Ian Joseph

Targeted Assassinations – Good for the Jews?

If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first – the Talmud

In war, there are no rules, only winners and losers – Ronen Bergman, Rise and Kill First

In the shadows, truth can be obscured, and justice can be twisted – Ronen Bergman, Rise and Kill First

War is not about who is right or wrong, but about who is left standing – Ronen Bergman, Rise and Kill First

On 1 April 2024, an Israeli airstrike destroyed an Iranian consulate annex building, a part of the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, Syria. In the airstrike sixteen people were killed, including a senior Quds Force commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and seven other IRGC officers were killed. At least two civilians were killed in the attack, a mother and her son who lived on the fourth floor of the targeted four-storey building. The first two floors of the building were rented by the Iranian embassy and the third floor was the home of the Iranian ambassador to Syria.

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The target of the attack was Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi who was commander of the Quds Force’s Lebanon Corps responsible for communication with and distribution of technical expertise, arms and ammunition to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Quds Force is one of five branches of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) specializing in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations. The Quds force is responsible for extraterritorial operations, supporting non-state actors in many countries, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Yemeni Houthis, and Shia militias in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. According to Michael Wigginton et al., the Al-Quds Force is “a classic example of state-sponsored terrorism.

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According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) there have been 31 targeted attacks by Israel in Syria in 2024: 22 airstrikes and nine rocket attacks by ground forces, during which nearly 60 targets were destroyed, including buildings, weapons and ammunitions warehouses, headquarters, military centers and vehicles. These strikes killed 129 combatants and injured 47 others. The fatalities were as follows:

21 Iranian members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
20 members of the Lebanese Hezbollah.
12 Iraqi persons.
28 Iranian-backed Syrian militiamen.
Ten Iranian-backed non-Syrian militiamen.
38 regime soldiers.
In addition, those attacks left 12 civilians, including two women dead, and nearly 20 other civilians injured.

The April 1st Israeli airstrike in Damascus is the latest example of the Israeli policy of targeted assassinations which have been carried out on an ongoing basis from before the state of Israel was founded up till today, According to Ronen Bergman, Israel has killed more people by extrajudicial targeted assassination than any other country for nearly 80 years since the Second World War.

The implementation of targeted killings has been carried out by the Mossad, the IDF and other agents deployed by Israel. The policy has met with a combination of resounding successes, most not officially acknowledged by Israel, together with some embarrassing public failures which included: The Lillehammer affair, where the Mossad killed Ahmed Bouchikhi, a Moroccan waiter in Norway in July 1973, instead of Ali Hassan Salameh. The failed killing resulted in the capture of six members of the assassination team including two women and four men, who were found guilty on a variety of charges and received sentences ranging from one year to five and a half years which were later commuted. The attempted 1997 poisoning of Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal in Amman Jordan, where two Mossad agents with forged Canadian passports were arrested and a further six agents, who were a part of the team, were forced to take refuge in the Israeli embassy. Israel provided an antidote to the poison, after pressure by Bill Clinton. Canada withdrew their Ambassador in protest to the use of Canadian passports. Israel was forced to release a number of Palestinian prisoners in order for the hit team to leave the embassy and exit Jordan. The embarrassing revelations and identification of the Israelis responsible for the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Duba in in 2010. As a result 26 suspects photos were released and all were identified by Dubai as Mossad agents, members of the team responsible for the assassination.

Methods used in the killings have included drone strikes, guided missiles fired from helicopters, face to face shooting, fast and slow acting poisons (Yasser Arafat is rumored to have died as a result of a slow acting radio active poison delivered by the Mossad, this has not been confirmed), car bombs, cellphone bombs, book bombs, bed bombs, room bombs, one ton bombs dropped from IAF planes, remote automatic machine guns and other technologies all designed to kill. In some cases only the target was killed in other cases there has been extensive collateral damage including members of the targets family, innocent bystanders and other uninvolved civilians. Unless it has been clear who carried out the operation, Israel has maintained a tight lipped policy of neither confirming nor denying involvement even though, in most cases, it was quite clear which government/state/agency would be motivated to carry out an extrajudicial killing.

For more than 75 years Israel has used targeted assassinations as an integral part of attempts to totally control the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Israel has succeeded in prolonging the occupation and “managing the conflict,” but despite using the tool of assassination it did not and could not truly erase the Palestinian issue, did not succeed in ending the hundred year Israel Palestine war, did not succeed in imposing an Israeli solution on the Palestinians, and did not eliminate the Palestinian concept and dreams of self-determination.

It is a moot point as to whether or not the targeted killings and international assassinations have left Israel in a better or worse situation than it would have been without them. There is no doubt that every killing generates more resentment and more potential candidates for Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations.. The survivors, friends, family and acquaintances of the killed have themselves been radicalized and motivated to join the terror groups. There is no question that the latest Israel-Hamas Gaza War will leave in its wake thousands if not tens of thousands of new recruits motivated by the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza.

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While it should be recognized that every country conducts operations in the shadows, away from the public eye, including targeted killings, Israel seems to use targeted killings as a key part of its strategy to dealing with Palestinian resistance to an extent unparalleled by Western democracies. The ongoing policy of targeted killings and extrajudicial assassination has been an operation conducted in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability and no recognition or payment for mistakes. The decision to take someone’s life is carried out behind closed doors, by nameless bureaucrats who make their decisions without the public being aware or able to decide if the killing carried out in their name is justified or righteous. Decisions are made to kill people with some disregard for collateral damage. More often than not other family members are killed or, even worse, innocent bystanders are killed or injured.

In many cases the killings, on the face of it, are justified as taking out ticking bombs, killing those with blood on their hands, assassinating those who enabled, financed or supported  terrorism, or even killing those who provided an ideological and religious basis for terrorism. Unfortunately for that policy, over and over again it has been proven that no leader is indispensable and every one can be replaced. While killing a key leader may temporarily slow down a group or halt an intended attack, at the end of the day everyone can be and is replaceable, in many cases by someone more radical, more motivated and more capable than the leader they have replaced.

Killings may have also had the effect of leaving the terror organizations with no choice but to continue the violence as reprisals for the killings. Targeted assassinations may have had the result of closing off nonviolent alternatives to solving the conflict.

Terror and killing beget terror and killing. The policy of an eye for an eye ends up leaving the whole world blind.

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So here we are on April 14, 24 hours after Irans attempted reprisal for the April 1st targeted assassination. The Iranian reprisal was intended to inflict damage on Israel via hundreds of drones, missiles and rockets. The attack was thwarted due to superior technologies and aid to Israel from America, France, Britain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others. But… the Iranian attack was as a result of Israel’s targeted assassination of Mohammad Reza Zahed in Damascus on April  killing Zahed and fifteen others including innocent civilians. The Israeli attack was reckless, feckless and indefensible in the context of the current already tense situation resulting in Irans reprisal attack.

As of today, April 15, it is still to be determined if Israel will reply to the Iranian attack, thereby further escalating the extremely tense situation.

The targeted assassination resulted in a massive attack on Israel, a terrorizing of the entire Israeli population while awaiting the Iranian response, and as yet unknown awaited attacks on Israelis, embassies, Jewish centers and other Israeli/Jewish presences in the world not to speak of possible attacks on US, British or other foreign assets.. And what did this latest assassination achieve? Will it result in any changes to Iranian IRGC or Quds policies or actions? Will it deter Hezbollah, Hamas or any other terror organizations supported by Iran? Will it bring Israel any closer to peace and security or will it produce the opposite, more killing, violence and death?

It is patently obvious to all involved, to the heads of Israel’s defense establishment, to politicians and to analysts, that in the absence of a political solution and strategy, kinetic action will not result in peace and security. The targeted killings and assassinations of Israel’s enemies and terror leaders will not result in peace or security until they take place in the framework of a political solution where they will not be needed.

Targeted killings may have had their place in the twentieth century and during the Cold War. But… as is self evident, their time has passed and they do not serve to enhance Israel’s peace and security today , but rather result in a deteriorating security situation with a tit for tat ongoing cycle of violence, killing and death. It’s time to end the indiscriminate policy of unsupervised extrajudicial assassination which has not resulted in the peace and security all Israelis and Jews yearn for.

About the Author
Born and educated in South Africa, a graduate of Jewish day school and Habonm Dror, Ian Joseph served in the IDF as an officer in combat units, and currently resides in North Carolina and Cyprus. Ian holds an MBA from Shulich School of Business in Toronto, is certified as a Master Instructor by the American Sailing Association and is currently retired from IBM. Among other pursuits Ian edits a weekly newsletter of Israeli news items, teaches sailing around the world and certifies sailing instructors.