighters trained by the British Intelligence and parachuted back into their country by the R.A.F. carried out an attempt on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, commander of the Nazi S.S., in a suburb of Prague. He died of his wounds a week later.

In April 1943 sixteen long range American Army fighter planes laid out a pre-planned ambush over the jungle of Papua New Guinea where they intercepted and shot down a military transport plane carrying the commander of the Japanese navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbour.

In June 1943 several German long range maritime fighter planes shot down over the Bay of Biscay a civil B.O.A.C. airliner which was making its way from Lisbon to England, in all likelihood because false intelligence suggested that Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill was on board. Another theory is that the target may have been the actor Leslie Howard who worked for British Intelligence and was killed in that attack.

In April 1986, as a retaliation for the bombing of the Berlin discothèque in which American soldiers were killed and injured, American bombers, taking off from bases in Britain, bombed Libya’s ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s residence in an attempt to assassinate him. His daughter was killed.

In March 2003, even before the war in Iraq began, American forces launched dozens of cruise missiles at a site in Baghdad in which, according to intelligence reports, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his sons were staying.

In May 2011 an American Navy Seal commando unit assassinated Osama Bin Laden in his house in Pakistan. Bin Laden was not armed and from the details published after the attack he could have been captured alive.

Targeted killings of both those who give the orders and those who carry them out are legitimate and justified. Those who live by the sword should know that they may die by the sword.

The readers are invited to suggest other historical examples known to them.

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