Shahaf Rabi
Former Founding Director of ICSTK

Reinstating ISR. Targeted Killing Policy – a Trite Discussion Expanded

The Israeli Special Forces’ operation on Sunday night (Nov. 11) was exposed, and as a result, an Israeli soldier as well as several terrorists were killed. Among the killed terrorists was Nour Barakeh, a local senior commander. Thus, rumors suggested it was a targeted killing operation. Indeed, during the past several months statements calling for the reintroduction of Israel’s targeted killing policy had increased, particularly by politicians. Channel 10 News noticed this trend as well, and they decided to dedicate quite a bit of time during their (Oct. 19) Friday night news broadcast to the topic. Moreover, in the evening of November 12, Knesset Member Lapid called the government to reinstate Israel’s policy of targeted killing due to the contemporary escalation. The media’s discussion revolving the policy, however, always sticks to the most basic hackneyed supporting and opposing arguments. In this short piece, I present four points which I believe ought to be raised when discussing whether Israel should pursue once more the policy of targeted killings.

Although the trite claims are neither necessarily false nor insignificant, following the media’s shallow discussion, here are four informative key points for journalists to bring up during such discussions and interviews with officials:

(1) The bring back the policy, bring back deterrence argument. Such people need to be reminded that Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that this counter-terrorism strategy can only be employed as a preventative measurement. It is solely meant to thwart and hamstrung attacks. Hence, it is forbidden to carry out targeted killings as a way of punishment, deterrence, and so on.

(2) The it’ll reduce the hostilities because as Israel would target and kill prominent figures of Hamas, its’ leaders would opt to reach a cease-fire agreement claim. This is plausible. For example, some assert that Sinwar wishes to be Hamas’ leader for a long time, and that he will be thinking of Rantisi‘s ephemeral leadership. However, it posits that Sinwar will yield before Israel will kill him. Yet no one asks questions beyond that, such as: if Sinwar is killed, who will succeed him? Will Israel again have discussions as with regards to Abu Jihad, which it killed in Tunis, 1988? After all, quite a few Israeli officials throughout the years said it was a mistake to kill him because – although he was a terrorist mastermind – he was actually a person Israel could’ve made peace with.

Additionally, research suggests this is specious. The scholars Max Abrahms and Jochen Mierau suggest younger, more blood-thirsty, violent and indiscriminate terrorist leaders succeed the eliminated leaders. So in a nutshell, targeted killings might not be an efficacious strategy for Israel in this regards.

(3) Are we there yet? A reintroduction of the policy won’t immediately bring results. So for how long is the policy expected to be maintained in order to achieve its goals? After all, based on the research of Bryan C. Price, for example, an effective targeted killing campaign might well need to last for longer than two years’ time. And it is safe to assume that this period of time is not likely to be a quiet one.

(4) Weakening Hamas, possibly changing Gazan power dynamics. Bearing in mind the Israeli targeted killing campaign is a case study of how this counter-terrorism strategy failed defeating the enemy-group, an intensive campaign could severely weaken Hamas to an extent that it might backfire. I believe it is not desirable for Israel to harm Hamas too much because Gaza’s second most strong organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, could then become the strongest group in the Strip. It is problematic for Israel considering how close and dependent that group is to Iran, and therefore, how likely the PIJ is to follow Teheran’s orders.

It is not as if I have an answer whether Israel should or should not reinstate the targeted killing policy, but in my opinion, for as long as the hostilities are not as intensive as they were during the second intifada, then targeted killings best serve Israel when scoped down to frustrating impending terrorist attacks.

About the Author
Shahaf Rabi is the former Founding Director of the Israeli Center for the Study of Targeted Killings, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He runs the Security Studies Review ( Reflecting his research interests, topics often written about include: future of warfare, targeted killing, innovation of armed organizations, and more.